1 year anniversary - last race of my career!

For an athletic high-achiever, freedom and clean slates are very foreign.  If you told me to start tipping the ski over as I approach a 50 metre launch at 140 km/h, I could do that.  But tell me to selectively place rewarding and highly authentic activities in my life with absolutely no rules or regulations……..

Today is one year since my last World Cup ski race.  I can’t say I’ve spent a lot of time reminiscing but, for the next few paragraphs, I’m happy to go right back to that place and celebrate the change.

I’m a workhorse and slightly controlling.  Turning this leaf has asked a lot of my creative, laid-back side.  Speaking of back-side.. that was the first to go.  Some people slim down nicely and proportionately.  I just ‘fell down’.  I had a bittersweet relationship with the gym and was not motivated to get over the initial hump of pain in order to recover from that fifth knee surgery.  Enough time passed and through the effective placement of some exotic ski trips, I found the perfect carrot to place in front of my nose.  I’ll have you know, the back-side is live and well again.

Soulfully, the transition has been beyond interesting.  I don’t know if my family and friends would use that adjective.  Maybe hot-cold is more fitting?  Cold-cold?  Some days it’s a breeze and learning to wire my outdoor lighting is enough.  Other days I search online for hours to find an internship abroad that will blow my hair back.

I started my MBA online and am enjoying the goal-setting, deadlines, self-discipline, stress and accountability the courses demand.  Public speaking has become a great fit as well.  The sequence of preparation, adrenaline and performing-on-demand is extremely similar to ski racing.  As I selectively place new experiences in the ‘hole’ of my former career, I am constantly reminding myself to lengthen my leash.  The most surprising challenge in this retirement is the sense of belonging.  I’m not talking about the feeling of a friend inviting me to coffee, but moreso the global feeling that despite being scattered internationally, I have a family that I’m completely in tune with and miles between friends is unrelated to closeness and support.

As I navigate this transition, I realize there are a thousand ways to get a dopamine fix.  However, finding something meaningful will take time to find and even more time to flourish.  This isn’t the piece I write because I’ve arrived in a great place and I’ve learned everything there is to learn.  This is the 1 year anniversary of a huge withdrawal.  I heard the other day that I “live under a rock”.  I looked up the definition and, in some ways, it’s bang on.  I have lived a very privileged life with great leaders and a lot of luxury.. all in quite a small bubble.  There are very few people who were ‘under there’ with me.  So much of the world and the way people live their lives I don’t yet know about.  But there’s still so much time and that’s what excites me.  If that was how it felt to be under a rock, then this proverbial terrarium is going to be so exciting to explore.

The new life is itchy at times and uncomfortable.  Actually.. exactly like a wool sweater.  Hip in photos but just not always realistic.  I get swayed and influenced but mostly I’m determined to find a way forward.  Settling into this life is not my goal.  But finding a path that suits my silliness and surges of energy is…

Here’s to one year since my last race as a World Cup skier! 

-Larisa

 

Reflections from the Other Side - St. Moritz World Champs 2017 Edition

My trip has ended and my mind is blown. What a brilliantly different experience I had in St. Moritz, Switzerland, this time around. Audi Canada brought me to the FIS Alpine World Championships to be on the other side of the fence; to receive a formal education in other aspects of this ski world and bring a select group of people further inside the race scene.

I can’t decide if it was the exclusive late night hors d’oeuvres in the Quattro Bar on the top of a mountain (privately escorted up by gondolas), or the bobsleigh run on the only natural track in the world driven by a Swiss Olympian bobsledder – which blew my mind (and my hair back) more.  

Or was it watching the world championships as a spectator with 50,000 fans of a sport I love? It was contagious to root for the Canadians and Swiss alike – and a spectacular venue to watch athletes accelerate from 0 to 140 km/h in less than six seconds down a mountain.  The first thing I did upon arrival was join the festivities following Erik and Manny’s medals.  These boys were brothers to me for the early part of my career and it was absolutely bonus to catch up on life while congratulating them on their worldly success.

The skiing at St. Moritz on this side of the fence was epic, as I knew it would be. There are 360 kilometres of groomed trails here in the Engadin valley. I was only very familiar with three of those. After this trip I can say I skied most of the other 357 and am also overly proud to also say I’m no longer a heli ski virgin.  As an easterner, it took me a little longer to be introduced but I’m successfully addicted.

