It’s hard to believe it has already been a month since qualifier day at the Olympics, February 16th 2022. People often ask me if I feel nervous anymore when I’m competing. The honest answer I give them is “Usually, no.” Part of the reason that I’m able to consistently compete well is that I no longer have my identity tied to success in skiing. When I was younger, I based my self worth on whether I won contests or not.
The exception to this trend is qualifiers at the Olympics. Getting ready to drop in this time around I felt that familiar and dreaded nervous feeling. Nerves can be crippling; they deteriorate performance. If you watched much of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing this year, you might have been surprised how many people crashed, made mistakes on some of their easiest tricks, or in some cases missed the podium completely even though they were favored. Those are perfect examples of the stress Olympians face during this global event.
Overcoming the Pressure
It’s hard not to let the hype and external pressure get to you. Every Olympic athlete has been preparing for those runs for at least four years and for many of them it is their only opportunity in a lifetime to compete on that stage.
Everyone from your sponsors and coaches to your mom and your first grade art teacher are cheering you on. It is hard not to feel like all of those people are depending on you.
I constantly have to remind myself that even though those folks want me to do well, I’m the only one that can do these runs through the halfpipe. If I’m carrying all those people with me while I’m competing, even if it’s just in my mind, I will crumple under the weight. I usually take a moment to express gratitude to the creator and all of those people for getting me here, and then I focus in on the task at hand.
Mental Strength Technique
I didn’t have to land the best run of my life to make finals at the Olympics; I just had to land a decent run. An athlete in a similar situation might easily tell themself: “just don’t blow it”. However, that mentality often has a similar result to telling someone not to think about elephants.
To combat nerves and pressure at the Olympics I go through the same process as every other competition. I remind myself what I’m thankful for. I tell myself that I don’t HAVE to do this, I GET TO do it. Then I focus on one thing, on every hit of that five hit pipe, that I can improve on. It keeps me tied to the moment and not thinking about the future or the past. it’s one of my best mental strength tools; practicing the presence.
No matter what stresses are in your life currently, you can center your thoughts around this exact moment. If you are familiar with meditation, it’s the same thing. It can take as little as one minute so don’t let the excuse of time prevent you from implementing this powerful mental strength tool into your regular routine. The biggest mistake I see people make is the assumption that they will use healthy coping mechanisms during stressful situations without any practice. This is False. In order to properly apply meditation when you feel pressured, you must practice it often. Don’t make the mistake of assuming you will remember to breathe in chaos if you have never trained yourself to breath in a normal, peaceful moment before.
“Yesterday’s the past, Tomorrow’s the future, but today is a gift. That’s why they call it the present.”
Give it a Try
First, settle into a comfortable and stable position in a safe place, preferably quiet- but not everyone is so fortunate.
Close your eyes and focus on your breathing.
Pay attention to all five of your senses.
Listen to the sounds around you.
Take notice of how your body feels from head to toe.
As you breathe notice what you smell.
Can you taste anything? What does your tongue feel like against the roof of your mouth? Relax your jaw.
Open your eyes and notice your surroundings. Without any judgment, try your best to be thankful for what you see.
Continue to focus on your breathing. Deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Sometimes I visualize exhaling negativity or stress.
Try not to think about anything outside of what is happening right now, in this moment.
When you catch your mind wandering, gently bring your attention back to the present moment. You can count your breaths in and out to help your mind focus on the present. It is important that you are gracious and gentle with yourself. This practice is hard and takes time to learn. Be patient. When you have a wandering thought, acknowledge it and then let it go as you replace the thought with your breathing, the sounds and smells around you, the physical feelings in and on your body.
“Okay, I admit it. I am stressed out.”
In Beijing I had to admit to myself that I was feeling nerves, and attack them at their source. It is important to acknowledge your emotional feelings to practice the present moment. If you are in denial about your feelings, it will come out in a negative way- eventually. For example, in the lead up to the Olympics I repeatedly denied that I was stressed out until it manifested itself in a bad case of shingles on my face in September, 2021. I finally had to face the fact that I was overwhelmed and make some changes in my life and mental strategy.
Emotions have a lot less power over you when you acknowledge them. It is natural to want to hide strong emotions or feelings. Sometimes I catch myself hiding feelings from myself, because I judge that particular thought or feeling as negative. But when I acknowledge the way I am feeling, the path forward always seems more clear. Shine a light on those feelings and you might find that they are less ugly than you thought.
