Everything was pointing in the direction of a big, fat ‘NO.’ It was 2006, and I was trying to qualify for my first U.S. Winter Olympic Team. I was unwell with aspects of my health due to overtraining. I was a mother, a breastfeeding mother at that, and a wife. No one else on the U.S. Ski Team was even married, so the light I was painted in was not a bright one at times. My choices during these many years which saw us traveling, racing, and living family life on the road as a prelude to the Games were full of choices quite contrary to those of most elite female athletes. To boot, I was also not on contraception of any kind and had that and other of my actions held in question. The slog to qualify and represent this nation was seemingly all uphill, but wait, cross country skiers are made for that, skiing uphill!
Obviously, to get from strapping on skis for the first time in the completely flat town park where they used to drag the snow around to flatten it with an old mattress, all the way to the point of skiing gracefully in the Olympics, takes perseverance. Many untold times along the way I took the ‘no’ of others, and turned it into a ‘yes’ of mine. This is never an easy process as it involves discernment, and that’s not on my resume under a list of SKILLS.
The ‘no’s’ flew in my face about opportunities lost if I didn’t move states, train as much as non-mothers, choose to travel with family, and remain stubbornly faithful to my Catholicism. I didn’t care, and felt invited by God to preserve in being salt and light in the racing world and beyond, so in 2006, I finally had the distinct pleasure of representing my faith, family and our great nation in Torino, Italy at the Winter Olympics.
That would be tidy if the story ended there having achieved my dream, and our family’s goal. It didn’t. I conceived and carried our long awaited second child shortly after the Games ended, and our family went back to “normal” life for a time before my husband suffered terribly with Ulcerative Colitis. This auto-immune nightmare took him all of the way out of the workforce and eventually had us seeking ski racing as a way for me to provide again for the household. I willingly took another stab at qualifying because the dirt (snow) we’d contest the 2010 Games on was in Vancouver, just hundreds of miles from my home.
The U.S. Ski Team tallies points for a year for the sake of qualification for these larger competitions, and in my case, I had just half a year let to try and gain ground on the gals gunning for the Games. I raced with heart, poise and passion as a mother of two having come through a hellish two years of my husband’s illness. I won a National Championship, and added to my tally making it 15 National Titles! There I sat in 6th on the points list knowing that seven was the minimum women’s xc team size fielded to Winter Games historically. Then came the ax of “coach’s discretion,” the clause which fully empowered the body of US Skiing Coaches (all male) to cut me from a second Olympic birth and nix me from a team I had just made against all odds. An injustice, yes! A persecution of my fidelity to faith, fertile femininity, family, and more? Absolutely!
My perseverance couldn’t be taken from me, however. In the face of the incredible let down by the National Team I had skied thousands of kilometers for in tens of countries, I decided to flow my fitness and focus in another direction entirely. I made a hard pivot and quickly booked a ticket to Norway that late February to represent the U.S.A at the World Championships of Winter Triathlon 2010.
My well played plan was perfectly executed in dramatic fashion (that’s a whole other story), and it’s because I persevered that I could proudly stand on the top step of the podium belting out the US National Anthem as the newest World Champion...the glory of God. Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ, author and perfecter or our faith. Dare great things for Christ, and when the world tells you ‘no,’ tell them, “watch me!”
- This post was inspired by Paul Kapsalis' talk in the OSV Talks series, a series of topics from prominent Catholic leaders to spark discussion, explore new or re-explore old approaches, and inspire creative thinking, all from the heart of the Church. https://www.osvtalks.com