This valley offers the entire package. You can langlauf to Italy (cross-country ski), watch polo on a frozen lake, have squid risotto at the Kempinski and dance with the dead at the prestigious Dracula Club all in one day’s time. With a unique and treeless piste, you can stop absolutely anywhere along the side of the race course for a front row seat to witness the spectacle of alpine ski racing. The calm before the storm as a racer was always the course inspection. This was our 90 minutes to feel the entire track in our blood before the physical act was to be performed. 

As a host this time around, I was able to take a small group of diehard fans and VIPs along the men’s downhill track (formerly women’s) before the downhillers came through. This transformation of my love for skiing was exemplified when I stood at the launch of a 60 metre jump. I used to take in the view as, simply, a point of focus to fly with the right direction. Now I was able to simply soak it in for pure enjoyment and appreciation. Over the weekend I was even able to head ‘over there’ (my past point of focus) and ski Corvatsch for the first time, an entire part of St. Moritz I had no time for in the past.

I managed close to 300 hugs over the course of the four days and feel grateful for the reminder of my worldly family. Many of us have associated St. Moritz with fur and moon boots. They wouldn’t be wrong. But in my four days in this beautiful valley, I was introduced to the cluster of the 13 towns that make up the Engadin valley and all their uniqueness and can sincerely highly recommend this gem.

Speed to speaking: My transition from world-stage success to centre-stage story-telling.

“What a shock!”  That was the comment of choice when people found out I retired in my prime.  I stood on the final podium of the 2015/16 World Cup ski season and cried like a baby.  The blood, sweat, tears, phone calls home, phone calls to assistants of CEO’s, sadness, spotlight, celebration, triumph, trial-and-error, risk, really small rewards, really significant rewards, pain, pressure, pride and, finally, peace.. they came to a head.

And so I stepped away from the season and stepped out of my head.  I asked my surgeon to tell me my 5th knee surgery would be career-ending.  He told me that, after everything I’d been through to be successful, this 5th knee surgery would not be deemed career-ending.  He recommended I look deep in my heart for my athlete expiration.  Consequently, the surgery and the idea that I may err on the side of conservative split-second decisions in the middle of a race to avoid future injuries told me my answer.  I pushed hard to explore my potential both in sport and spirit…  

So I turned a page.

I’m skipping to where I start a new chapter because the in-between was rotten.  Someone told me once, “When one door closes, another opens.. it’s just the hallways that are a bitch.”  I was bored and annoying.. both to myself and others.  I picked on myself and criticized my lack of productivity and realized that over 15 years of giving my life over to sport, I’d built a wide array of acquaintances but only a select few people I could share a beer with and exchange weaknesses.

I don’t know what phase I’m in now but I know I feel calm again.  Calm and focused.  I like my flexibility and pain-free life and can only truly appreciate it because I’m juggling an online MBA and a rapidly-growing public speaking career.  It’s the right amount of stress and structure to tap the best ‘me’.  I added a kitten to my family which puts me over the edge at times… lesson learned.  Tony the kitten was a bandaid to my underlying unresolve but he’s full of love and so we’re keeping him.

The identity crisis side of retiring from an athletic career is real.  I feel very sure of the difference between who I am and what I do.  With that said, I built a new corner of my personality through the platform of ‘what I do’.  So it’s unfair to discount the means to which I evolved.  It’s just a matter of deciding how to feel positively reinforced without CBC doing it on national television.  Or ‘likes’… Instagram likes, Facebook likes.. they're serious mental orgasms.  But now, with marketing on my course load, I’m more intrigued by why a post ‘did well’ than blowing my hair back for 24 hours (till my next post).  That’s not to say I felt I should blog to get myself back out there, but I’m digging deep to fill the void of international recognition with real, tangible strengths I hold within.  I’ve heard of a book called “Look Within or Do Without” which discusses the ability to identify our personal definition of success and make that vision a reality.  