“What is the root cause of my anxiety?”
Subconsciously we all allow outside influences to impact our thoughts at times. They are not harmful until we internalize them and take ownership of them. This typically manifests itself through warning signs such as: a sustained elevated heart rate, restlessness or inability to stand still, brain fog, auxiliary muscle tension (clenched jaw, fists, furrowed brow). As soon as you recognize these warning signs you can begin your meditation practice and then proceed to interview yourself.
During Qualifiers, I discovered a relapse to an old way of thinking. I had fallen into the old habit of telling myself “I have to land these runs or four years of preparation will be a waste.” Instead, I reflected on the journey to get to this moment. Reminding myself that the story I was a part of was a beautiful thing whether I landed a run or not gave me the confidence I needed to let the tension go. I took ownership of what I had control over and I let go of the rest. By the time I dropped in for my first run the pressure had faded and I was in the flow state. I finished the day in fourth place, which is all I needed on that day. I made it through to finals.
I am excited to tie this blog post to a Valentine’s Day re-release of a video that Alexandra and I worked on for two years: “Give In.” The years that we were working on this also happened to be two of the most challenging years of both of our lives. All that struggle served as a test of our willingness to “Give In” to each other and highlighted the necessity of doing so.
Watch the video here, and then read on:
The video highlights two characters on two seemingly different journeys, but at its climax we realize that they have both been journeying toward each other all along. That is how it has felt for me. I spent so much time thinking I was on my own and was working for myself, but the journey was always drawing me to a place where I could “Give In” to Alexandra and be a better husband to her.
Since it is Valentine’s Day, let me start out with a heartfelt confession to my wife: you are way too good for me. Seriously, I married up… like, way up. Your love for me and the kids gives me something to aspire to every day. I thank God every day for allowing me to be a part of your life. I am eternally in your debt.
or putting your spouse before yourself, isn’t really a well promoted concept in our society. I think most people approach dating and relationships wondering what the other person can do for them. Are they attractive enough (and will they remain that way)? Do they have enough of my favorite qualities? Do they make enough money? Do they come from a good family? Are my future new in-laws palatable? Will we look good together? Will they bolster or hurt my reputation? Do they like enough of the same things I do? I’m not saying that these things aren’t important, I’m just pointing out how “ME” centered they are. Most relationships fall apart because both partners put themselves before the other habitually (usually one more than the other) and eventually someone decides that they have had enough.
I can tell you that I fell into this trap as well. Not being selfish is difficult in life as a professional athlete. A typical day might involve eating a protein rich breakfast; getting in a small work out and stretch; training and trying to improve my skills on skis; eating a protein-rich lunch; maybe going to see the physio to work on any ailments I might have; watching video of myself with my coaches and analyzing my technique; I might spend some time on the trampoline or doing yoga depending on the day; then I would eat another big meal. All those items seem self-centered. As athletes we get to be the front men for a big team of people: coaches, equipment techs, physical therapists, doctors, psychologists, administrators, etc. These people don’t work directly for us, they work for the team, but their whole role is based around serving the athletes, so it is easy to take them for granted.
I approached marriage in a similar way. I expected my wife to just jump on board and serve me and my purposes. Early on I didn’t communicate well with her. I didn’t let her in to my struggles. I wasn’t vulnerable about the difficulties I was going through. I was often distant and sullen because I was going through struggles that I thought she couldn’t understand. I also didn’t do a good job of expressing my interest in or my support of her hopes and dreams. Meanwhile, I struggled to understand her frustration and difficulty supporting the things that I was pursuing. I am so grateful to my wife for standing by me in those early years despite my stupidity and pride. I don’t know how she did it. Luckily, she stuck around long enough for me to learn something vital: unconditional love is the cornerstone to a healthy relationship. Early on I was caught up in the conditional love cycle: I’ll work for her, but only as hard as she works for me; I’ll sacrifice for her, but only as much as she is willing to sacrifice for me; I’ll serve her, but only as much as she is willing to serve me. Here is a little secret: if you approach relationships like this then someone will always be in debt and you will never be truly free. It is only when you surrender your need for justice and truly put your significant others needs before your own, that your relationship will take the first step toward freedom. My wife doesn’t forgive me when I mess up because I deserve it (most of the time I don’t). She forgives me because she truly loves me and wants me to prosper. I think if we all strove to truly put our significant others’ needs first we would be surprised by how content and joyful we would be about it. If she puts me first, and I put her first, we are both well taken care of. Surrendering our need for control and our desire to have our needs met is ironically the first step to freedom. When both members of a relationship put each other first, everyone is well taken care of. That is what “giving in” means to me. I believe I exist for two reasons: to serve God and to serve the people around me, starting first and foremost with my wife, followed closely by my kids. This video is a representation of that journey to “Give In” to my wife and her needs. I thought by putting her first I was surrendering my freedom, but in the end, I was only beginning to discover true freedom.
