Looking for Light in the Wintry Mix

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AN UpdatED Reading List for Inspiration

It’s always darkest just before…February. That’d be January, baby, and this one has certainly delivered here in the east. It has been a month of perpetual gloom punctuated by an ice storm here and there, but mostly freeze, thaw, refreeze temperature swings that create a grim recycling of discomfort. An artist might see every day as bringing a moody gray ombré palette, where sky meets hillsides in a subtle horizon. The rest of us might simply observe that “this blows!”

Late January is also the time of year when, as a ski racer, you can feel like you are just getting going with any training consistency, yet simultaneously convince yourself that the season is quickly slipping away. Some strange paradox is at work here, conspiring towards the emotional angst of feeling not quite ready and yet also behind. In reality, most athletes are just one race—or even one run—away from spiritual salvation.  

With all of the above, this is a time of year when many ski racers and their people could use a little lifeline of inspiration. I’m clearly having a little trouble generating my own optimism, so I’m following the advice of my Mom, and Mom’s everywhere back to the dawn of humanity: “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Instead, I’m using this opportunity to fulfill a request from a racer mom and re-posting the evolving, crowd-sourced Ski Racer’s Reading List, with three notable additions.

The first is one I wrote about here on Ski Racing last spring. “What’s Good for a Girl” by Lauren Fleshman is a new classic for anyone involved in Women’s sports.  Of all its cover blurbs and accolades Malcolm Gladwell’s is most succinct: “Women’s sports have needed a manifesto for a very long time, and with Lauren Fleshman’s Good for a Girl we finally have one.”

The book combines science, storytelling and Fleshman’s personal experience as both athlete and coach to explain why current sports systems fail to capture the potential of female athletes, and jeopardize their long-term physical and mental health. So, get it. Read it. Or at least listen to one of the bazillion podcasts or interviews featuring Fleshman.

The next (pending) addition to the list is The First Rule of Mastery: Stop Worrying about What People Think of You, by Dr Michael Gervais. It’s pending only because it’s still on the Pony Express to Etna and I have not yet read it; however, Gervais is no stranger on this blog. I’ve heard several fascinating and thought-provoking interviews with him, most recently on this Rich Roll podcast.  It’s the first book by Gervais, who Roll aptly describes as “the sensei of human performance optimization.” The book grew out of Gervais’ work with sports and business teams, and an article he wrote in 2019 called how to stop worrying about what other people think of you. In it Gervais points out that “growth and learning take place when you’re operating at the edge of your capacity.”

In a nutshell, Gervais advocates for destigmatizing mental health training, something he has successfully done to improve culture and performance with organizations from the Seattle Seahawks to Microsoft. Here, he takes on mental strength training through the lens of FOPO—fear of other people’s opinions. Chances are you’ve had a close encounter with the crippling effects of FOPO, particularly in the age of social media. We can choose to fit in by living safe, and small; or we can push beyond our comfort zones towards what Gervais calls, “that messy edge–that place you can fall into a thousand pieces, or unlock something special.” Athletes must regularly go to that messy edge, with radical risk-taking, to discover their highest potential.

Finally, Hike the Course A Journey of Family, Passion and Olympic Success for Inspiring and Transforming Athletes of all Ages by Barbara Ann Cochran offers up solid sports psych advice along with first hand perspective of growing up as one of the famous Skiing Cochrans. I have not finished it yet, but it goes right to the list because it is an essential piece of any American skier’s cultural literacy. In addition to winning her own gold medal, and raising Olympic silver medalist Ryan Cochran-Siegle, Barbara Ann works extensively with current ski racers to help them succeed by adopting a growth mindset. The parallel story of how humble, accessible Cochran’s Ski Area has survived and thrived amidst the Disneyfication of skiing is itself a triumph.   

So I hope this Wintry Mix Reading List provides fodder to get you through the last dark days of January. Keep taking your Vitamin D and hang in there because the good stuff is yet to come.

P.S. Here’s a little local encouragement that made me smile...

3 thoughts on “Looking for Light in the Wintry Mix”

  1. Hi Eddie,
    It’s sunny and warm here in UT.
    The other day I was asked what’s best of getting old, my reply was I stopped caring what others think of me! S

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