After a year of uncertainty and six weeks of stressful internal debate, I finally made a decision about my athletic future. Here’s a look at the somewhat convoluted thought process that led to my decision.
Biathlon is really hard work. And over the past two years, I haven’t felt like my hard work paid off. That may come as a surprise to those of you who are thinking, “You made the Olympic team!” But zoom in and you’ll see that my results have plateaued and my shooting accuracy has trended downward since 2016. The macro-level success of qualifying for the Olympics was couched in a bed of micro-level failures that have predominantly shaped my day-to-day attitude and emotions.
Qualifying for the team is but a brief moment in the timeline of the Olympic experience. The true goal of every self-respecting athlete is not just to qualify but to perform well once you are there. My one perfect, glorious performance in the women’s relay was not enough to outshine my mediocre individual results. The Olympics were arguably US Biathlon’s worst showing at any international event in the last four years. To say morale was low would be an understatement. This agony of defeat is real.
I never thought I would want to continue after this season. But there was one fundamental thing I didn’t predict: with the Olympics behind me, I feel liberated! I feel like I can go and do my sport because I want to. I can have fun with it. I don’t have to worry about meeting this or that minimum qualification standard. I can instead focus on learning and improving and enjoying the remaining moments of my life as a professional athlete. In sports psychology lingo, I can shift back into a “growth mindset.”
There are also a number of major changes on my team that make me feel optimistic about the future. First of all, I will have a new coach, Armin Auchentaller. I know it’s the right time for this change and I think he’s the right person for the job. Second, our team is shifting away from a full-time, Lake Placid-based training model to a camp system: two weeks of focussed and supervised training camp, then two weeks of self-directed training at home. With one week of solo training under my belt, I can report that I never realized how oppressed I was under the old system until now. It’s a challenge to train alone, but on the other hand I have freedom, space to learn, and flexibility for (some semblance of) a personal life. Third, we have an opportunity to create a new team dynamic that is more inclusive, positive and supportive. The retirement of two World Championship medalists certainly leaves a hole in our team’s depth chart, but that hole is also a space for new leaders.
One deciding factor unrelated to team structure or my internal psyche is that I simply don’t have anything else lined up. Most people can probably relate to not wanting to quit one job until they find the next one. I am giving myself one more year to figure out what’s next, and to plan a great retirement party!
I am also giving myself one more year to really solidify the tradition we debuted this year in Pyeongchang of a Biathlon World Cup Valentine’s Day card exchange. And one more year of European hotel saunas; one more year of massage; one more year of ski-testing (or is it just socializing?) with my personal wax tech; one more year of being a fine-tuned athletic machine; one more year of racing for Team USA; one more year of agony; one more year of thrill; one more year because my brother says, “real life is the pits– you gotta keep the dream alive!”; one more year because I still have something to give; one more year because it’s fun and it’s cool and once it’s over there’s no going back.