In my childhood room hidden away in the closet rests a large piece of stationary. Surrounded by disused clothes, old plaques and ribbons, it demands the attention of the small space, a center-piece from an important memory long ago. Some of the names have faded from time but mine still stands out at the top of the bracket of that duel panel slalom some twenty years ago.
It is the first race I remember winning.
For most of my career, paneled slalom has been viewed more as a training tool than a legitimate discipline, and the “races” were usually more the dress-up-in-a-costume type of thing. However, with the advent of the city event on the World Cup and the return of the World Pro Ski Tour, that idea has begun to shift.
Last season they announced the addition of the first ever parallel slalom event at the NorAm level and needless to say I was intrigued. It is not an event anyone trains, therefor it is mostly about raw talent and mindset.
After making it through qualifying at that NorAm event last January I looked around me and what I saw were thirty-two competitors, most of which had little experience in the event, and I knew I had an opportunity. While others took one or two practice starts then slipped through the course, I stayed up top to watch who was the fastest out of the gate and what they were doing differently than everybody else. I studied their form and how I might incorporate that into my own technique. If I could learn, that would be my edge against the others.
When we started racing I broke the course down into sections, memorizing where the bad ruts were, how to take the jump and where to keep my shape. All things that one should do in any ski race but with parallel slalom it is different because you get as many runs as you advance, and if you make it into the semi-finals that run total is ten instead of two.
I found my flow state that day and was lucky enough to advance to the semi finals where I ultimately ended up third. My first NorAm podium.
When US Nationals rolled around last year I came into it confident. I knew the same thing I did when the NorAm event happened a few months prior. No one had an edge. We were all on similar levels when it came to duel parallel slalom. Again I stood at the start examining the best and trying to mimic their movements. I stayed at that start until they made me leave.
When each round came and went I found myself advancing until I reached the semi-finals against fellow Pro Tour athlete, Alex Leever.
It is hard to describe the flow state but I simply knew every inch of both of those courses. I knew where the well established ruts were, I knew exactly where I needed to go straight and where I needed to let up a little. I knew if I was ahead by a certain point I would be able to keep that lead.
Second run against Alex I was ahead with three gates to go and I knew I had made it into the finals.
There is not much emotion when you are in that state because of the elevated sense of concentration. There is no next run, there is no what ifs. There is only the moment and the exact precise movements you must make to flow into the next. Thats all.
Hip extension- drive left hand up and through- drag right foot back- engage tip- roll toes/ankles/knees- buildbuildbuild- hip extension…
The flow state explodes as the discs in my back punch into the nerve behind them two gates from the finish. I will my body to cross the finish line, advancing to the finals and promptly folding my chest onto my ski poles.
Alex skis over to me and immediately knows something is wrong. I cant stand up or move without excruciating pain lancing up my back. Team doctors ski down to have a look at me and I ask to be clicked out of my skis since my legs have lost all power and my ski poles are the only thing keeping me upright.
Where before I would walk through the finish coral on my way up for yet another run giving high fives and smiles to those who spectated, now all is silent and no one wants to look. I don’t want to look. My body has failed me in one of my proudest moments as a ski racer.
I try desperately to search for an answer on how to continue. Some magical cure to get me into that starting gate for two more runs. I look to the doctor examining me but it is clear that my body needs weeks, possibly months to recover, not minutes.
That realization was heartbreaking.
Having to sit out that final round against Garrett Driller, who had eliminated me in two Pro Tour races earlier that season was hard to come to terms with. I wanted us to push each other one last time to see who would come out on top. Instead I watched from the finish area, giving Garrett and Alex high fives as they skied to first and third. I was ashamed I couldn’t race with them. I also felt like I let down everyone who was there watching. Coming for a show and instead witnessing a bizarre spectacle of a solo skier sliding down to win US Nationals without a competitor.
I ended up leaving that afternoon, having to pull myself from the slalom the next day. I woke up the next morning in more pain than I have ever experienced. I had to crawl on my hands and knees to reach the bathroom, unable to stand on my feet.
That was a pretty low moment.
Over the next few weeks I healed and the pain in my back slowly receded, but the sting of limping out of that finish arena never eased.
I know that placing second at US Nationals is an awesome achievement but because of how it occurred it turned into one of the lowest points of my career. Even now writing about this is difficult because I have such strongly negative feelings whenever I think about it.
I don’t view it as an achievement, I view it as a failure.
A failure of my body, a failure of my preparation, a failure of my execution. It sucks to have all of these negative emotions attached to something that should get me excited for the future of my career.
Instead I have channeled that angry energy into getting stronger. Getting prepared for next season and all it has to offer. I am not sure if my back will be better next season or if it will continue to cause issues.
But I am sure as hell not going to take it easy when I step into the start gate next.
Press play to view all of my runs from US Nationals-