2 Months into Retirement

What does it feel like to be retired? It is great! AND challenging.

I had the most fantastic end to my career. I don’t think I could have asked for more because I really felt like I had the chance to say goodbye, to celebrate, and to savor being with my team for the last time. It was incredible. IMG_7739

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I moved to Germany about two days after my last race and I have been living here for the last two months. With a dutch passport, it is easier for me to live in Europe than for my boyfriend to move to the U.S. So I am giving it a shot! I live in a town called Holzkirchen, which is about 30 minutes from Munich and 20 minutes from the Bavarian alps. Right now, my biggest goal is to learn German, create my own life here, and make friends!

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Before this year, I talked about retirement with my Sport Psychologist and we discussed how difficult it can be to transition from being a full-time athlete to “normal” life. Many athletes that go through a big depression after the let down from the excitement of the racing lifestyle and the overwhelming possibilities that they can now choose from. He suggested that it would be wise to make sure that I went right from biathlon into something else that I could fully put my energy into or else I might struggle with feeling depressed or lost.

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So far I have had a bit of everything! Elation at having such a great end and moving on to new things, feelings of being overwhelmed with choice, feelings of freedom, and homesickness! I have NOT missed organized training, which has actually surprised me a lot because I always loved going to practice. I DO miss my team a lot and thank god the girls and I have been trading emails back and forth pretty regularly. It makes me feel really close to them even though we are not together any more. I don’t miss the intense highs and lows of racing, but if I don’t exercise for a few days, I feel gross in my body and start to get grumpy. I have noticed that I either don’t do much of anything or I do a really long adventure that I get totally exhausted from. I have enjoyed doing 45 minute runs when I feel the need to breath hard, but I only go when I feel like it. Once in a while, it feels great to just hammer for a little while. It’s really different! I LOVE not having to train when I don’t feel like it, when it is pouring out, or when I am traveling to visit a friend or something and I want to be able to just relax and go with the flow without having the feeling like I am supposed to fit a two hour run in somewhere. But I do miss being part of something that feels big and important and doing it together with people I love.

When I first finished, I wanted to give myself some time to just enjoy not doing anything and I did that! I got to travel with a friend to the Italian coast, visit family in the Netherlands, spend time with my family in Portugal, and go on some adventures with my boyfriend. I was so lucky to get to visit some very beautiful places!

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I quickly realized that like my sport psychologist mentioned, not having any direction was going to be tough. I started to feel overwhelmed by the idea of starting everything new in my life in a new country and in a foreign language which I am not yet fluent in…. I really needed the help of my boyfriend for EVERYTHING! And I am a really independent person.

“Jumping over my shadow” as the saying goes in German was really important for me to do. Just getting myself out there to make friends, trying to make phone calls to nursing schools in German and failing, and then figuring out how to ask questions like , ” I would like to apply for… blah blah blah” and hoping that if not perfect, I am at least slightly understood. To making friends for the first time in my life without the help of being part of a team! That is a HUGE adjustment. Whenever I meet someone I think I could get along with, I get nervous like I am asking them out on a date!  I would say that most of my intellectual talent lies in being able to communicate, write, and work with people. In german, that is the not the case. I work one day a week at a coffee shop so that I am forced to speak German and it is funny to get confused about things like “ice coffee”- meaning, coffee with ice-cream and not ice-cubes.  Another adjustment is going from being a person that is well known in a small town to feeling very anonymous. Sometimes at home, I have to hide in the grocery store so I don’t have to talk with someone if I am in a hurry and I definitely don’t have that experience here in Germany. It also means I don’t have a network of people who know me and what I stand for, which is something that will take some time.

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There has been so much change going from being a professional athlete and having biathlon and skiing as the major guiding force in your life, with a team, and living close to home to suddenly staring at the beginning in a foreign country, learning a new language, making friends, and just establishing my own life and independence.  Something that really helped me make a big jump in my mentality was figuring out that I really need to learn German so that I can communicate more confidently and so that I can move on in new directions with my life. I signed up for an intensive German course that spans a month and now I am working more which gives my life some structure and gives me some goals. It’s surprising how important that was for me.

And when I think about what I am most proud of in my life it is always the things that were the biggest challenges. I have a feeling that the transition from biathlon to whatever comes next will be exactly the same way!

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Retirement!

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This week marks the last World Cup races of my career! I have finally decided to move on and try something new in my life, but it is a bittersweet feeling and I have been processing so many different emotions this week. I could not have imagined a better way to finish my last race than as the anchor leg of the relay with my teammates cheering me on over the last hill. I think I started crying before I even got to the finish line!

