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Kelly Vanderbeek-This was the first season I didn't get better

Kelly Vanderbeek is a downhill skier. With three world cup podiums and a world ranking of 5th in Downhill, she's looking forward to Vancouver 2010.

I am sitting here in front of my computer trying to summarize another season, to find insights into the highs and lows and a way to fully express my motivation heading into next year.

However, at this moment, I'm finding that my body and mind need some time to "catch their breath."

It's an odd feeling when the race season concludes: the racing has gone by too quickly, yet the season feels like it has lasted far too long. The travel and stress that comes with the competitive season certainly takes its toll in different ways.

I know right now we are all excited to be heading home for a week of recovery. I haven't slept in my own bed since Jan. 2 — the thought of doing my own laundry excites me, and knowing I'll get to make my own coffee tomorrow morning has me brimming with happiness. But above all of those things, it'll be the massive hug from my fiancee, David, upon my arrival that will make me happiest.

Tough year for the Speed Queens

With such high hopes and expectations heading into the season, I'm sad to finish with so little — as far as end results — to show for it. I look back on this season and I feel at odds with the different emotions that arise. I feel a sense of accomplishment, proud of my perseverance and willingness to face my demons, yet I feel disappointment as well.

There is a sense of sadness that this season has passed and I, for the first time in my career, didn't have a career-best result during that winter. I've never made any Herculean leaps and bounds in my career, but I have consistently gotten better every year. This is the first season that this hasn't happened.

But again, these sentiments crop up when I think of world rankings and podiums, not when I look at the season from another perspective. In that perspective I see the challenges I faced and I'm proud of the strong performances I continued to demonstrate.

It was a tough year for the Canadian Speed Queens as a whole. I finished as the top Canadian in the World Cup downhill standings in 15th, just ahead of Emily Brydon, but pretty far back in the super-G.

Both Emily and Britt Janyk had rough seasons as well, and as a group we struggled. We have had several discussion about why that is and for each of us the story varies. We all came into this season expecting the highs from last season to carry on. Sadly they didn't, for any of us, and we finished with not a single podium and Britt just missing the qualification level for the World Cup finals in the downhill.

The lesson of Tina Maze

Still, I'm proud of my season on a personal level. With no summer training due to a knee injury, severe whiplash after a downhill crash at Lake Louise, an arm infection in St. Moritz, having both my shoulders pop out in Cortina, fighting a chest cold and a gastro intestinal bug and finally a concussion in Bansko, I still qualified for the finals (you have to be ranked in the top 25 in the world) in both the super-G and downhill.

It's not like last year, but there are some things that I know I can build on and take into next season. There are a few glitches to iron out — and believe me, I'm all over identifying them and taking steps to fix them.

This is a sport where things can change in an instant, but you still have to work hard for those changes. An example of this is Tina Maze, a fellow World Cup racer who's had a lot of success but has struggled for a few seasons. She started the season ranked outside the top 30 in both the downhill and super-G, but finished ranked third in the giant slalom, sixth in the downhill and seventh in the super-G.

It takes a lot, yet not much, to drastically change the path we're on. I know that, like Tina, we'll be back with a vengeance next year.

Stronger than I thought

What will I focus on in training? I want to make a few key changes in my technique and there is some equipment testing I'll be doing as well, especially with my boots. I'm extremely happy with Volkl and Lange, but I want to be better acquainted with my equipment and in tune with a setup that works best for me. Having missed last summer's training I felt rushed to decide on a setup for the racing season. Changing boot models the week before we started racing was a tough decision. I'm glad I made the switch, but during the season I should have spent more time with those boots to play with angles and heights.

Then, of course, there is the mental aspect of racing, which is vital. I think our team suffered a fate to the men's team's after their record-breaking season. It's rather remarkable how similarly our teams performed the year after such stellar seasons. Once the raw emotions from the season have subsided, and I've "caught my breath," I'm looking forward to delving into the mental side of what went on this season for myself as well as the team's dynamic.

When I list the challenges I faced over the last eight months, I'm happy to say I'm still here pushing forward. The biggest lesson I've learned is that I am stronger than I thought I could be and that I can endure. I look forward to getting back to work.

Up next is a training camp in Whistler, then another camp in Nakiska later in April.

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