The Long Road
It’s that time of year again, the annual re-issue of “The Long Road” speech—part treatise/part plea to respect all that ski racing is in the lives of young people and their keepers.
This year, March 1 falls on the day after I attended the final EISA carnival and the morning I am heading to a U-16 State Championships. The carnival was, for many athletes, the last competition of their skiing careers. As such it was a time for reflection on the value of the sport from the perspective of both parents and athletes. In the binary acid test of “Worth it/Not worth it” the journey was most definitely “Worth it.” The experiences from yesterday’s crew inform their advice to today’s crew, and to everyone heading into “Championship season.” All the advice can be distilled into a pretty simple message: Chill out and enjoy the ride.
Some of these NCAA athletes made it all the way to World Cup competition, others to their National teams or to the NCAA Championships. For others, their biggest victory was the opportunity to compete and improve in the sport they love for as long as possible. Every single one made it to this point by repeatedly pulling themselves up after disappointment, injury, doubt (often all three) and getting back into the starting gate. The sport on which we feast is a failure buffet, requiring extraordinary patience, will and resilience.
The environment is not for everyone, and may never reward its most dedicated competitors with trophies or podiums or any visible rewards. BUT, it becomes its own boot camp for life, creating, in the truncated words of Teddy Roosevelt, the man (or woman or boy or girl) in the arena who: “at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
We all may be cold (especially yesterday), but we’re sure as heck are not timid. This sport makes you strong, inside and out, and keeps you humble. It slams you into bottomless compressions then launches you to mountaintops as if you have wings. This time of year especially, it becomes our proverbial rollercoaster, which either makes us sick to our stomach, or leaves us wanting more. To fully experience the ride, you need to appreciate the thrill of the highs and embrace the challenge of the lows. After all, how much fun would a rollercoaster be if you just hung out on top and enjoyed the view?
If you’re new to this ride, or need a little refresher, please take a few minutes to read The Long Road. Trust your elders on this: the true outcome of your own championship season will not be something you can hold in your hand or wear on your neck. It’s something invisible and invaluable that will last much much longer.