I just returned from Oberwiesenthal, Germany where I raced as a part of team USA at junior and u23 World Championships. There were a lot of truly heroic and historic results which were the product of years and years of incredible hard work and determination from athletes, staff, and communities across America. This was my third junior world championship and it has been inspiring to watch every year as Americans show up more confident and prepared than the year before. The transformation of our nation from an underdog to a powerhouse in such little time has been something very special to be a part of and fills me with pride. It was incredible getting to watch Gus cross the line as a world champion last week after years of being on the front line of junior skiing in our country and constantly raising the bar for all of us. I’ll admit I am probably the only person who cried as much as he did. Then it got even better when both of our junior relay teams medaled on the same day. It was a dream come true for us all and a perfect display of the depth our team has that makes us so strong. This paired with Julia’s incredible sprint medal and so many other results that were inspirational by so many different metrics made for the best junior championship ever for our country. However, what I really remember when looking back at this last week goes far beyond the medals and results.
I will never forget walking into my hotel room after the classic race Gus had just won. When I opened the door the first thing he said to me was “thank you so much for being so supportive of me even when you guys didn’t have the days you wanted. I know that is hard.” It was a little statement, but it hit me hard and reminded me what this is all about and why I am so proud to be a part of this group. When you spend every day, all year thinking about tangible results and goals and what you need to focus on that day to get there, it’s so easy to lose sight of the bigger picture and meaning of it all. And at the beginning, middle, and end of the day, that meaning is people. This means a lot of different things. Sometimes it means celebrating teammates results when they have a good day, sometimes it means compassion and empathy when somebody had a day they are disappointed in. It means saying thank you to the people who support you, no matter the result. It means making sure people are seen and acknowledged when they do little things well. It means making sure everybody feels welcomed, included, and important whether they are a world champion or the waiter bringing you dinner. Every single person in a group adds value and it is important to recognize that and make it known, even if it feels obvious. We are all different, and that is awesome. We are stronger because of our diversity, not despite it. It has been really special to get to watch this culture of inclusivity, respect, and graciousness grow in our team over the last few years. It is no coincidence that the growth of this culture amongst our juniors has coincided with the growth of our medal count and steady improvement in results. Our success will be decided by the height of the floor, not the height of the ceiling. When we raise each other up, we all get better.
Finn O’Connell and Zanden McMullen sing the National Anthem at the awards ceremony. Photo: @flyingpoint
Hailey Swirbul and Hunter Wonders cheer on the course for U.S.A.! Photo: @flyingpoint
El Hombres, the Team behind the Team providing skis on point each and every race. Photo: @flyingpoint
I saw so many displays of graciousness and humility this week from so many different people that made me so proud. It inspires me to be the best skier I can be, but more importantly the best person I can be. We are so lucky to follow in the footsteps of so many incredible athletes, coaches, and supporters who have worked so hard to create this culture. I spent a lot of my skiing life searching for motivation from selfish places and the drive for individual glory. I can tell you now that nothing is as motivating as support from friends, family, and community. We are far from perfect and are still only human, but now more than ever, creating a positive and inclusive environment for EVERYONE is a priority for our team. When this culture is at the forefront of our minds, the results will follow. It’s important to remember that we are just a bunch of people running around in the woods on sticks wearing spandex. Ski racing is special because we get to go out and do what we love with our friends. Even on the days we feel like we are losing, we are winning. I is nothing without we, and coolness is nothing without kindness.
U.S. men Luke Jager, Ben Ogden, Johnny Hagenbuch, and Gus Schumacher accept their GOLD medals for the 4x5km relay. Photo: @flyingpoint
Luke Jager with the number one seed starting the first leg of the Men’s 4x5km Relay. Luke tagged off to Ben WITH A 25 SECOND LEAD! IN A 5k!! Photo: @flyingpoint
Thank you to Steve Fuller with @flyingpoint for these incredible pictures.