So now the flame is lit again and I’m constantly applying the skills learned from a career of international sport into universal stability.  Public speaking was introduced to me as a career path by Jim Carroll a couple years ago.  I politely smiled and said no thank you.  As time went by, I was positively rewarded for some really extroverted situations (namely, Team Larisa).  I toyed with the idea of standing on stage in front of hundreds of corporate people and leaving them with a new angle on grit, goal-setting and getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.  It’s now a reality.  And the beautiful part is that people approach me in the same way they used to throughout my ski career.. “Larisa, you will never fully understand how desperately I needed to hear your message today.”  For that, I’m willing to practice what I preach and continue to put myself out there in challenging environments to share lessons learned and how I wasted years not believing in myself so that others don’t have to.  

I’ve, by no means, graduated from this transition.. but I can candidly say I’m enjoying the change of pace and change of scenery.  Retiring shmeshmiring.. I’m just getting started.

-Larisa


It's time to say goodbye.

I have had the most empowering years of my life throughout this career.  Now, I can freely state that I will close this chapter and write a brand new one.

It's difficult to summarize a 10-year international career in an email.  I'm most grateful for these last 3 independent seasons full of real-life tests and real-life rewards.  Thank you for believing in my massive goals and potential to achieve them.  This journey, just the way it was, made Team Larisa 3rd in the World.  That's as gold as it gets.. 

With all that said, during the Sochi Olympics 2014, I could not put my socks on without my heel fixed to the ground for support.  I have been unable to recover from Lake Louise these past few years until the New Year, nearly 20 days later.  Most recently, I had my 5th knee surgery on what was my 'good knee'.  The load required to race at 140km/h was being juggled between two less-than-athletic knees... such is sport.  I've defied odds with a "career-ending injury" 6 years ago.. My surgeon said last week, "I'm still impressed that you ever skied again, Larisa."  (Immense kudos to everyone involved, health-wise, throughout the last 6 years.  You know too well who you are.)  However, I know in my heart, after yet another, health has the final say.  I do not have the health to test the limit any longer.  And the limit MUST be tested daily in this sport if you want gains.  Not just a little bit, but you need to be willing to lose everything.  Rudyard Kipling says:

"If you can make one heap of all your winnings

    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

...you’ll be a Man, my son!"

I've loved this poem since I read it years ago... what resonates has changed.

So, again, like Rudyard Kipling says, I will "keep my head about me" and enjoy another path.  One of my coaches from Sweden told me years ago, "when skiing ends, life begins."  He's around 100 years old, I really trust those guys.. They've seen a lot.

Julia Roth, a great young racer chewed up and spit out by the Canadian ski team's mismanagement, once said, "if you're not living life on the edge, you're taking up too much space."

I've lived this way, pushing my limits, pushing my body, my mind.  I've also preached it.. "Ski Fast, Be Brave."  But now it's time.  Being brave for me is stepping out.

And if there's a pull, it's my passion for business.. Negotiating contracts, hiring good people, managing a six-figure budget.  But I feel both accomplished and relieved as I turn on my slow-cooker and learn about a whole new world.

I am taking on handfuls of speaking engagements and will be renegotiating current partnerships for future ambassadorship.

Thank you for creating a lifelong lesson of grit and it's grand return.  It's been an absolute pleasure.

Team Larisa version 3.0



I was on a bike ride today when the news was released that I am named to the Canadian Alpine Ski Team 2015/2016.

10 years ago, I received that news for the first time..  what a difference a decade makes.

I’ve received messages today congratulating me on being nominated as a national team member so I feel the need to explain my current career status.

Team Larisa was founded in response to the lack of Women’s Speed team in 2013/2014.  It was one of the most chaotic and completely amazing years of my life.  With the help of so many, I was able to get my feet under me just in time for my first Olympic experience and career-best results.  Team Larisa benefited from charitable donations and corporate partnerships alike.  I will be forever grateful that so many people understood my passion and obstacle-ridden venture.

Fortunately, it got even more exciting in its second year.  This past season was equally as chaotic but having had just one more year under our belts, my support crew and I went on to an even more successful season.  The support and, in turn, the structure grew in all the right ways.  My coach, Kurt, and I are extremely efficient on the road and in creating a program to meet my needs.

