Last week I talked about Girls Power Camp. This week, as promised, we’re getting into the goods, with advice straight from some of the World’s best skiers. Before delving into that though, I wanted to bring it back to the grass roots. I had a chance to catch up with a couple of girls who went to the camp—one on each end of the age spectrum— and heard what the camp did for them.
Lucy Curtis, at age 11 among the youngest campers, had heard about ELITEAM from friends and her older sister, and always wanted to go. She happened into GPC because the dates worked with her summer plan. “I didn’t know any of the kids going in, and I was sort of nervous about all the workouts,” she recalls. Nonetheless, Lucy learned to love “distracted slalom,” and with daily practice found out that she was pretty good at it. Getting up for a hike at 3:30 am was “surprising but fun,” and though it was hard to pick a favorite activity, the Jello drop was right up there. Jello appreciation aside, Lucy came away from camp with a new interest in making good nutritional choices. On race day she now reminds herself to take a deep breath in the start, and it helps keep her calm. She’ll be back for Year 2, with some recruited friends, ready to build on what she’s learned.
Maddy O’Brien, now 15 years old, was on the upper end of the age range, and was drawn to GPC for its team building aspect. Maddy is a skier but not a ski racer. Soccer is her main gig. She came away with more than she’d imagined, including a healthier and more balanced diet, and improved training habits. “Before camp, I was not very interested in diet or cooking.” After learning about nutrients and experiencing how it felt to eat clean and have balanced meals, she got into it. “I realized that you can get protein from a lot of different sources, and the difference between healthy fats and unhealthy fats.” At home she joined a gym and inspired some friends to join her. On the soccer field her coach changed her position to take advantage of her increased speed and fitness.
The most profound difference, however was the one echoed by many parents in their post camp comments. It was in her self-confidence. “I used to be that person who was really self-conscious about what I wore and how I looked,” admits Maddy. That changed after camp. “I looked at the coaches and they were all kind and happy and secure. I really wanted to be like that.” The message was bolstered by videos of athletes with all different bodies, videos with messages that left a strong impression with both Lucy and Maddy. Maddy sums it up pretty well when she says, “My legs may be bigger than some other girls’ legs but I’m ok with that—I can run faster with them!”
To bolster what the girls learned at camp, Kelley posed questions on each of the six themes at GPC to several US Ski Team athletes. These women gave thoughtful answers to questions about their approach mentally and athletically, and what they have learned about themselves all along the way to the top. The athletes are:
- Mikaela “Have a Plan” Shiffrin
- Jackie “Never Stop Learning” Wiles (Jackie recently scored her first World Cup podium. Woot Woot!)
- Laurenne “Feel Your Fear” Ross
- Lila “Power Mantra” Lapanja
- Liz “Remember to Smile” Stephen
Advice from the Masters
Read on to see what these top athletes have to say about the six topics and their advice to young athletes, male and female. There is a lot of info here, some of which I summed up in blue after each question. Take some time to read it all through at once, or peruse it one topic at at time. Use what you need, store away the rest and share what you like with anyone who needs it! Be sure to check out the end, where these athletes offer their best pieces of advice to all young ski racers.
What have you learned about yourself in the past year? How do you use that knowledge in regards to your training and competitive career?
Have a vision, have a plan, never stop learning and be happy! Being self-aware means being in tune with your changing states and needs. It also means accepting fear and learning how to work with it. Liz reminds us that to succeed, some things have to go well and some things have to go perfectly. What’s the one thing that has to go perfectly? Read on!
Mikaela: I have learned that my happiness depends on having a plan and feeling like I know how I can improve, in skiing and in life. When I don’t know what I can do better, I feel lost, sad, and complacent, but when I have a plan to keep moving forward I feel motivated, energetic, and happy.
Jackie: I have learned a lot in the past year. The most important thing is that you never stop learning. The day you think you’ve figured it all out is the day you stop growing and developing… This past off-season, I learned I need to allow myself more breaks to rest. I never gave my body and mind time off during the race season to take a moment to refresh. It is a long season, and I thought I could train more and by being young I thought my body could handle it. In the end, I was completely fried already by mid- February. Now I will never take rest for granted, nor underestimate it.
Laurenne: Over the past year I have learned how to work with my fear instead of fight it. Allowing the fear to come in, making friends with it, and letting it be a motivator has made the inner voices more agreeable, calm, and kind. Trying to stay present with the fear, and other emotions, to feel what they are like in my body, has been a big focus for me lately. If there was no fear, there would be no challenge, and hence no reward in the end. So I take that fear and let it drive me, feel how it settles in my body and mind, and use it to my advantage instead of fighting it (for example, in a scary, difficult downhill course).