Retirement is a topic that is not discussed very much even though it is a really important part of an athlete’s career. It is a topic that I have been thinking about a lot this year, but have also kept mostly to myself because it is so personal and hard to discuss openly with people. One one hand, you think about it every time you have a good or bad performance. On the other hand, you try not to think about it so that you aren’t distracted from being in the moment. So how do you know when it is your time to leave your sport? Do you stay in sport because you are at the top of your game ? Or do you retire because it is super to finish at your best? Do you stay in a sport because you have potential that you have not lived up and you just need to keep trying to figure it out? Or do you retire because you are not accomplishing what you would like?  Do you let your moments of brilliance keep you going? Or do you let yourself work on the next phase of life, which is inevitably going to come? Do you focus on the good things that keep you going? Or do you focus on the challenges?

I think that if you are lucky, you get to decide when to be done. And I actually think that the answer is none of these things, but it has taken me a long time to realize that. You decide to retire, not because you are not good enough, or not because you are as good as you will ever be, but because another life starts to beckon and you start dreaming about other things. .

This year I started  to see the world go by and friends start to move forward in their lives in a way that I have noticed feeling wistful about. Biathlon, although it is incredibly challenging, is also a safe place for me, a place of the known. The next step in life is hard to imagine and committing to it is a big leap of faith. It is scary and exciting. Biathlon is all I have ever really done and it has always guided every decision I have made.  Living a life without the boundaries of biathlon is intimidating as well as liberating.

I am here at the Oslo World Championships and all through this week while I have been racing, I have felt such mixed emotions. It has been here that the decision to retire has finally sunk in.  At times, I feel elated. I will never have to feel so nervous for hours of a day because I am waiting to race. I will never have to be obsessive about sanitizing my hands before I eat, because soon I won’t care! I can go on crazy outdoor adventures when I want to and it won’t have to fit into a training plan. But I am also sad. I am sad that I didn’t quite figure out how to be the best biathlete I could be, as often as I would have liked. I am sad to say goodbye to such an amazing groups of people. I can’t believe how lucky I have been to be surrounded by such as supportive, fun, crazy staff. And I am going to miss my teammates terribly. I don’t think many people have the chance to get to know such great people in such an intimate way very often. And it is hard to say goodbye to a life and know that you really have to leave it.

 

 

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IMG_7739            IMG_7693I am both nervous and excited about what comes next and I hope that I find something in my life that makes me feel purpose the same way that biathlon has for all of these years. I am incredibly grateful to have spent so many years of my life doing something with such passion and excitement. I hope that I can give back what biathlon and it’s community has given to me.

I feel very lucky to have my parents here to celebrate the end with me and also for all the people who have been there for me in the rollercoaster life that is biathlon. Thank you to everyone!

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It’s Been a Year!

IMG_7059Wow, it has been a year since I last wrote in my blog and I am in Antholz again. I guess that is probably a good thing because it means I was too busy with real life to sit down and write about things. Writing is still how I process ideas and thoughts, but sometimes it is hard to know where to draw the line in a blog. On the one hand, I am not interested in writing about day to day stuff and/or training for biathlon, and on the other hand, writing about some of the things that I think about and experience are just too personal to share with anyone who might want to read it.

But when I first created my blog, I decided that I would do it with the idea of writing a letter to my father and perhaps that is where I should start again.

Dear Pops,

I really liked the last email you sent me where you told me to throw my rifle in the woods  because  it the only thing in my life that causes me such great frustration (alluding to the fact that I have had terrible shooting in the last World Cups and am in a slump that  has gotten progressively harder to come out of). It was quite funny to me when you called my rifle the “demon stick of the anti-Christ”, or the “thunderstick”, and the “weapon of mass destruction” and told me “it don’t mean shit to a tree” whatever that means. My teammates and I had a good laugh over that. I guess your empathy about seeing me struggle with biathlon is pretty  strong and I both grateful and sorry about that. It is pretty amazing how sad a few little black dots can make you feel. But, when you turn it around, I am really lucky that the only thing in my life that really causes me problems are a few little black dots and a “thunderstick”.

I realized that the last post I wrote in my blog had much to do with the same subject- which is how to pick yourself up when biathlon is not going well. It would seem that not much has changed in the last year. But! That is not true.

