Being away from friends and family is one of the hardest parts of being an elite athlete. Sure we struggle financially and have to push ourselves to do crazy things physically sometimes. And we can’t always eat everything we want to. But it’s especially sad when it’s the holidays, and you see all the ads about family this and Black Friday that, and you’re not with your family.
This Thanksgiving is one of those times for me. I’m in Calgary, Canada, preparing for a World Cup race on Saturday, so the next few days are pretty much ordinary workdays. I’ve got a weightlifting session Thursday morning and then training and getting our sleds ready for the race. We haven’t decided what we’re doing for dinner yet as a team -- maybe Chinese food? We’re in a hotel here so there aren’t even kitchens if we wanted to make a turkey. But Chinese is always a good fallback when the turkey burns, anyways!
It’s especially tough this year because my fiancé, Nic, didn’t make the national team so I’m not even with him. But I just try to focus on what I’m doing here -- bobsledding, and chasing my Olympic dream. If I’m going to spend this much time away from my family and friends, it better be for something that matters. I owe it to my loved ones to put everything I have into what I’m doing to make sure I’m focused and ready to go come race time. In some small way that makes it feel more worth what I’ve missed.
Thankfully I did get to see my family and do an early Thanksgiving at the beginning of November before I left for two weeks of training and racing in Sochi, Russia. The Sochi trip was really fun. We took our spare brakemen, to give the top brakemen a rest since the travel was pretty brutal and the facilities aren’t all that great yet. But the spare brakemen did a great job, and the trip went a long way toward making us feel more confident with the logistics there. We’ll be ready when it’s the real deal in Sochi at the Olympics.
Personally, I had some ups and downs and I’m still trying to feel things out with the new sleds, but I came away feeling that I can drive well with them. New sleds can be hard to get used to. The steering, the way it rides and even the noise it makes are different. For pilots, having a different auditory input changes our senses inside the sleds.
Our old sleds were built like tanks, and when you hit a wall it sounded like a tap. When you hit a wall in our new carbon-fiber BMW sleds, it sounds like a bomb going off and you hear all that in your ears! We’re confident that the new sleds are faster, though, which is the important thing. We’re just working through some growing pains.
During our two weeks in Sochi we got to go down into the city a bit, too. It’s very modern and much different than I thought it was going to be. I sent my mom a picture of a Gucci and Louis Vuitton store. Who knew? And there’s a boardwalk, kind of like Atlantic City or something. We got to dip our toes in the Black Sea, which was pretty cool! The train from where we compete to the city center is fast, and will be even faster by the time they’re done with all the construction.
After Saturday’s race it’s back to Park City for two more World Cup races, then to Lake Placid for a final race before we break for Christmas. We have a team fundraiser in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 17, and while I’m there I’m going to pay a visit to my alma mater, George Washington University. They’re inducting me into the athletic hall of fame, which is pretty cool! And while I can’t be there for the ceremony, they’re letting me record something in advance. I’ve got to rack my brain for what to say that’s meaningful and poignant and won’t make me sound like some foolish jock!
Meanwhile, Nic is in the process of looking at jobs and trying to figure out what’s next for him -- and us. It’s an interesting process for the two of us: me competing in World Cups and Olympics and him trying to figure out where we’ll live next spring after we get married. Being away from each other and trying to figure out everything has made me thank God for technology like Skype and FaceTime. I truly think this is going to be an amazing year, but between the media and Olympics and wedding planning and trying to figure out where we’re going to live come March, it never really stops. Still, I’m so excited to see what the future holds!