So with a third season on the horizon, I’ve landed myself in the exact environment I feel is best for me.  It is guaranteed to be more work than if I were to take Alpine Canada up on their offer, but I simply can’t walk away from this opportunity for Team Larisa to live on.  I have to perform for a mission that I started and my sponsors expect me to pursue.  I’m surrounded by deeply passionate and committed people and that resonates highly with my personal work ethic.  It is no longer a charitable organization but a brand that corporations are partnering with to help promote perseverance and courage within their own companies.  It’s an exciting time for me to be talking about yet another Olympic train when speaking to potential partners.

With all that said, I’m ecstatic to see the Canadian Alpine Ski Team introducing a speed coach to the girls again and taking care of some excellent talent coming quickly up the ladder.  I have a giant spot in my heart for the fire I see in these girls’ eyes and it’s only fair that they have a place to exercise their potential.

And isn’t that what it’s all about.. going to bed at night knowing you’ve done what you do best.  You’ve learned, you’ve fallen and risen, you’ve ripened with age and sought out the means to continue catapulting yourself into the next page of life’s book.

‘Thank you’ is always in order.. to the girls who wrote to me on facebook explaining their goals and asking how to get there, to the women who managed a happy heart over the holidays despite a cancer diagnosis and to the men who cry when telling me their own stories of hurt and heart.  It’s been a beautiful ride and I’m so grateful for the support that allows me to continue this journey… I have loved being an ambassador for trying really hard and looking defeat right in the face.

Here’s to what Team Larisa has come to represent… 

Love, Larisa

Méribel muse

It’s Sunday.. quiet time before another race week.  Well, not quite just ‘another’.  This is my first time at a World Cup finals.  Interesting to be 26 and still lots of firsts left in this sport for me.




Today I was skiing and all these feathers were on my jacket.  Mom says ‘when feathers are here, angels are near’.. I don’t tell her there's a hole in my down jacket.  I prefer to see it her way.
I feel very fortunate.  I’ve had results I’m very proud of this year and I see so many girls..  no..  powerful women around me working their asses off too.  Having awareness for others isn’t always the best quality for sport but I’ve always preferred to observe and take it all in.. ‘Blinders' or thinking only of myself will never feel authentic to me.  Sometimes I think of how much a race coming up will mean to someone.  Carolina Ruiz Castillo, from Spain, is at her last World Cup race weekend of her career.  Last time we were in Méribel, she won… her first and only win of her career.  I can honestly say, I hope she does it again.  That’s not to say I don’t hope hard that I win too.. that’s just the awareness that feels true to me.  Or Daniela Merighetti.  She’s not at these Finals even though she’s more deserving than most of us.  She was 4th at the Sochi Olympics.. but no one knows that she landed with her butt (and private parts) on the bindings of her skis just 48 hours prior to being 4th.. at an Olympic Winter Games.  This year she broke her jaw and lost some teeth (still doesn’t have them), got a plate put in, hopped on a flight two weeks later to race the World Championships in Beaver Creek.  Continued her season only to break her leg in Garmisch at the last stop before World Cup Finals.  But manages to look beautiful and poised in an interview from her hospital bed.  Or what about our Canadian rookie rocket Valerie Grenier.. top 20 result at her first World Championships and 13th at her first World Cup race in Switzerland.
There are powerhouses all around me.. I have pity parties sometimes.. I get feeling bad for myself and sad about pain or fatigue.. or missing my family for months.  But I always remember I have a choice and I choose to keep finding out what I’m made of.  That’s not to say I have an endless supply of grit.  But that is to say that I generally have what it takes to do what I want to do.  And if I’m unsuccessful, I’m still somewhat successful because I practiced believing in myself.  I’ll never regret believing fully in the chance that I could be great at something.  That’s the funky part about sport.. you can believe completely in yourself and prepare fully but it will only give you the chance at a result.  There are no guarantees.  So I’ve chosen to continuously redefine success.  If I failed, did I fail completely.  Am I an idiot or did I just miss the mark in a split second?  Probably the latter.
I had a tough experience here in Méribel last time.  I was told at 5pm the night before my race that I would actually not be racing, the spot would be given to someone else.  With that said, I had bronchitis in Garmisch last time and came away with 11th this time.  And I had the shits my last two times in Cortina and came away with my first podium this time.  So I feel confident that I have an ability to redo these stops on the circuit because my life experience is just a bit further along... and I’m drinking bottled water.
I didn’t have much of a point to this blog, only that I’m often humbled by the skiing around me.  I’m proud of my skiing this season and I guess I feel a bit sentimental being at the closing races of my most successful season to date.  “All we did was take the long way.”  I like that because, very simply put, it’s true.  So I fell off the wagon a few years and had to go it alone.. I’ve had a choice with each step I’ve taken and I’ve arrived here, in a beautiful hotel room in the Trois Vallées with fresh sheets and a great rain shower.
Doing my best to ski fast and be brave.
Larisa



