The Story Behind the Story

A little background…

…or, why I wrote this book. Why does anyone write a book? It starts with having something to say—something that people might not know, or that is entertaining or informative or even helpful to others. When I made my first Olympic team it was quite an accomplishment, considering our Murphy’s Law year where pretty much everything that could have gone wrong for us as a team, did. Each misfortune tipped us further towards a sort of global freak-out amongst sponsors, team administrators, coaches and athletes, a contagious spiral of anxiety that only cranked the Olympic-sized stress meter. It engendered a level of absurdity that, years later, became a source of both strength and entertainment. At the time, however, it did not help our performance. Every time we thought the bad luck had ended someone else got injured, making it a minor miracle that anyone survived to walk into the opening ceremonies.

Not surprisingly we were the first US Ski Team in 20 years NOT to win a medal. If you don’t win medals, it turns out, nobody tells your story. It’s as if we hadn’t even been there. So, even though there were people on that team who went on to remarkable success, nobody outside of our progressively diminishing circle would know how the experience of that year shaped us. Along with the misfortune and misery there were heroics of mind, body and character.  None were celebrated or even noted in the aftermath.

Also, I undoubtedly wrote the book so our mistakes could be prevented in the future. Consider it my humanitarian contribution to ski racing, a little reminder that harder training isn’t smarter training, that skinnier isn’t always better, that patience is truly a virtue and that “out with the old, in with the new” isn’t a sound method for building long term success on a team. To be sure, we’ve come a long way since the Dark Ages of sports science, athlete development and athletes’ rights, but I want to make sure we don’t go back into the dark by mistake.

Even more importantly, I wanted our story to remind kids, athletes or not, that it’s never too early to take control of your destiny. You don’t have to be a jerk about it, but you have to believe in yourself enough to stand up for what you need. If you don’t, there are no guarantees anybody else will.

How I wrote the book:

The book is technically fiction because there were just too many characters to keep track of, even for people who were actually there. Also, I wanted to include some incidents that didn’t happen in that one-year span, but helped paint the scene. The beauty of fiction is that you can make a lot of things happen in a more convenient time to get your point across. And it allows you to create composite characters. I had many great and not-so-great teammates, many great and not-so-great coaches. The same is true on any team, where certain roles—and the archetypes that fill them—always seem to exist.

Archetypes 101: What is an archetype? A pattern of behavior in each of us that motivates everything we do. You’ve heard of them in literature and on your favorite sit-com: Heroes, Villains, Primadonnas, Drama Queens, Teachers Pets, Workhorses, Clowns, Taskmasters, whatever. Basically, I took all the people who fit into a particular sports archetype and mashed them into single characters that represented the media hog, the hardest worker, the clueless newbie, the nightmare coach, the dream coach, the pushy parent, etc… If you haven’t met these archetypes you will—not only in sport but at work, in school, at camp and maybe even in your own family. These are essential roles that have to be filled. Just when you think, “Whew I got rid of that one,” another one pops up to take his or her place.

Perspective: I wrote the book from the perspective of Olivia Sharp, a somewhat reluctant rookie downhiller who was a lot like me, but with a better sense of humor and a much better world view. I was a Downhiller because I didn’t mind Downhill and because I was pretty good at it. Note: there is a very big difference between not minding something and loving something with all your heart.  Lindsey Vonn and Picabo Street—they love Downhill. I loved Super G and GS and I liked the IDEA of being a Downhiller (which I blame on Franz Klammer’s 1976 Olympic run, as per the book’s prologue). This quasi-downhiller status was fine at the junior level, but at the World Cup level the whole “need for speed” thing got harder to fake. A solid 70 percent of the time I wanted to puke the first time I saw a new course. I thought it was important to make that part of the story, because you just don’t read much about scaredy-cat Downhillers.

As for the rest of it, I hope the story speaks for itself, not only to aspiring ski racers and future Olympians but also to every ordinary kid like Olivia who wants to do something extraordinary.

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