For starters, I bought the purple house this summer. It is next door to my older sister and her family and across town from you. This gives me great joy, because it is a life dream of mine to find a way to be close to my family. I had the best time dinking around my house, painting things, struggling down in the crawl space to cover the pipes with heat tape, and putting up nasty insulation. It was overwhelming at times because I would go down there and breathe in nasty shit, get a stiff neck from holding up insulation that wouldn’t stay,  and wrestle with chicken wire and staple guns. But the cool thing was, that when I started to get that panicky frustrated feeling most people know about, where you kind of want to cry and you kind of want throw a tantrum and stomp your feet,  I would tell myself to keep trying. And then I did it. I figured it out and it made me so proud of myself. That is what biathlon has taught me. I find that this stubbornness comes in handy much of the time and gives me the confidence to challenge myself because I feel like I can eventually figure something out. I’d much rather decorate my house and make things cozy, but I have noticed an increased willingness on my part to get involved in the types of projects that I would normally stay away from. For example, trying to figure out how to fix the circuitry in a car for the windshield wipers. This is new for me and it is because I realized that if I really wanted to figure something out, I could probably do that.

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I even learned how to mow my lawn eventually! Next year, I will tackle the garden. Maybe.

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Here’s praying that the pipes won’t freeze this winter for my brother and his wife who are currently living in my house…

 

So, I will keep applying this principle back to biathlon. I believe in myself and my ability and my coaches do too. When things go south, then I start asking for help, I talk to friends, I talk to my parents, I write a couple of frustrated letters and then delete them, I drink a beer  (or two) with my wax techs,  play a practical joke or two, and then try to keep my head up so that I don’t miss all the other cool stuff around me. IMG_7565.jpgIMG_7549

I am sorry that it is sometimes painful to watch me compete and not quite “hit the mark” so to speak. But, it’s okay.  Someday, skiing in circles will end and the perseverance and thick skin that I have developed with this sport will carry me through other challenges.

Love,

Annelies

 

 

 

 

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A bump in the road

Biathlon: Skiing, Shooting, and Existential Crisis

I am currently in beautiful Antholz, Italy, where I am feeling so lucky and happy to just be. The snow is beautiful, our hotel feels like a magical Narnia castle in the mountains, and family and friends flock to come and watch us race. It is such a good feeling to be here.

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But this great feeling comes after some weeks of feeling mentally down. I have to admit that I have been asking a lot of questions about what I am doing in biathlon. I think that every athlete goes through phases like this. In fact, it seems like my teammates have also been going through this from reading their blogs!  I sat down to think about what I was feeling sad about and how I have worked to turn it around with the help of others. I would characterize myself as a positive person so it feels good to be back to a more normal state of being.

To start off with, I have been frustrated about race performances for myself. This gets compounded by wanting to have good performances for others as well. For example, the wax technicians who ski 40 k trying to get you the best skis, coaches who stand out in the rain for hours, and parents who feel sad if you feel sad. Then on top of that, having very             uninspiring biathlon conditions like cold rain, fog, dirty manmade snow, and wet heavy slushy, snow, which makes biathlon in and of itself, a bit less enjoyable (imagine laying down on a slushy mat, holding metal rifles that are wet and cold in your hands and trying to feel the trigger, and then skiing up big steep uphills in concrete snow and not moving very fast).

These thoughts then morphed into missing home, family, and friends. Add to this the feeling that a clock is ticking and the world is moving on without you. This starts questions about what the future holds like what do I do with myself when I retire? And how do I know when it is time to retire?

This was all SUPER NEGATIVE!!! Not my normal style. But when these thoughts all converge at the same time and snowball, it is so detrimental to performance, which is exactly the thing that started the negative spiral to begin with.

So, I did what I always do when I am having a hard time. I start talking. I reach out to people for advice. This is what I got.

First, I wrote my sports psychologist to ask for some strategies to work on my performances, and also whether or not it was time to retire. He said, “You are not ready to retire if you still care so much when things don’t go well”. That was a good piece of advice. Then I talked to my mom, and she thought I should “make a plan” so that I don’t feel as stressed about my future and can focus on where I am are right now. And then she handed the phone over to my dad who told me “You think too much! Don’t think so much! You can’t do this for the rest of your life, so enjoy it now. You will be fine in whatever you do once you finish biathlon, so don’t worry so much. Plus if you were home all the time, you might get bored.” Then I went to dinner with my boyfriend and over a glass of wine he told me, “It’s all in your head. You can’t think, I don’t want to be slow. You have to think that you are going to be fast. It’s all mental and what you believe yourself to be capable of. Plus, what have we to complain about in our lives?” And then I wrote a message to a fellow athlete that I respect incredibly because she achieved her goal of placing in the top 5 of the Tour de ski. She asked how I was doing and I told her that I was feeling frustrated and her reply back to me was, “It will come around, just keep believing! That has been the biggest thing for me, going after a race with no holding back, no other thoughts, just being selfish and channeling what you need to do to perform your best”. And lastly, I was talking to the sister of one of my teammates and telling her about the blog I was busy writing up and she replied, “Isn’t that what biathlon is all about? Skiing, shooting, and existential crisis!” I guess she has had this same conversation before…

So that is what got me to where I am today. All of these nice gems really helped shape my thinking process. PLUS- I got a few gifts from the Universe too. TA DA!!!!