Confidence is overrated



I'm going to retract that statement.  Not completely...  Confidence is this word so widely used but how well do we really understand it?  
I think we can all find blog posts and articles about people who, step-by-step, returned to their elite form, gaining confidence, after an injury or tough slump.  Here's why I'm broaching the confidence conundrum.  I've had a better start to my ski season than ever before.  But it really makes no sense.  There was no step-by-step, in my opinion.  

I was in Europe for September and October.  The longest pre-season camp I've ever experienced and the fewest number of productive days.  I can count 3 days in those two months that I walked away from the hill content because I was able to at least try what Kurt was asking me to do without pain getting in the way.  Fine.. tough couple months, big whoop.  

November was a bit better with more forgiving snow.  Then, ready or not, races started.  Lake Louise, Alberta was the first race week and I was between 40th and 46th position in the training runs.  I was trying.  I was training but I was committed to using it as a chance for three more days of downhill training (what would almost double my total downhill preparation for the season).  On the Thursday night prior to the first race, I told Kurt not to worry.   The positive is that he's a bald guy, so the stress doesn't show by way of losing hair.  But how can you not be stressed.  It seemed apparent that my lack of volume in preparation would prove to be a bigger problem than we hoped.

I cracked open a beer and sat in bed writing down my tactical and technical plan for the next day.  Same routine.  Not much in the bank.  A lot of work to do to make the weekend special.

By Sunday night I had a career best result and another couple solid results around 20th.  When people ask me about confidence, I generally agree that those results help my confidence.  But I don't agree that it's completely necessary.  When I arrived in Val d'Isère, France last week, I felt insecure.  I was 4th in the world the week prior but I still managed to feel inadequate the morning of my next races.  I had the 55th fastest training run in my pocket and a ton of 'fixes' for the race. 

In the end, that was key.  When I have a ton of work to do and a big challenge in front of me, I tend to rise.  Evidently, I seem to be a magnet with obstacles.. it's almost comical.  Not the kind of comical where I'm rolling around laughing, but it's worth a smile sometimes.  I mean, Kajsa (my swedish buddy) gets a real kick out of me coming 55th in training and then laying down a top-15 the next day for the race.. I just tell people I got 4 more seconds on the course than them.

Jan Hudec came for dinner last week on his way through Austria.  We talked about 'pulling results out of nowhere'.  He said it's not actually out of nowhere.. and I realized he's right.  I skied Lake Louise close to 100 times in my head during my 2-minute intervals on the bike in the summertime.  I don't like talking much about confidence, but belief is cool.  Belief, to me, means I'm a good friend to myself.  I would sit on my Norwegian or Swedish teammates' beds any day and tell them how well they ski and how powerful their turns are.. or remind them of past results that blew everyone away.  I would tell them how they put plenty of hours in to deserve success like the rest of the superstars....... but when did I ever sit myself down and tell myself those things.  I could easily beat myself up with banana-cup results (the cup for the slowest).  But I've chosen to be a friend.. it's taken a lot of years to get to this point.  I was a giant bully to myself in high school.  I was just bitter for a while after getting injured and missing Vancouver 2010 Olympics.  But in the last couple years, when I had to fight for myself and my own program, I decided that if I was going to do this, I'd need a lot of support and it would have to start with me.  Me supporting me.  "Good morning, Larisa.  This could be your best day yet."  "Good morning, Larisa.  You were slow yesterday but you have all the tools to be fast today."  "Good morning, Larisa.  It's effing early but there's a coach waiting for you to prove your potential."  "Good morning, Larisa.  You danced a lot last night but that was your choice and you still have to go to the gym this morning."

