Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Looking back at 2012: why skiing can be an emotional rollercoaster

When asked for my advice for future wannabe ski racers I always say perseverance – skiing is a roller-coaster of emotions – be prepared to take the highs with the lows.

This is my mantra at the moment.

I have never been more attached to the bottom of an emotional yo-yo string as the last few months. There have been hugely rewarding moments when all the work of the last 2 years seemed to pay off and then days I have been lucky races were cancelled since my leg was so stiff I was hobbling like an old man.

Photo credit: Malcolm Carmichael

Every day I wake up with a comforting ache in my right leg. I know that sounds bizarre describing my metal work with positives but it helps me to remember what I have been through and had to overcome to just be here surrounded by all this white, fluffy snow! It is far too easy to just forget the last two years and be back to being Chemmy the ski racer who is a competitor, a contender with no excuses to not perform at her best. My soul is the same racer but now I just have life experiences to fall back on when the going gets tough. And I can tell you starting at the back of the first series of World Cup racers I have had to rely a lot on my mental strengths. The Gods have not been kind to us. I remember the days when I used to race and wake up and the weather was either consistently sunny, flat light or snowing. Now in the period of just hours we have been exposed to every kind of weather system out there. At Lake Louise some girls had sun, others fog, the latter snow and fog and wind – it is like a Russian roulette – but in that start gate when you hear those last 5 beeps you take what you are dealt with and do your best, knowing that one day opportunity will be yours and you WILL seize it and excel.

I am proud of my season start. I put myself in the most difficult position known to an athlete and succeeded. Success would have been just to finish knowing I had done my best and overcome my gremlins. So coming 25th and scoring world cup points in my very first race post injury on the very hill that threatened to end my career back on the 2nd December 2010 was possibly one of my most rewarding days I have ever had in this sport (obviously becoming the first Brit to win a run in World Cup and my numerous top 10s were great but this result had an even higher meaning for all the effort and belief, not just by me but everyone who helped get me back on skis, that has gone into achieving those very valuable 6 points!)

After I got the ball rolling in Lake Louise I thought ‘Hey this isn’t going to be as tough as I expected – I am already in the points – let’s just build on this every race.’ I forgot how every girl in that start gate is hungry for points – and I was the only one who had missed the last two years and was coming back slightly rusty. World Cup points are the creme-de-la-creme of our sport – they don’t just hand them out willy nilly. You have to work hard for them – the old ‘blood, sweat and tears’ comes to mind. And for me the last few years have been just that. I promised myself I wouldn’t let this sport I love make me sad since I have fought so hard to be back doing it.

But the tears have flowed twice so far.

Once from utter relief after safely completing that first training run in Lake Louise and clearing the jump where I crashed. They were unexpected and tumbled down my cheeks as I sat realising that I had done it – my diary extract says it all:

27th November – First training run Lake Louise

What an insanely MOMENTOUS day! Because I am not a ‘thinker’ I tried to just let it happen – to ignore how mentally tough it was going to be for me to ski my first DH run on the very run that I crashed on 2 years ago. What I achieved (and don’t get me wrong I wasn’t fast – I was in fact very, very slow) only hit me 20 minutes after my run as I sat on the loo and read a text from my good friend Nick Fellows and that is when the waterworks started!

I hope Nick doesn’t mind but it was such a thoughtful text I want to share it “Chemmy… Well-done.. Respect beyond belief… To go back to the nightmare and lay the ghost to rest is an achievement beyond belief.. Walk with your head held high…”

@LarisaYurkiw (one of the few who get what I went through today not only as my teammate but someone who overcame a horrific injury herself) and I just chatted and she said something really touching – some people go their whole lives without pushing themselves into the unknown… Whatever happens now this season, whatever happens from this day forward, I did that today – I pushed myself totally out of my comfort zone (and that is an expression far too widely used but not for me today!) Right now time for the tears of relief to stop and the preparation for tomorrow and a different mindset.

The beautiful setting at Lake Louise – pics I took when I went for a hike to clear my head before the competition

I am so glad I wrote down my feelings that day as I normally only allow myself to write as therapy when I have a bad day. The 27th of November was such a significant victory along my comeback that since then I have often re-read my words so that I don’t lose those precious feelings!

The other time I cried was in St Moritz after the combined when I let fear in and it completely controlled my skiing. They were tears of frustration, the feeling that I had let myself and those who believed in me down. Thankfully it took only an hour of hindsight to realise that the conditions had been tough – very dark and I had not trusted my leg’s ability to ski without the help of my vision. Once I addressed this fear I reasoned with it and know it is something I need to work on. (In fact in the DH in Val D’Isere in the second training run, just one week after my poor performance in St Moritz, with dense cloud cover and no light, I was able to test my acceptance of fear in flat light and ski probably by best run so far finishing just 1.3 seconds behind first place.)

I didn’t expect to come back and win straight away. I knew even top 30 positions would be hugely challenging so I am proud that out of the three races, I have finished two in the points. The other results have been bitterly close just outside that elusive top 30 but what makes me most proud is that with every run I have glimmers of the untapped potential that drove me to come back to the sport I love – statistics have been favourable – I have been the fastest girl through the speed gun, I have won a split and have had numerous sections where I was skiing as quick as the best in the world. The consistency will not be given to me on a plate – I will have to keep working hard for it but now I know it is there and with a little bit of luck from the weather Gods, I will do everything I can to go out there and bring it home!

So that’s what it’s like for me, racing – but is skiing an emotional rollercoaster for you too? Tell me about it!

Chemmy is the ski ambassador for Monarch Airlines and this blog post is also published on

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