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The first gift was that I decided to go and cheer for the Mass Start in Ruhpolding. It was incredible. I forgot how thrilling exciting biathlon was. And the FANS! Being on the other side of the fence was a great reminder of how much I would rather be on the inside of the fence.

And the second gift was a snowstorm that was so beautiful it made me want to ski just for the pure pleasure of skiing again.

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So here I am, in Antholz, Italy. I love the beautiful snow. I am excited that I get to be on the inside of the fence this time and be part of this crazy circus show. And I am motivated to race and it all out there again.

 

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Happy New Years!

Happy New Years! Plus a few biathlon resolutions.

We were sitting at dinner last night, talking about biathlon racing, and how it has evolved for all of us women who have been on the World Cup for a few years now. I remember the extreme excitement I felt when I raced my first world cup.  For example, I almost peed my pants when I got to the hotel and I saw Bjorndalen sitting on an exercise bike in the hallway.  I don’t get that excited anymore. But it was so fun when I did! I also remember smiling the entire time I got to race because it felt so special and cool. And having fans cheering! And then there was ABBA playing on the jumbotran during training. Heaven! What could be better.

But after awhile, you start to get used to things. And then it becomes normal. And it is not enough to JUST BE on the World Cup anymore, because your expectations rise- as they should. So sometimes you forget to look around and enjoy the music, the crazy fans and their drunkenness, the other athletes you look up to, the great coaches and techs you get to work with, and the fact that this is a part of your life that you can only do for so many years and then it is over. S0 one of my New Year’s Resolutions is to remember to look around me and remember that feeling of excitement to simply be here, doing what I do.

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With someone like Christian waxing my skis, how could I NOT feel supported??

It is also a New Year’s resolution to remember all the different reason’s that I do biathlon and why it has meaning, even outside of myself. Sometimes it feels like pursuing this sport is solitary and selfish. Luckily I have so many people that are involved in trying to help me excel, that I do feel a tremendous responsibility to them. But there are other people, for whom it also matters that I do biathlon, but in a very different way.

During Christmas, I experienced a few funny examples of the other people that this sport reaches through myself, that was a great reminder. These little people are my nieces and they are ages three and five, Eloise and Lila, respectively.

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We were having a fun family dinner and I was sitting and reading some books with Lila and she told me that she and Eloise “played biathlon” that afternoon. “Cool!” I answered, and then asked how exactly they went about playing biathlon. “Well, I tied a pencil to my back and that was my rifle”. Later on, my older sister told me that they  were running around the house and Lila was telling Eloise that she had to do her penalty laps.  I hope she didn’t forget to do any of them like I did in my last World Cup…

Then, the next day, we were out skiing together and I had my Jack Russel tied around my waist and she was pulling both Lila and I down the trails. At one point we stopped to wait for the rest of my family and Lila looked at me in the way that kids do when they really imitate grown-up gestures. She put one hand on her hip and the other to her face and asked me “So, like, how’s the skiing going lately”?? It was a priceless moment of her asking me to treat her like a peer and also showed me how well they actually understand what I do. I had to tell her that the first few races didn’t go as well as I wanted, but that I had one really good race that gave motivation and hope that the season still could be good.

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And then yesterday, I called my parent’s from Oberhof and they happened to be babysitting. My youngest niece Eloise was there and she wanted to talk. She asked me to tell the “story about skiing”. I wasn’t sure exactly what she meant by that because earlier she had been fascinated by the fact that I had been skiing in a tunnel in Sweden. So she told me to “tell the the story about the girls who stand in a line first and then the other girls who stand in a line behind them”. Aha! The Pursuit. Now I knew what she wanted. So I told her a story about the girl who skis the fastest on one day, has to start first and then all the girls behind her have to try and catch her during the race. We got a little distracted after that and I never finished my story, but that’s okay. There’s a story like that every week that she can watch on Biathlonworld.com.

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I adore these two little girls- they are crazy and fun, have all sorts of energy, and are incredibly loving. I wonder about what they will be like when they grow up and if they will love skiing as much as I do and if they will be competitive or not. It will be fun to see either way. But it feels really good to know that they watch what I do and even understand it better than most people I meet. It makes me feel connected to them even though I am gone away from home and I always miss them.