So, for me, with a friend in myself and friends around me, hard work seems to be more tangible and powerful than confidence.

Thank goodness because I'm about to spend time with my big brothers and they're up to way cooler things than ski racing and I'll always be the big baby in the family.

Merry Christmas xx

Onnit

I'm now, officially, a member of the Onnit Honour Roll!  Alongside superstars like Bode Miller and Joe Rogan, I am supported by Onnit with supplements, high quality foods and fitness equipment.

Click here to see my Honour Roll profile and my first article written for the Onnit Academy about my unconventional path through injury rehabilitation :)

So excited for all these amazing opportunities and forms of support!

Happy Thanksgiving! (With love, from Austria)


Happy Thanksgiving!

(With love, from Austria)

It's my 5th week here in Europe and I'm thankful for 5 things:
1.  I'm thankful that my coach, Kurt, and I can be flexible.  I think a vision is always important.  But swaying from this hard line enables us to be constantly engaged and responsible.  Our approach is often unconventional.  In our environment, over the last 5 weeks, we have had to 'sway' daily.  With my return-to-snow program, we are able to do both on-snow and off-snow training in a ratio that allows me to progress forward.. and it's a progression we respect.
2.  I'm thankful for friends.  Pictured above is Muha, my technician this year and a place of constant positivity... mostly belly laughter.  In merging with Sweden more officially this year, we will be spending lots of time together.  The girl to his left is Kajsa Kling.  We climbed the ladder together and I'm so grateful for our friendship.  She got me through one of my harder days last week.. just by riding the t-bar with me.  And buying me chocolate.
3.  I'm thankful for FaceTime.  Period.
4.  I'm thankful for the no-sheet rule here in Europe.. Sheets are my nemesis.
5.  I'm thankful for my health... because a 7-year-old girl named Sophie from Owen Sound, Ontario has been fighting cancer for two years and it's not fair.  Today she received her ultimate wish, a playset in her backyard.  Walt Disney says that, "All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them."  Sophie is a fighter beyond words.  Big Thanksgiving hug to you, Princess.



Welcome, Alex!   

A couple weeks ago, I met Alex Fröis in Bludenz, Austria.  After traveling 8 years with Marcel Hirscher (very decorated Austrian ski racer), he decided to stay at his clinic and 'hang up' his passport for a while.  It is because Alex decided to stay home this season that I'm able to benefit from his amazing experience.  With his own horrific injuries, a ski racing career and many years building programs and treating successful ski racers, Alex is an incredible addition to Team Larisa.  I'm able to hire locally and take full advantage of enhancing my athleticism between ski days.  He has his hands full with a knee that had a 3rd and 4th operation this past summer, but he is fully committed to getting me in the best shape of my life.

Jim Adlington, Company Owner at Planks Clothing

"Planks clothing is super stoked to be providing Larisa with headwear for the upcoming season. We usually do not support ski racers as our brand is aimed more towards the freestyle / freeride market. However, we were blown away by her story and how committed she is to her sport. We decided she would be a great ambassador and are proud to have her representing our company.  Larisa's passion about skiing is mind blowing and she is a true inspiration to us all. Go Team Larisa!"








What's Next?
With a handful of days left here in Europe, our agenda is this:  test the speed skis and filter the fastest from the slower ones with Rossignol and bank some more volume in gate training to nail down the timing of powerful turns.  I will have two weeks at home at the end of the month to build on all the physical facets of being extremely fast this season.  I will also use this final window at home to find the last couple contributors to join Team Larisa for 2014-2015.  Then it's off to Colorado for an epic month of shifting gears and revving for the races in December!




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In response to..

I'm posting this in response to the news that I've been named to the national ski team.  I'm really happy that my process and my results last season have secured me a spot.  However, the announcement implies that I'm fully-funded, which I am not.  My funding situation is unchanged and Team Larisa is my means to continue a World Cup career.  It's a successful structure and requires immense generosity and faith.  I continue to look for efficiencies by merging with another country's program.  I will forever be proud to race under the Canadian flag, however, I will need to make up for the Team Larisa budget shortfall and put the fun back in fundraising.

Please share this post in celebration of your support for a breakthrough season and an even better one next year!