Lila: I have learned a lot about what works for me especially with Strength and Conditioning – I’ve dedicated most of my time to refining my training plans and creating goal sheets that support what I feel will get me to the top step. The vision begins with me!
Liz: I have learned through much trial and error over the last 10 years of competing on the World Cup Cross Country circuit that there are certain things that have to go perfectly and many more that just need to go fairly well. Training, nutrition, recovery, technique, fitness – all of these – need to go fairly well. However, the piece that needs to go perfectly is the happiness part. This does not mean you have to love every moment of every day and be unrealistic. It simply means you need to enjoy the process of what you are pursuing. I spent the last year over-trained, which left me too tired to be happy or enjoy any of the time I spent on the road, chasing my dreams with my best friends/teammates in incredible places in the world. I know you can be tired and perform well, but if you are tired and unhappy, it is game over. I have learned that being exhausted leaves me unhappy, so my strategy is to train hard, get tired, but be very aware of when good tired is turning into bad tired and have the courage to back off, change the training plan, and bring it back to a manageable amount. No matter how many years I do this, or how many secrets I try to uncover, the one that keeps showing it’s face is happiness. It’s the best secret I can share with anyone.
What things stress you out the most? What are your most effective strategies for handling stress?
Positive self-talk, good preparation, being organized, making the first step, not comparing yourself to others, finding a relaxing spot and remembering to breathe are all things you can do to bring the stress level down. As Liz points out, everyone has his or her own stressors. Figuring out yours will help you deal with them in a productive way.
Mikaela: I get stressed out when I have to juggle a lot of things at one time— for instance, if I receive a bunch of important emails at once and I don’t know where to begin or which one to answer first. I used to get really stressed out when I had a bunch of homework assignments to turn in and I didn’t know where to begin. What I’ve learned is that it doesn’t really matter where you begin, just as long as you begin. It’s so easy to put things off because you don’t know how to start, but just open the assignment and start typing, or get in the car and drive to the gym, once you’re there it’s easier to keep going and get the workout done.
Jackie: Losing my passport…just kidding… ha, that’s another story. What stresses me out the most is being ill-prepared. The more prepared you are, the more you are set up for success! You can apply this to any aspect of the sport and to life. The most important thing you can do to be prepared is to be organized. Have a plan each day with your goals and have everything laid out so you don’t have any surprises to encounter.
Laurenne: The two things that stress me out most are comparing myself to others and giving myself too much to do. Comparing myself to others is something I do out of habit, due to the way I was raised (in sports), and the way that many coaches still treat athletes. I have learned that I am my own person, and I have my own challenges and strengths. I do not need to compare those attributes to others’. Handling this is made easier by trying to maintain self confidence, and also being kind to myself (I try not to talk to myself, in my head, in a way that is harmful or degrading).
Lila: Having too much to do in one day stresses me out – I like having time to rest with my training. Going to the beach in Lake Tahoe is one way I recharge my battery during high volume training blocks.
Liz: Breathe. Slow down and breathe. Everyone gets stressed and your stress is never stupid or unwarranted, but it is controllable. Different things stress different people out. Learn what yours are and figure out specific strategies to work through them.
What kind of impact do you think your food choices have on your performance? What are some of your favorite meals/snacks that help you perform your best?
No secrets here. Healthy food, plenty of rest and lots of water. Chia seeds optional. Laurenne give a shout out to moderation (and not being a freak about diet), and Liz brings up the importance of proper timing, and of eating properly in the windows before and after training and competition.
Mikaela: Nutrition plays a huge role in performance and energy levels in general. Keeping a well-balanced diet can increase quality of focus, strength, endurance, sleep and decrease injury risk. My go-to dinner is chicken or steak with some pasta and veggies or salad. For breakfast I usually eat eggs, toast and some kind of granola or cereal.
Jackie: think nutrition is one of the most important parts an athlete can implement into their training. These past couple of years I have become more aware of what I am putting into my body and the direct impact it has on my well-being and energy levels. The best thing you can do for yourself is to try to be informed and educate yourself on what proper nutrition can do. To be able to perform your best, I believe there are three key important factors. You must get plenty of water to stay hydrated, lots of sleep to allow the body to recover/repair, and proper micro/macro nutrients to stay healthy. Some of my favorites are nut butters and fruit. I also have a super greens powder that I love to take daily to make sure I am getting enough micronutrients for my body to thrive.
Laurenne: Food greatly impacts performance, as I have learned throughout the years, and I pay close attention to my diet (though I am not a freak about it, and I let myself eat ice cream when I have the urge). I like to stick to fresh, whole foods that aren’t processed: nuts, vegetables, seeds, fruit, yogurt, grains (black rice is my current favorite), and lots of protein (eggs, fish, red meat, chicken, tempeh, etc.). My favorite breakfast is a scramble of sweet potatoes, shitake mushrooms, onions, garlic, and plenty of kale, then I fry some eggs on top, put a little hot sauce on, and YUM.
