On race day at the Olympics in Vancouver, I was a nervous wreck; my whole body was shaking as I put my hands on the start gates.
I could hear the crowd in the stands at the bottom braving the cold and rain. They desperately wanted me, a Canadian, to do well.
I was terrified.
For the last few days it had rained. Already low on snow, this rain was turning what was left of it to mush. I hadn’t trained in four days because you can’t train on 20 centimetres of slush. I hadn’t done one turn on my snowboard that morning. The only decent snow was on the course, and it now stretched out in front of me.
And here I was at the top of the hill, ready for my first Olympic qualifying run before my family, friends and my country.
It was a disaster.
I came 20th.
I was disappointed in myself. What really annoyed me was that I knew I was better than that. I could have done so much more.
I had four years to figure out how to master my shortcomings and be ready for the next Games.
I began to strive for excellence.
To me, excellence means doing everything in your power to be prepared and to show up ready to try your best – be it at training or racing. It took that experience in Vancouver to teach me what I needed to work on to reach my full potential.
In my sport, there are many uncontrollable aspects like weather, snow conditions, other’s performances … I had to master all the rest, the controllables. Focussing on what I can control means letting go of the outcome: the trophy or medal at stake.
I headed back to the gym, but this time, I worked full time with a trainer. Someone to challenge me, who wouldn’t let me give up when training got hard. Getting out of my comfort zone would only bring me to new heights.
There were no limits to what we tried.
I would bring my snowboard in the gym. Hanging on industrial-like elastics, I would balance in my racing position between sets of heavy cleans. If not in the gym, we climbed stairs at the football stadium or sprinted up Mont-Royal’s hills.
The pain would come and I welcomed it.
I wanted to get tougher, to be able to handle the forces generated by turning my snowboard or my heart rate going at 175 bpm (beats per minute) in a course.
Remembering my mental state in Vancouver propelled me to seek help from a sport psychologist.
I had met many, their approach was always similar: sitting and talking about sport theories. I wanted to find someone who had a proactive approach and I was looking for a mental training program, just like at the gym; three sets of 15 reps…
I met Dr. Pierre Beauchamp who worked with heart-rate monitors, breathing patterns and software called Neurotracker. We built a training schedule.
Among breathing exercises and imagery training, I trained my ability to focus by using the Neurotracker. Standing in front of this giant 3D screen, I would follow four out of eight tennis balls. They moved and twirled faster and faster as I got better.
Once they stop, every eight seconds, I needed to identify the balls I had selected. Focussing on the movements of the balls is crucial. The moment you think of something else, you’ve lost them!
Finding the right boards
While training on snow, I tested new equipment. Alpine snowboards are custom built. Finding the right boards for all the different snow conditions was my goal.
Using timing as a selection tool is essential. In my notebook, I wrote down times and feelings after each run.
After years of testing and a full notebook, I knew my preferred flex and construction. I felt confident I had the best equipment for any conditions Sochi would throw at me.
I started to see results right away. In 2011, I won my first World Cup, a huge moment in my career! No other Canadian women had won a World Cup in alpine snowboarding. Making history was pretty cool! In 2013, I finished third overall. I was ready for the Olympics and that moment was near!
We were training in Austria where we had our pre-Olympic camp, and everything was great.
As I boarded that plane I knew I was ready. The trip was long, it took all day, as the team traveled through Moscow and arrived in Sochi late in the evening. When we got off the plane we all lined up to pick up our accreditation and that’s when I felt something was wrong.
My throat was sore.
I spent the next four days battling the flu.
Virus only gained strength
Race day arrived and that virus had only gained strength. My coach had to carry my snowboards that morning as I was too weak to lift them, let alone walk to the gondola with the heavy equipment.
Surviving was my only thought. Unlike in Vancouver, I wasn’t stressed in Sochi. I had done this a thousand times before: Breathe, visualize, activate and start over. Breath, visualize, activate. I was on automatic pilot following my plan.
I was focussed. I was ready. I was weaker than usual.
I qualified eighth that morning.
The finals are a different ball game; you only have to beat the person racing next to you. I sailed through that first heat against the Russian bronze medallist in Vancouver.
I was up against the Japanese competitor next. I was weaker by the run, each race left me more drained. At this point a hole had formed in the snow on the blue course. While I battled that hole, my opponent glided through the finish to win by a fraction of a second. She moved on, I didn’t. I finished sixth.
No, I didn’t win an Olympic medal. Was I devastated? Yes… and no. My goal in Sochi was to allow myself to ride at my full potential. If I do that, I can be one of the best in the world.
I achieved that on that day. Is the medal the ultimate goal?
In the eyes of the media? Maybe. According to some athletes? Maybe.
For me, an Olympic medal definitely would have been amazing, but I would like to think I accomplished what I had been training for that day, regardless of the result.
There is much to be learned on the road to the Olympics. At the end of the day, it’s what we learn on that road that will be forever with us. It helps shape who we are, regardless of a medal won or not.
I come out of this journey a stronger person, someone who has learned to set goals, to plan and create strategies, to learn from my mistakes and not back down from a challenge. It did teach me to strive for excellence.
Whether I have an Olympic medal around my neck or not, it’s the same journey – just a different outcome.
Isn’t THAT worth gold?