My name is David, and I Give In.
Once upon a time there was a boy who thought he was a man, Me.
I spotted you from a mile away and saw you as a temporary prize,
A tall athletic brunette with bright eyes.
I thought “She’ll make a perfect addition to my trophy case”
But you and God had a different plan.
The supposed conqueror became the victim,
In the end it was my pride that was destroyed. -Good riddance
I was a child playing stick ball, and you belonged in the major leagues.
For three years you would flit in and out of my life,
always leaving me yearning for more, inspiring me to something greater.
Then one day you fluttered down to my level and allowed me to call you: “Girlfriend”
I knew I was lucky then, but I had no idea that it was the start of something better, and harder, and more rewarding than I could have imagined.
Never in my life did I have a better idea than to ask you to be my wife.
I was NEVER more fortunate than when you said “Yes”.
I used to think I knew everything about you.
Seven years later I know I’ve only begun to scratch the surface.
You showed me what love, kindness and humility are.
You lead a life that makes me want to be a better man.
You motivate me to a better future, without shaming my broken past.
What is love without conditions?
Ask her, She’ll tell you.
So Butterfly, I want you to know that I love you.
I love you for your flaws and weaknesses, just as much as your beauty and strength.
God gave you the flaws to keep you within my reach, though you’ll always woefully outclass me.
Thank you for stopping your flight long enough for me to catch you.
It still amazes me that you decided to stay.
I like who I am becoming because of you, and I LOVE who you are becoming inspite of me!
Thank you for eight years of your precious life,
whether we have seven, or seventy, or seven hundred left,
I will be forever yours, as long as you will have me.
When I married david,
I didn’t know what love was. I mean, real love.
Not lust, not selfish love, not comfortable or convenient love.
Just because 1 Corinthians 13 is read at almost every wedding ceremony, does not mean the two individuals actually have a concept for it themselves. Nor does it mean they will practice it with each other in the days to come. But from my experience of “Give In” with David during our hardest two and half years, I believe I learned how to love David best by learning how to accept the love he had for me.
Until I married David, I did not know that I was loved. So, I fought for love in every situation I found myself in. Whether I was fighting for love with God, David, our daughter, my friends, my own family, or my in-laws, it was always rooted in the deeper issue that I did not know my own worth and value. I was a mess. I acted like an entitled child throwing a tantrum for a lollipop that had to be purchased before the parent could hand it to the toddler. That sucker was mine, but I fought for it like it wasn’t. Until “Give In” happened.
The making of the music Video “Give in,” for me, has been a long and sometimes torturous process of learning how to accept the relentless love of God over my life. I was stubborn to believe that I could neither gain more grace from doing good, than I could lose grace from doing wrong. And that frustrated me. I wanted to earn God’s love as much as I wanted to earn David’s love. My lack of awareness or understanding that I already had God’s Love was my downfall. It wasn’t until I learned that I could not fail him, and that he really would always love me for me, and not what I could do right or wrong. That I finally gave in and surrendered to the amazing grace and could accept David’s unconditional love for me, too.
I am still growing in this understanding, and I hope I always find myself on the discovery of how much I really am loved.
Bottom line; I cannot love David, if I cannot accept his love for me.
As David mentioned, real love really is contagious. It’s infectious. That’s why Hollywood can’t get over it, that’s why the top songs on the charts are still singing about it. Love is the single most powerful weapon we possess.
As the great theologians, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, once said: “All you need is love.”