Lila: Nutrition and fueling is my current big challenge because food is a very personal experience. For example I know my body needs a lot of clean protein to function well but the timing is important with training too. My favorite go-to meal is a green smoothie – my smoothie is packed with leafy greens with a little fruit and a couple super foods like chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, flax seed, and protein powder.
Liz: Nutrition is a really important piece of the puzzle, especially in my sport. My teammate, World Champion Kikkan Randall, says it best, I think. She says she thinks of her body as a high performance racecar. If you put crappy fuel in it, it will perform worse than it has the ability to. However, if you put the highest-grade fuel in, it will have the best ability to run efficiently and perform the way it was built to. Eat good food, eat enough food, and eat at the proper times (the windows before and after training are especially important) and you will have given your body the best ability to perform how you ask it to.
The Female Athletes Body
What are three words to describe your body? As a female athlete, how do you view your body?
These women appreciate and worship their bodies for what they are able to do. They treat their bodies with the ultimate respect, like precious gifts and finely tuned machines that deserve the very best care. Their bodies are necessarily muscular and powerful, and they wouldn’t have it any other way!
Mikaela: Muscular, healthy, fit. I see my body as natural. I also see it as a tool that I can shape and hone the way that I want it to be. As long as I take care of it, fuel it, and never abuse it, I will be able to depend on it.
Jackie: I describe my body as strong, healthy, and powerful. I view my body as my high performance race car. I put in work at the gym to make it strong, and I give it fuel so I can perform at my most optimal level. What you put in your body is crucial to what you will get out of it. I think a strong body is a healthy and beautiful thing. When I think of getting stronger in the gym, I am so motivated by what it will allow me to do come race season.
Laurenne: My body is: strong, agile, and adaptable. It is hard, as a female in our culture, to accept my body as a downhill ski racing athlete. I sometimes feel fairly big (150 pounds) compared to the “ideal” female body, but I know my body is perfect for my sport right now. I also believe that my body is beautiful, admire my muscles and curves, and know they will not remain forever, so I am enjoying this phase right now.
Lila: Responsive, athletic, beautiful. My body image has been shifting constantly since I was 13. Now I am in a stage of complete self-acceptance and love for what I have, so I can keep getting stronger and more flexible!
Liz: Strong, short and fit. I view my body as an incredible engine and tool that with the proper care, training and love, I can make do amazing feats. Being healthy and strong has helped me see some amazing places. I have climbed many a mountain, run many thousands of miles and skied all over the world. I want to be able to continue doing these things for my whole life, so I treat my body with the best care I can and I appreciate every day that I am not injured, or sick and am able to do whatever I want to do.
Who are the most important people in your “support network” helping you meet your goals? What do they do for you?
Not surprisingly, support starts at home and extends to coaches and teammates. Ski racing may be an individual sport, but teammates that support each other, elevate each other. Liz makes the point that support goes both ways, and you need to cultivate the relationships that help keep you strong.
Mikaela: My parents and family are the most important people in my support network. They have been there for me since day one, helping to motivate me, care for me, and provide every opportunity that they can. They are also great athletes and great skiers so they can workout with me and watch skiing video with me. My coaches have also played an important role helping me to develop my skills as a skier and manage me as an athlete.
Jackie: My number one support group has to be my family for sure. I would not be where I am today without there love and all that they do for me. I am very grateful and blessed to have a solid support system at home to lean on. It is important to have people that understand you and can be there to talk to during the good and the bad times. They are so encouraging, and the unconditional love they display no matter how I do is what makes them so special.
Laurenne: The most important people in my support network are my family, coaches, and teammates. My family has my back no matter what, and provides me with the love I need to maintain a balanced state. My coaches provide me with the training I need, they help to instill confidence, and in order to succeed I know I need to place full trust in them. My teammates provide the spine to our team dynamic, which is important when you spend a whole winter together.
Lila: There are so many people who help keep my dream alive! Mom and Dad support me 100% and help take care of business-oriented tasks so I can focus on my needs. My support network extends to fans, family, sponsors and supporters all over the world, and each individual has brought something important and special to my career.
Liz: Remember that you will have a lot of support in friends and family and teammates if you work hard to cultivate relationships with the people in your life that matter. Don’t assume a friend will be there when you need them if you don’t put in the work ahead of time by caring about them. The same is true with teammates. You may be in an individual sport, but I cannot stress enough how vital a team is in your own pursuit of excellence. Together you can all reach higher goals, as well as develop incredible relationships and skills that you will value and use your whole life.
What mental tools or strategies do you use most often to help keep a positive mind-set?