It is also a biathlon resolution to not wait until the last World Cups to be friends with girls from other teams. This happens because people forget to loosen up until the end is in sight. I always think to myself that I am skiing around with 100 girls who probably have a lot in common with me and there are probably some great life friends to be had out on the tracks. But sometimes you get so wrapped up into your team that you forget to reach out. But we are already off to a good start! Having hot chocolate and tea with a bunch of girls in Slovenia got the ball rolling and  yesterday some French athletes gave us a bag of special (and very stinky) French cheese that would have cost a bazillion dollars in the U.S. Now we just have to remember to bring it with us everywhere until we finish eating it!!

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Picking up a new girl on every lap!

 

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Nothing feels more Christmasy than roasted chestnuts in Bled, Slovenia.

 

Those are a few of my thoughts coming into this new year of racing and I hope that I can always remember how lucky I am to have the privilege to compete at this level, to have such an unbelievable support network around me, and then when it is all over to still have good and new things to try. HAPPY NEW YEARS!

P.S. I am also thankful that I got to see what it looks like in Oberhof when there is actually snow and sun! I wish I had proof in photo form. Now it is back to the usual which looks like this:

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It’s hard to see your targets when the camera that is only a few feet away from you can’t even see YOU!

 

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Looking Back

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 Now that I am home and done with all the traveling I have had the desire to try and chronicle my time at the Olympics. In a way, talking about the Olympics doesn’t work without photographs to illustrate what it was like, but at the same time just posting photographs doesn’t really say very much either. So I thought I would do a little of both. In a way, the Olympics is just ending for me now that I am back home. I have had the opportunity to do some community events and thank everyone who has helped me along the way and it has made me feel very special and maybe the most like an Olympian out of anything that I have done.

At the start of it all, the idea that I was going to the Olympics didn’t really hit me until we went to team processing in Munich, Germany.  Suddenly there were other people around us speaking English and familiar faces from the Olympic Training center greeting us. We stayed at a hotel in Munich near the Olympic park and that is where we received all the Olympic clothing and gear. Walking there, our German team director explained that it was built to be an inclusive venue so all the structures were see through so people who didn’t have tickets could still watch the competitions. It was a little overwhelming to get bags and bags of clothes and I am pretty sure I started trying to figure out in my head who was going to get what as soon I got them. We were brought to a big room that was split into stalls and we had to walk around with this checklist of things to mark off as we got them. It was fairly surreal.IMG_4261

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The funniest part was getting our totally over the top Ceremony clothes and having designers cluck and fuss over how our pants were rolled up and how many buttons needed to be buttoned. We all tried to take it very seriously…IMG_426420140209_143211

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20140202_142445We flew to Sochi early the next morning and I think everyone was a bit apprehensive about how long it would take to get organized once there because of how much of an ordeal it was last year at the test event. Considering the amount of people and baggage that had to be moved and secure, I was really impressed at how smoothly everything went. There were tons of volunteers everywhere and they were all so helpful. It took a long time but moved fairly smoothly. Once we got our credentials, we got on a bus up the valley. It was unbelievable how much construction was finished in the last year. It was also unbelievable to see the amount of natural destruction occurred for the Olympic games. We also heard a lot of stories about families and communities being forced from their homes to make space for the infrastructure needed. It made me think a lot about the social and environmental costs of the Olympics. I know that they are some of the most inspiring entertainment in the world but I doubt I would think that if my family had to leave their home for a super highway to be built.  I definitely left feeling like an accessory to something completely awful and but also completely amazing and wondering if the price of the Olympics worth it?

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At the end of our bus drive, we got onto a gondola and took the ride up to our Endurance Village where we would spend the next three weeks. It was stunning. With snow covering anything that wasn’t totally finished, it was easy to forget that this had been a pristine mountain not that long ago.  The endurance village athletes were very lucky. Our accommodations were really comfortable and all of our structures were permanent because it was built to be a fancy resort after the Olympics were over. In the same building that we ate we also had a disco, a basketball court in the lower floors, a game room, and an outdoor swimming pool. It was obviously meant to be a luxurious retreat. The scenery didn’t hurt anything either because no matter what direction you looked, stunning mountains greeted you.

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For the first few weeks, I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t try to do too many things right away. This is something that I can be bad at because I hate to miss out on things. Earlier I had talked to our sports psychologist about the one thing that he thought would be important for me to be aware of and try to do in the beginning of the Olympics and that was his advice.  It is good he knows me well because I was just exhausted simply from the visual stimulus alone. I pretty much just went to training, walked a lot back and forth between meals and the venue, and tried to get acquainted with how everything operated. It was thrilling to even stand in line for food next to people that I view as skiing heroes and stars like Marit Bjoergen and Therese Johaug. Plus, I was really psyched to see the American Nordic skiers that we never get to race with.