And, it’s not a mystery anymore that perfect love casts out all fear. 1 John 4:18
David’s example of God’s perfect love invaded my dark and scary places of insecurity, doubt and disbelief. It knocked down my walls of self-glorification, and fear of rejection. David saved me from the self-destructive path I was walking of pride and shame when his kindness and goodness led me to a place where I could openly confess what was going on and not fear his punishment. Far from my understanding of marriage or any relationship, I found out that the more I told him, the more he loved me. There was no secret I wanted to hide anymore.
Knowing that I was completely accepted empowered me to accept myself. Which led to a chain reaction of me accepting him, my children, and the people around me in the same unconditional way.
As David and I continue to grow in our acceptance of love, our passion for repentance grows exponentially. We learned to confess the deeper issue stuff, not just surface level. And from confession we learned to forgive. Forgiveness comes from a place of understanding what it means to be forgiven. As we experienced each other’s forgiveness, it became almost impossible not to forgive others.
Forgiveness has been a cornerstone in our marriage. It has deepened our hope and joy for any situation that comes at us. When things go wrong, or don’t go the way we planned we can forgive the person who caused it. And in times when there is no one to blame, we can forgive the situation we are in and find peace to give thanks for the adversity.
“Give in” from the very beginning for me, was about giving into forgiveness. Loving David even when he didn’t deserve it, because I knew that I also had been forgiven. And I don’t mean loving him like, I will allow him to sleep in my presence. I mean loving him passionately, and intimately with complete vulnerability, even when he irritated me the most.
I remember one fight in particular, I was helping David pack for another big ski trip. Of course, it was another day of packing chaos. Home for one day, unpacking and repacking. He had misplaced an item, (his absolute worst nightmare) and logically blamed it on me because I was the one who has been home.
We were in the garage standing across from a mess of skis, bindings, wax, and baggage yelling at each other. And I will never forget the classic scene from “The Notebook” that ran through my head as I halfway listened to his latest accusation toward me. And, in a flash, all my anger and disappointment, and fear of rejection completely melted away. I had my answer of “justice” and it looked nothing like revenge. It was love. I walked over and kissed him right in the middle of his rant. And suddenly it was like a lightbulb went off and we remembered what was really important.
I’ve used this learning lesson much on my marriage and parenting since then.
If I am fighting with my significant other or my kids about something I feel entitled to have, then I care more about the thing than I care about them. Which we know is not true at the core, but it is the subliminal message we are sending one another when we fight about nothing like that. We are saying, I value my stuff more than I value you. But when I kissed David that day I was reminding him where his love, value, importance, worth and identity comes from.
I was reminding him of the love that he already had. He only needed to accept it.
So, my marriage advice is this, it’s simple and it has everything to do with you; and not them.
You are accepted. You are loved. You are worthy to be accepted and loved. So, celebrate the goodness of grace in your life. And with your new sense of joy, share your unconditional love with others. They can’t help but love you back.
My name is Alexandra, and I Give In.
David my beloved,
As we stand here today, I am overawed. Six years ago you only married a part of me. I was lost and broken.
Yet you chose me.
You chose me though I only had pieces to give. You were strong enough to be gentle and brave enough to be kind.
I am chosen and I am yours.
When I ran away you pursued me with an unrelenting love. You have never let me go.
When I denied you, you never left me. You are for me not against me.
I am not alone.
You taught me what grace is. You saw past my worst mistakes and you spoke to my identity.
You enabled me to see myself the way God sees me. You stole every reason I had be afraid.
Your faithfulness and your perfect love has healed me.
I am whole.
I stand in awe of God’s everlasting love for us. He never stops doing us good.
He showered us with mercy when He brought us together.
I am humbled.
So today I renew my promise not only to you, but to God. This time with a new heart, and all of me.
I submit to the authority God has given you over me, I will follow you where ever you lead.
By the grace of God you are who you are. Worthy of my trust in all you do, you can not fail.
I am in awe of who I am because of you. You will always be more than enough for me.
I promise to be your helper in what ever God Gives you to do.
I promise to encourage you and support you in how God leads you.
I promise to love you children and raise them in the way of the Lord.
I promise to bless you in you grief and sufferings.
I promise to celebrate with you in your victories.
I promise to comfort you in your sickness.
I promise to strengthen your weaknesses with gentle truth
I promise to respect you even when you are wrong
I promise to let our marriage to point to something bigger than us.
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!