From positive talk and powerful mantras, to living in the moment, to simply remembering to smile, staying positive is a choice these athletes deliberately and consistently make.
Mikaela: There’s always two ways to say something- I can’t, I won’t, I don’t, or I can, I will, I should. Try to phrase things in a positive way, even if it’s just in your own mind. If you live in a positive world, it’s easy to have a positive mindset.
Jackie: I believe in looking at life with a positive outlook and always seeing the glass half full opposed to half empty. The mind is incredible in a sense that you determine your own happiness and outlook on life…So many lessons from ski racing translate to life. If you have a bad race, you need to understand it is going to be ok and you will have another shot. Yes, sometimes it hurts. but I like to think that I never lose. Instead I learn and grow.
Laurenne: I use my breath, my posture, and my presence to try and bring myself back to where I am when I get lost or stuck in a negative rut. I find that, without past or future, it is very difficult to be unhappy. There is brightness in every moment.
Lila: My favorite mental tool is repeating empowering mantras that align with what I’m striving to achieve with that task. I have a deep connection with words and when I connect a power-word with a visual it sticks in my brain.
Liz: Smiling. I know that sounds lame, but it is scientifically impossible to not feel at least a little happier when your face forms a smile. So, no matter how tough a situation is, how tired you are, how disappointed you may be in a performance or anything else, make yourself smile, just for a minute. Everyone goes through tough times and easy times. Value both and you will learn from both. There is always a bright side in anything, you just have to decide what it is and believe in it.
What makes you feel confident about yourself?
The theme here is preparedness. All the hard work and training is money in the confidence bank. Liz speaks to using pressure—when it is in the form of added expectations from others— as a source of confidence.
Mikaela: I get confidence from doing my job well. When I accomplish something like hitting a new record in the gym or beat my previous time on the hill, it psyches me up and just makes me want to do better. That motivation to keep improving translates into confidence when I make the improvements.
Jackie: Doing what I need to do in the off-season to prepare gives me confidence going into the race season. If I know I have done all that I can do and have worked as hard as possible pre-season, then I have set myself up for success.
Laurenne: My strength, my drive, and my hardwork encourage me to believe that I can be one of the best skiers in the world .
Lila: Staying focused on what makes me who I am, keeping life simple and clutter-free and having a fun, structured program that aligns with my dreams and goals.
Liz: Wearing my Neos! I am actually being oddly serious. For whatever reason, when I step into my Neo over-boots and walk into the race venue the morning of race day, I feel more confident. I don’t know if it is the fact that my step is a bit bigger, or more clunky, or the fact that when I put them on I know it’s game time, but whatever the reason, I feel ready for whatever is about to be thrown my way that day. We also had a really interesting team discussion on confidence the other night, and one thing that creates that invincible, ready feeling is feeling the expectations and pressure to perform. I find that if I am feeling the pressure of a big competition, I generally feel believed in, as people (as well as me) are expecting me to perform. Of course, the most important expectations are the ones you set for yourself, but those generally come because you have a sense of confidence in the event and your preparedness of what is to come. I try to ignore the outside world and focus in on the specific tasks I have to execute to perform the best I can.
And finally, advice. Here it is from these five athletes, and it applies to girls and boys who are aiming high.
What advice do you have for young up-and-coming female athletes?
BELIEVE, BELIEVE, BELIEVE!!! Get strong, work hard, freeski, build up your team, find balance, be grateful for this experience and remember to have a lot of laughs.
Jackie: The biggest advice I can give is to get in shape. It is incredible the changes you will be able to see in your skiing just by having more strength and endurance. You also need to believe in yourself. If you want something bad enough and you are determined to work for it, anything is possible. I was told that I was never going to make it because I simply wasn’t good enough. I got a trainer and started working out 6 days a week for 2-4 hours a day and I made the US Ski Team the next year and the Olympic team the following year. The important thing to remember is that I believed in myself and was determined to make it happen. Never sell yourself short. Dream big and fight for those dreams.
Laurenne: Free ski. Go out and play with your friends and teammates, work out with them, challenge each other. Try to have fun, and to take a step back to gain perspective we are insanely lucky to be in this sport, and it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of that. Be grateful, be humble, work your ass off.
Lila: Master the art of your body. Find what makes it feel healthy, free and vibrant. Incorporate a ton of variety into your training. I have found that when my body is healthy, balanced and flexible, life becomes healthy, balanced and flexible and is effortlessly fun!
Liz: The best advice I have to give to any athlete or human being is to truly enjoy whatever it is that you do. Without the ability to love the pursuit of excellence, you will never be able to reach your full potential. Set goals, work your booty off and never forget how important a team is. What good is a life without a lot of love and laughs anyway?
Want more on Girls Power camp? Find it here. Sign up is Feb 1-5.