The only thing I let myself do that wasn’t just part of the daily routine was to meet my parents off the mountain to watch the opening ceremonies at a hotel down the valley. Our coaches didn’t want us to go the entire way to the coast for the real thing and while I felt disappointed at first, I knew that I wouldn’t enjoy them as much if I felt worried about getting sick or over tired. Luckily, missing the ceremonies became very irrelevant once I got to see my parents because that was much more special to me.

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The day of my first Olympic race, I was somehow terrified that I wouldn’t be able to compete. That after months and years of holding back and being careful with anything that I could get hurt doing I was afraid that some small stupid thing would happen at the last moment and keep me from competing, like twisting my ankle getting out of the shower or something. Luckily it didn’t.

I was surprised at how emotional I felt while I was warming up. This was something I had dreamed of for my entire life and given up so many things for. I used to travel and bring my roller skis as a kid, or going on two hour runs in Amsterdam when visiting family, always having to ask my best friends to go training with me so that I would have the opportunity to spend time with them, doing intervals the morning of my grandmother’s funeral. I remember a Dutch friend of my mother’s describing me as a “fanatic” and feeling so embarrassed because I didn’t feel like one, it was just something I had to do. I was so happy to be skiing around the warm up loop I kept finding myself crying.

Crossing the finish line was such an enormous relief and all I wanted to do was be with my parents. They are the ones who have been there the entire way for me. Even when they worried that maybe I should stop doing biathlon and move on in life because they hated seeing me disappointed, they still supported me and helped me. They are the ones who get up when our races are at 3:00 am. They have let me live with them so many times over the years and picked me up at the airport in the middle of the night countless times. They wait for me to come home and they help me to leave.

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One of my favorite moments of the entire Olympics was when my parents came with me to doping control. We had planned on meeting to spend some time with each other after the pursuit race, but at the last minute realized that they would not be able to come and eat dinner with me at the village because it would close to non-athletes at 9:00. I was so bummed because I just wanted to be with them. On top of that, as I was heading out to at least say hello and give them a hug goodbye, I was selected for random doping control. I should have known that I didn’t need to worry because somehow my parents snuck by all the guards and barriers and were inside the athlete and coaching area already waiting for me. I suggested that they might as well walk me to doping control since they were already passed all the guards. And then once we got to doping control someone asked if they were my chaperones and they said “yes!” And then someone else asked my pops if he was a doctor and he said “yes”! And so I got to spend a lovely hour and a half with both of my parents in doping control while I waited to have to pee. It was great- all the medalists plus myself and my honey badger parents hanging out together in doping control. I was so happy.

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Doing my cool down when everyone has left and gone home is always one of my moments. It gives me time to reflect and process each race, whether or not it went well or poorly.  Sochi was no exception.

Unfortunately, even though I tried to do everything possible to stay healthy, I got sick. With so many athletes at their peak physical fitness it is so easy to get sick because our immune systems are totally on the edge. While we might be able to race our fastest, we are also really vulnerable. I felt a small sore throat two days before the first competitions and hoped it was just the dry air. But it wasn’t.

Still, I wanted so badly to race and there was nothing left to save myself for so of course I still raced the sprint and the pursuit. I felt okay in the sprint, but doing the pursuit really finished me. I wanted so badly to be able to be part of the Mixed Relay and race with teammates Tim and Lowell who I started with when I was a little kid so I skipped the individual, but still I was not a good choice anymore for the relay. I was really sad about missing both of these races and it took me a day to put my head on straight and remember that my job was to be there for my team and be as fit as possible for the women’s relay. Skipping races was really hard, but it was also a hard task for me to stay away from the team to not get them sick because I am such a people person.

I really admired my teammate Tim Burke who also was not healthy during the Olympics. He was true role model. Tim had so many expectations and really had the ability to be a medalist and for him to not feel well was such a huge disappointment. He carried himself unbelievably well, didn’t say a word of excuse about being sick, and kept racing though in any other circumstance he would not have even gone out to train.  Listening to him cough at the end of the Olympics was heartbreaking and I was so proud of him for carrying himself so well.

 

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One of the things that helped me to focus on positive things was a project I started with my teammates at the beginning of the Olympics. We decided to try and make a music video to the song “Happy” by Pharell Williams and take all sorts of clips of athletes, volunteers, and coaches dancing in different places. It was a really cool project and I felt like it broke down all these barriers and ended up being one of the best things that I brought back from the entire experience.

All of the volunteers were so excited to be in Sochi and they were all so kind and enthusiastic towards us athletes. Many spoke really good English and it seemed like it must have been an experience of a lifetime for them. I really liked it that making this video opened doors and got me talking to many of the volunteers and hearing where they came from and what they did. This to me is one of the things that embody the Olympic movement.

