Hello my friends – the 2014/15 sliding season is officially underway!
As per usual, my racing timeline started directly after Canadian Selections and as always, required quick packing and even speedier travel arrangements. With my season being 100 percent self-funded this year, getting things booked, timed and secured last minute was an even trickier situation.
While Canada retained 12 athletes on the Canadian National team: 3 men/3 women on World Cup and 3 men/3 women on InterContinental Cup – the first ICC race wasn’t in everyone’s budget. As such, Paul Fraser and myself were the only two Canadians on the roster to race in Lillehammer, NOR. We were also unable to have the Head Coach with us, Thankfully, Latvia agreed to help our cause. I can’t say that the potential cost wasn’t a deterring factor, but more than that – I had never been to Lillehammer and the chance to learn a new track is something I just couldn’t pass up.
A couple of (should-have-been-expected) hiccups surrounding transportation occurred the morning we were set to depart but of course, my Kelleher Ford Escape (aka: The "Cass-Car") saved the day. It zipped us from Calgary to Edmonton in time to catch our Iceland Air flight and travel the 6457km across the ocean to Oslo, Norway!
I wish I could tell you all about the endless beauty of Norway, but the reality is - for every day except the race day - the clouds overpowered any sunbeams. There were brief glimpses of rolling hills and quaint little homesteads. But for the most part, it was 'Grey' or Night. So, I'll just speak mainly to the part of the landscape I saw the most of - the Skeleton track.
For reference: here's an entertaining video of 2010 Olympic Gold Medalist, Amy Williams racing James May down Lillehammer on BBC's Top Gear. Amy on her sled down the track. James in a Mini on the road alongside the track.
My first run down had me looking around a little too much as I entered a high-speed corner and <<BA-BAM>> my face was whipped and pinned on the ice for the next two corners. I crossed the finish line, took off my helmet and raised my white-gloved hand to my nose. Sure enough, there were remnants of blood. oups. Hah! From the get go, Lillehammer made sure I knew that I was going to have to be “on” every single moment of every single corner.
Training through the rest of the week appeared to be fairly on pace. A good number of solid runs, a few extra lessons, and decent feedback – I was feeling confident.
Two nights out from our race, Paul and I took a couple of hours to explore the city. Our adventures led along a 1994 Olympic ring inlaid cobblestone pathway and beautiful scenery all around and ultimately into a pub in the heart of Lillehammer. The barkeep greeted us as we entered and our senses were accosted by hundreds of sports prints, images and memorabilia from all over the world. The bottles were all on display behind our friendly bartender and two tables contained small groups of people eating and chatting away. Looking to taste some local spirits we were served up two oversized shot glasses filled with Gammel Opland.
My ears perked up as a classic Bruce Hornsby tune began to play. We took our seats and sipped our 100 centilitres of Norwegian liquor.
“Something’s never change, that’s what they say. Ooooh but don’t you believe them….”
This simple familiar melody caused me to take pause.
It got me thinking just how incredibly lucky I was to be on this journey. How much I really do adore my “job”, and that no matter what happens, no matter how rocky this road has gotten or may still get– I’m on the right path. MY path!
With smiles and waves (and a bit of a buzz) we headed back to catch dinner at our hotel in Øyer.
Table for two?! :)
I woke up race day feeling, if I’m to be honest, a little off. This initial emotion passed quickly, but I remember thinking it was unique. Paul and I had finished our sled and race prep the night before, so we had an easy morning and made it to the track with lots of time.
The energy at the track was high and I was happy to feel it’s tingle as I set Phrixus down in Park fermé. All the countries and their staff milled around; Paul and I had joked all week that Canada was a “small-nation” as the two of us nodded a “we’re here” nod to our stand-in Coach from Latvia.
The ice looked like it was going to be good and fast and I set up my sled in accordance to what I had understood from our 3 days/ 6 runs of official training. I had drawn #5 and despite still modifying my movements to accommodate my foot/heel I was feeling great during my warm up.
Standing at the line, I had overheard on the loud speaker that the ice was in fact quick. My tummy butterflies danced; I was ready.
Big, long, powerful strides off the block and I gracefully loaded. The run didn’t feel perfect; they almost never do. I knew I had made mistakes, but as a slider you almost always keep hope in your heart as you cross the finish line and strain to see your downtime. I saw mine. I wasn’t ahead, and I knew it was going to ultimately be a battle in the second run.
As predicted, aside from First through Third place, who all demonstrated their experience with this track and laid down some serious runs. There were about 12 of us all within .20 of a second. I knew I could have a better run, and I planned to do just that.
Thirteenth was anything but my plan. I had made a goal for myself of Top five and despite my efforts, and my acknowledgment that without the coaching staff we normally had on tour, I was dealing with a number of variables on a track that I couldn’t really have perfectly understood in less than 10 minutes of practice - I was still very disappointed.
This is an admitted crutch of my competitive attitude. I could list and understand all the (possible) reasons as to why things went the way they did, but I still have to go through the grieving process in order to move on.
Of course, I have. As I always do. Because in reality -when you are on tour there isn’t much time to waste time living in the past – a few hours of sleep and one returned rental car later, Paul and I were on a flight from Oslo to Munich.
Met by Head Coach, Ivo and arriving around the same time as one of our other teammates the 4 of us drove the 2 hours to Konigssee, GER.
Which is exactly where I am now – writing to you the eve before ICC Race #2 (Nov 28)! With a total of 8 of my teammates; (Full ICC and 3 WCer's) Go Team Canada!
... ICC Race #3 is also here, November 29!
This week has once again been a battle – but last week’s setback ended up being a blessing in disguise. After all, if we let them, disappointments can be openings, openings to new questions, new perspective, new approaches.
Last week’s race, while I had let frustration from my result go - managed haunt my thoughts as I found myself suffering similar issues through official training here in Konigssee (a track I haven’t been to in 2 years).
Thankfully, my sled maker, Willi Schneider is here as the Head Coach of the Russian team and something in the back of my mind told me that it was time to ask him to check out my equipment.
It took him less than 10 minutes to discover two serious issues. 1. Runner integrity that needed fixing and 2. My balance point when I am on my sled (due to the new saddle I have been riding since the beginning of this season) was way off. On their own, each of these items can cause big problems; together they are a recipe for massive time loss.
Presently, I am feeling extremely relieved and only mildly irritated. I have done my best to adjust my equipment issues, despite realizing that I having been sliding with a misbalanced sled since the beginning of the season. Argh! Regardless, tomorrow when I stand at the line, I’ll know I’ve done everything I could – because I wasn’t too proud to ask for help – and I’ll be thankful for the past mistakes and the missteps, because I never would have learned all that I was shown without them.
My journey continues.
Dream big. Work small.
Stay tuned for Race #2 and #3 updates!