I am running.
Actually, no, I am not running.
I am sprinting. Sprinting up a steep logging road that snakes around the side of a mountain across the valley from my home in Vermont. I am pushing myself harder with each stride to chase a dream that has always felt just out of reach. Golden light filters through leafy green trees while the sun starts to set and perspiration beads up on my forehead.
I fall into a less aggressive loping stride as I look at my watch and begin a steady countdown of 60 seconds until the next interval. I plan to repeat this routine nine more times tonight before the sun finally sets and envelops me in darkness.
These sprints are helping satiate an ever-present desire to be something greater than I am right now. To push myself physically to new limits. To once more train my body for the rigors of a long winter to come. I started to feel this itch again about one week after the 2016-17 competition season ended, and I believe that all professional athletes feel something similar while taking a short break from sport. There is this omnipresent fear in my wondering. Am I doing enough? Is there enough time?
58-59-60… I take off again, churning up dirt as I accelerate up the mountain side.
My hands are covered in paint, the byproduct of a requisite summer job which helps me pursue my passions during the winter months. It’s monotonous work, and I often feel trapped while slabbing paint onto the side of houses. When I am out here running, barely able to breathe, I finally feel free, free to work proactively towards my goal of becoming one of the best competitive skiers in the country and eventually the world. I know that money is a necessary means to reach that end, but this feels so much more tangible.
Like ski racing, sprinting gives me a focus, a purpose for which to strive while I revel in my surroundings. It helps quiet the doubts and offers clarity for the long road ahead. I consider my career, and I believe the same thing all dedicated ski racers wholeheartedly believe: My best days are yet to come.
Those around you may not necessarily believe in your final objective, but you do. That self-belief, and not the projections of others, is what drives you on.
This past winter a coach and mentor for whom I have great respect offhandedly offered me a coaching position. It wasn’t the first time a ski club or academy solicited an athlete ready to retire from the sport for a job.
I gave him the response that I have given to all the others. I smiled and said, “No thank you. I will be skiing next year.” He laughed and responded, “You should get a job.”
With a hint of a smile and perhaps a little more sincerity in my voice, this 26-year-old athlete told the coach, in no minced words, where he could shove that idea.
I understand his lack of trust in my career path all too well. I have experienced it from countless others growing up when it became apparent that I was making the decision to forgo the traditional path – one that has led so many others to college – by focusing exclusively on my professional career. In all honesty, I even feel that lack of faith in myself on occasion.
It can be a difficult thing to process, of course. But I remind myself that it doesn’t matter how others write you into their story. What matters is the narrative of your life that you choose to create on your own.
Why have you chosen this? What is the purpose that drives you forward each day?
My path is not constructed from linear stepping stones all guiding me to some predetermined end point, so it is a misconception to view my choices simply as they pertain to my career. For me, my path is about so much more than that. It is a voyage of life where I seek out the next face-splitting smile, the next bellyaching laugh, one more sigh of contentment as I stumble upon a moment and realize I’ve come to a place that it is exactly where I want to be. I usually find these moments out on the road, with skis under my feet.
Occasionally I find myself in that place while surrounded by leafy green trees, with golden light streaming through the foliage.
I fall into an ungainly stuttering step, chest heaving, sweat dripping, heartbeat blanking out. The sun dips below the mountain and darkens the forest around me. I prepare to turn around and head back to my car, but instead, I look on.
Am I doing enough?
I take off up the hill for number 11 with a grin across my face. The sun has set, but the light will last a little while longer. I still have time.