Sunday, March 20, 2005 - Perspective
Breaking the 24-hour Athlete Myth

- By: Sara Renner

I started training for ski racing when I was fourteen. Staying in the stadium and doing the chicken dance on skis didnít interest me. I preferred to wait until my first coach, George Smith, got off work. Then my brother and a herd of boys would head out in the dark where we learned on moonless nights to ski by using Braille. There were no technique sessions. The primary focus was blindly bombing down the hills while avoiding wrapping oneself around a tree. My second goal was to ski as fast as possible in hopes that the boys might notice I was there.

Now I use a headlight. Instead of trying to ski fast everyday, I save myself for the races. I am still learning how to train but my experiences have taught me lessons. Achieving personal potential in one of the most unforgiving and toughest sports does not mean living in a Nordic bubble 24 hours of the day.

Prior to the Nagano Olympics we worked with Cal Botterill who is a sports psychologist. There was one nugget of knowledge that he shared with our team that I canít forget. He asked us if we were to reach our ultimate goal, with whom would we share it. It seemed like an exciting proposition and I had images of a party in the NASA space station with my friends and family. Botterill cautioned of the danger of getting wound up in the process of achieving and losing sight of the big picture. When it comes time to celebrate victory some uber-athletes find themselves feeling alone and unable to experience the moment, even with their teammates. Most of the fun of victory is being able to share it with others. Letís face it. If you want to be a winner you might as well be a happy one!

Contrary to common belief, I donít have visions of perfect grip wax when Iím buying groceries and I donít have the urge to do yoga on the airplane to keep my circulation up. I believe it is important to eat chocolate, sleep in if Iím tired and admire the water feature that my friends construct in their backyard. Like anything in life it is essential to keep sport in perspective.

Having a diverse life does not jeopardize performance although it is a challenge to find the right balance. When I am training I concentrate on a maximum quality effort and I have learned that rest and recovery are as important as the actual work. I try to focus on the process and the things I can control and not get fixated on the outcome. After I cross the finish line or stop my watch after a training session I spend a moment to figure out how I can improve. After that it is time out for "Renner the racer".

Despite all this, when I have a rollerski workout on a beautiful summer day, sometimes I get itchy to get off the pavement and go exploring in the mountains. It would be unrealistic to say that life, as an Olympic athlete, doesnít involve sacrifice. The importance is realizing what will make the biggest difference in the long run. Sometimes it is more important to go for coffee with your sister rather than get an extra fifteen minutes of uphill double pole training. Whereas, on a hard week of training it might be appropriate to lay low and be a hermit.

This is my chance to give skiing my best shot. When I retire I will have lots of time to do other things. Plus, the mountains arenít going anywhere.


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