Monday, August 6, 2001 - Perspective
NSDT Update: 24-hour Athlete

- By: Gord Jewett

Most ski racers have heard the term "24-hour athlete" at some point, and most coaches like to preach about it. This mythical athlete we refer to is the person who is always making sacrifices for sport, putting athletics first and foremost in their life 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. Although most athletes strive to reach the lofty 24-hour status, it is also something we have all joked about: "Yeah right, like I am going to give up all the other fun things in my life just to be an athlete. That would be ridiculous!". This season I have finally come close to the measure, as have most of my teammates on the National Senior Development Team. We are realizing that the 24-hour joke is no joke at all. It does not mean giving up life; it just means putting ski racing and training first. This change in attitude could be a sign of our maturity as athletes, but more than likely it is a lesson of absolute necessity. At the international level, everyone is a 24-hour athlete. It is a simple lesson that took me 10 years in ski racing to learn.

We are headed cross-country as I write this, traveling from Rossland, BC, the site of our latest training camp, to our homes in Canmore. We drive across an ever-changing landscape: lush green river valleys, wide and dry desert like plains and starkly beautiful mountain passes. Our lives are not very different from our country as we twist and wind our way from the high peaks of glory to low valleys of pain and disappointment, across seemingly never-ending plateaus and always back up to great heights. As a team we are climbing to new heights, inspired by each other and our shared goals and dreams.

It has been a very difficult two weeks for all of us. Some of us have had large volumes of training with some very intense days, while others have had to rest and recover because their bodies were not adapting to the training loads quickly enough. We use a simple heart rate test called the Rusko Test to determine how our bodies are adapting. I can assure you, sitting in a hotel room when your teammates are out on the trails training hard is much more difficult than the actual training! Fortunately, my body has cooperated and I have survived the camp while meeting all of my goals along the way. The camp is over as of today, but that does not mean going home to relax and take it easy. There are still a few more hard weeks of training for most of us before our next rest week, and even the rest week is no time to let down our guard. We won't do that until April when we have a short break at the end of the season. Very few people actually get sick during a hard training camp, but the weeks that follow are a delicate time when sickness will strike if our focus wanes. We must always remain in "camp mode", it is part of being a 24-hour athlete. Sleep will not be dictated by how much time we have at the end of the day, our day will instead be dictated by how much time we have left after training, recovering and sleeping. If no time is left in the day, then we will not be able to do other things. This is the key reason why serious athletes are unable to work jobs outside of sport. I will avoid home for a few days by going up to a friend's cabin in Kananaskis Country about an hour south of Canmore. This will help me avoid the distractions that always seem to be present at home, and as long as I have a phone line and my computer I can survive. I will also spend the week focusing on flexibility, as this is the one thing I have neglected a bit in the past two weeks.

As individuals we all have our weaknesses that if left unattended, will prevent us from reaching the top level of sport. When we come together as a team there is inevitably someone whose strength is your weakness. That is the biggest reason that an individual sport like cross-country skiing is really a team sport. We all feed off our teammates and diminish each other's weaknesses as we strive to be better. Together, we fight for the inches that make us 24-hour athletes, and we slowly claw our way to the top of the next pass.

(Gordon Jewett was a member of the Canadian Team for 4 years. Originally from Toronto, Ontario, he how trains with the National Senior Development Team in Canmore, Alberta.)

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