Last week in Snowmass, Colorado, I reached the first finish line of a massive season by winning my second U.S. Olympic Team qualifying event. Having two wins under my belt ensures my spot on the U.S. Olympic Team for PyeongChang, South Korea this February. To say that the competition for spots on the Olympic Team was fierce would be an understatement. The U.S. Freeskiing Team for halfpipe right now is the strongest it has ever been. This is possibly the toughest battle for Olympic Team Spots in U.S. Ski Team history. The United States currently has at least 6 of the best halfpipe skiers in the world. The Olympic Winter Games is limited to four spots or less per country per event. That means that the two guys on the outside looking in, the fifth and sixth place Americans are skiers with enough skill to potentially win the Olympics, and they’ll be home watching from the couch. In many Olympic sports the members of the team are pretty apparent well in advance, but this weekend in Mammoth is the last event and I can honestly say that the remaining spots are still up in the air. Now you can understand my incredible sense of relief at having that spot locked up.
As I said in the beginning, I feel like I’ve reached a major finish line. I’m not easing off the gas by any means. The Olympics is the long-term goal. However, the easing of pressure is palpable. I am stoked to be going back to the Olympic Games and feel honored to represent everyone who has believed in me along the way. There has been a lot more to this particular journey than most people realize.
I am coming off the worst two seasons of my competitive career. At least that is how it looks on paper. My last victory before this season in Copper was at the Winter Dew Tour in the winter of 2014/ 2015. A lot of things played into my lack of success in the past couple years: I had an injured shoulder and back, three separate concussions, my wife lost her father, my sister Christy was in a boating accident and lost her leg, I had a dear student of mine commit suicide. Not to mention my wife and I had our second child, Malachi, shortly after the Olympics in Sochi. Alexandra was actually pregnant and experiencing brutal morning sickness while she was watching me compete in Sochi, but we weren’t telling anybody yet so she really had to get through that process alone while I was doing the insane media tour. After Alexandra gave birth to Malachi, she went through a hard year of postpartum depression – something more common than most people realize. We had to find out that having two kids was far more challenging to handle with my new post-Olympic traveling schedule than we had expected. There were moments when we were not sure we were going to make it.
During the 2014 season leading up to the Olympics in Sochi, my wife and daughter traveled everywhere with me. It was a great way for me to feel like I was part of their life while still doing my job. But traveling with two kids is a lot harder than traveling with one. Plus, we went through an entire year where at least one kid at a time was sick. Neither my wife nor I were sleeping at night and then I would go out and try to ski the same as always as if nothing had changed. During one trip when I traveled without the family, Malachi had a fever spike and went into what we now know was a febrile seizure. At the time I was in Oslo, Norway and got a phone call from my wife who thought our son was dying, or dead. Let’s just say this was a lot to take on at once and my skiing performance suffered.
The people around me had some interesting reactions to my supposed “fall from glory;” a lot of them weren’t positive. Over the last two years I’ve experienced a lot of adversity, but one I was not expecting was the complete restructuring of my sponsors. I’m thankful to everyone that stood by me, especially my sponsors – Monster, Visa and Lululemon Men. Sponsors that I never expected to be petty and shortsighted, some of whom I have partnered with for more than 10 years decided it was time to cut me loose. One company even went to the length of making up bogus “contract violations” in order to have an excuse to terminate my contract instead of carrying it through the Olympics like the contract stated. I’ve been asked countless times if I was going to retire (not anytime soon, guys!). I’ve had people tell me that I had a good run and that they were surprised it lasted as long as it did. I’ve certainly had some people dancing on my contest career’s supposed grave and celebrating my downfall. Never the less, I’ve also experienced unconditional love and support from a select few that made all the weapons of my enemies turn to ash.
The problem is the haters forgot who I am. Or, perhaps, more accurately they never bothered to figure out who I was in the first place. I have to admit I am to blame too. I am not naturally a transparent person. I don’t tell people when I am struggling, and I don’t often share the burden. During the tough times these past years I didn’t reach out and let people know how hard of a time I was having outside of skiing. I just kept my head down and kept fighting. That is what the naysayers and critics fail to realize. I am a fighter, and fighters do their best work in adverse conditions. Nothing has been better for my long-term ski career than having two years of struggles. I have learned to be thankful for my multiple injuries that left my career in question to the world. I am thankful for my sister’s loss that enabled her to live with a purpose that is bigger than herself. I am thankful for the death that brought so much life and healing to my wife. She has become a true proverbs 31 woman through her own trials, I couldn’t be prouder of who she is now because of it, and where it has brought our marriage and family. I am thankful for my two most prized possessions that I can never take credit for: my honor and glory, Nayeli and Malachi, who have made me the man I am today. I am thankful for the buildup of all the tragedy that prepared me for what was to come – and taught me how to consider all things as an opportunity for great joy.
So today, I am able to write this with complete peace in my spirit, I am thankful for the sponsors that dropped me and the shortsighted people that counted me out. You guys are responsible in a major way for reigniting the furnace in my heart and I have never felt as passionate and excited about skiing and competing as I do right now. Those dropped sponsorships have opened the door to some of the best partnerships of my career, and taught me how to cherish what I have instead of focusing on what I don’t. I’m back in full-force and I’ve never been more grateful for the things that I have, instead of being caught in a vicious cycle of always wanting more. I appreciate the opportunity to represent my country, my hometown and MY people in the Olympics this year more than I knew I was capable of. I also know that all of this is temporary, and that is ok. Everything that I have is a gift from God, and He can take it away when He wants to. I am surrounded by people who truly love and support me for who I am, not what I do on a pair of skis and not for any level of success I could attain.
These past two years have done a great job of showing me the truly loyal people and I will cherish them. I’m also dedicated to not hating the fickle people, but instead finding hope in forgiveness and my renewed passion for repentance. I have been guilty of plenty of shortsightedness in my life, so I can forgive the ski industry for being shortsighted with me. After all, Jesus forgave the same men that nailed him to a cross, and his example is the one I most desire to follow. There are two ways to react to adversity in life. One way is to feel slighted and to allow yourself to be bitter. The other is to use the adversity to your advantage and gain strength and momentum from it. I choose the latter. Join me on my journey to PyeongChang and, as always, thank you for the support!