I have been asked many times about what the vibe was and I can only say from my experience that it was very positive. I never felt threatened or that my security was at risk and political issues such as Putin’s policy towards Gay’s and Lesbians never really came up. Perhaps it was different in other locations, but for me the experience was completely about competition.

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We finished our video on the day of the women’s relay and it was amazing how fast it grew and also just as quickly how fast it was shut down. We had to keep it private on YouTube because of Olympic Committee regulations. That was fine. It was mostly about our team creating something cool with so many different people.

Maybe making this video created the positive vibe for our relay. We all had this feeling that something special could happen. The way that our teammates Susan was skiing and performing gave us the opportunity to start off in a really good place and with the rest of the team feeling good and performing well, we had as good a chance as anyone. I felt so relaxed while I was waiting for my leg of the relay and I had no idea about how we were doing until I came out of the tunnel into the stadium and saw that we were in 5th place. It was incredible. But I still didn’t feel nervous, just ready to race and do my best for my team. In the end, we placed 7th. The best relay result ever for the U.S. I felt a strange mixture of being happy and disappointed it was far from the best relay performance our team has put together and a podium result was in our grasp.  I was bummed with the extra time I took to clean and the fact that I just didn’t have it in my body to catch girls right in front of me. Now we have the confidence that we really are capable of being one of the top teams and that counts for so much in the future.

On top of that, I got to be at the Olympics with a fantastic group of strong, intelligent and kind women that I have had the honor of spending the last four years training with. Last year at World Championships we put our hands together and promised to work together to become the strongest Olympic team we could. Perhaps the racing didn’t go as well for me as I wanted it to, but still the year of training with these ladies was really supportive and fun and I am so glad for that.

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Even though the races at the Olympics were not what I had hoped for there was something else that far surpassed my expectations and that was how my town didn’t give care at all how I did. I felt so much support from everyone at home and I will never forget this feeling. Even having familiar reporters come to see me at the finish line was such a good feeling because I felt like they were there just to share what it was like for me with everyone at home.

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During all of this time at the Olympics, I barely left our mountainside. I went down to the town below once to meet my parents for a few hours, once for a team dinner at a pizza restaurant, and once because I was starting to get so stir crazy. The logistics of travel were really crazy. It took at least an hour to get almost anywhere off the mountain even if it wasn’t far away because it always required walking, gondolas, buses or trains. One morning a few of us ventured off the mountain to got for a run somewhere different and check things out. We were also racing throughout the entire two weeks and that didn’t leave us for much time and ability to explore other venues.

 

There are a lot of jokes about athletes partying and going crazy at the Olympics, but I would say that is definitely not the case in the endurance village. I joked a lot about how for us, when it would be ten pm; everyone was in bed with earplugs in, fans on their iPhones blowing and facemasks. Whatever the other athlete villages were like, the endurance athlete village was not a place where you would find any partying. Especially since we all raced throughout the entire three weeks, it was a fairly isolated experience and none of us experienced a lot of the “Olympic” feeling. At least not until the end.

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20140222_175743Once the relay was finished, there were two more days of being in Sochi. One of the things I really wanted to do was to go down and see the Black Sea.  The girls on the team were happy to go with me on a typical adventure where I had a vague idea of what I wanted and was looking for and just hoped that it would work out. It did! This was one of my favorite moments of the entire three weeks. We took a gondola and some buses and went down to Adler, the town by the coast. This was a real town that hadn’t been created by and for the Olympics and it was really cool. We made it to the sea and found a boardwalk where we ate dinner and drank beers at a restaurant looking over the sea. To top it off, the sun was setting and we got to watch the men’s relay on a TV in the restaurant. It was perfect. I couldn’t really wrap my head around the fact that after being up in the mountains for three weeks I was suddenly at the sea with palm trees all around. I was also relieved that my vague plan that the girls trusted me with was a success.

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The last day of the Olympics was also the first time that we got to see the Olympic park. We only have a few hours to check out the sights and see where all the other athletes got to stay before going to the closing ceremonies. It was really nice to go to the USA house and eat food that felt like home like chips and guacamole and these amazing chocolate chips.

 

It’s hard to describe the scale of the Olympic village, but my favorite thing was how they played Swan Lake over enormous speakers by the Olympic torch to a water show. It gave me goose bumps. And then the closing ceremonies were also really special. The immensity of what they created was unbelievable. Between ballerina’s, concert pianists coming out of the floor, orchestra’s and circus acts it was a full representation of Russian culture.

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And finally it was time to leave the world of the Olymics. Even though it was an experience o f a lifetime, I was happy that it was time to be done and go back to my “normal” life. After the closing ceremonies, all that was left was to finish up our last couple of hours in Sochi. I did my best to stay awake by biking around the coast village on the town-bikes they all had to get around on. I met an old friend and we just did laps around all the palm trees and athlete housing. And then it was go time. Of course leaving Sochi without a funny incident was going to be impossible and we all spent a few hours in an airport terminal that was basically a tent. And it was NOT warm. I have never been that happy to get on a plane in my life because I was so unbelievable tired from not sleeping and so damn cold! It was one of the best airplane sleeps I have ever had and when I woke up I was back in Munich, Germany and I got to eat breakfast with my boyfriend.


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One week until Sochi

photoThis is the last week before heading to Sochi and I realized that I haven’t written anything about the last two months. I honestly haven’t had the quiet time and space to put down all  the ideas rumbling around in my head and right now I am going back and forth between three different things I want to write about and can’t decide which one comes first. But I suppose it should be this one, because it segues into all the others.

In a week I will be heading to Sochi, Russia, for my first Olympics.  It hasn’t totally hit me yet but everyone that has already gone tells me I will really feel it when we go to Munich for team processing to get all the clothing and credentials for the Olympics

Making this  team has been a totally different experience than I always imagined in my head.I would say that this is partly because of what  I went through four years ago when I DIDN’T qualify. I was totally devastated and I have vivid memories of sitting in the shower at the hotel room and just sobbing and sobbing. I was an athlete on the bubble and I just wasn’t good enough, but I was hoping so hard I could make it. All I needed was a little bit of luck. But that is not what you want when you are trying to make an Olympic Team.

This time around,  I came into an Olympic year from a totally different position where I was much more prepared to compete at a high level, both physically and mentally. The entire summer of training was based around the premise that I would be competing at the Olympics. It was not a “maybe” sort of thinking, but a “when I am there” type of mentality.  This was something we worked on with our sports psychologist- being ready for success. And having my first World Cup success last year, my own attitude about myself had totally changed. I felt like actually had the potential to be a REAl competitor at the Olympics and not simply a participant. But in the early season racing, my expectations of what I felt I could accomplish and what actually happened were not the same. I didn’t feel lucky to make the Olympic Team, I just felt glad that I could go back to just focusing on the process of racing and being the competitor that I had been training to be all summer.

I always imagined that qualifying for the Olympic team would be euphoric. But at the time, when my coach told me that I qualified, it wasn’t. It was a relief, but not euphoric. There were no fireworks exploding above my head and feelings of giddiness. This in part because I had just raced with a muscle spasm in my back and I was having a hard time just standing up- so my first concern was how I was going to make it back to our wax cabin. I was also disappointed in myself for not qualifying due to any special results but simply because I had the best placing out of a team that wasn’t really where we felt like we should be. I couldn’t celebrate and feel happy knowing that my teammates still had to go through the stressful process of qualifying.

This type of euphoric feeling that I imagined would happen when qualifying for the Olympics,  happened a few years ago when I received the phone call that I qualified for my first World Cup. This was after not being named to the National Team the year following the 2010 Olympics. That is something I will always be proud of myself for; not giving up after a major setback. I was also lucky.  My coach and partner at the time, Patrick Coffey, believed in me,  the  National biathlon team didn’t shut any doors, but instead welcomed me to train with the team when it was appropriate, and the OTC allowed me to use their resources despite the fact that I wasn’t on the national team. For that, I will always be incredibly grateful because it allowed me to be where I am right now.

1604894_10152129630544178_1394763884_n More positive feelings didn’t come until I got home and I could relax and be with my family. The most amazing part of qualifying for the Olympics is feeling the passion and excitement of other’s for me. There has been an incredible outpouring of support from my family and community and I feel so proud to represent my small town.

1487389_10151854426804352_80220924_nThe most special moment that I have experienced was when the owner of the local ski area, Dewey Mt., asked me to come and ski with the kids one evening and when I got there, there was a big crowd of people and kids, including my family, and I was presented with a trail sign named after me. It was one of the best feelings ever because I have so many memories of racing there at night and going off jumps with my friends when I was growing up.  Our community completely rallies behind all of us who have Olympic aspirations.

1186803_10152092686594178_420756734_nI haven’t had the performances that I have been expecting or working towards but to the people in my town, it doesn’t matter. That is better than any euphoric feeling that I anticipated to feel when qualifying for the Olympics and it is what I have realized what making the Olympics has meant to me. It’s not about  MY feelings, but the feelings of the community that brought me up and what it means to them to have so many of the kids that they helped raise competing in the biggest sporting event in the World.

Thank you to my family and my town- I am so proud to be going to Russia for you all!

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