Full Circle- My Sochi Story

“Full Circle” adverb :  Through a series of developments that lead back to the original source, position, or situation or to a complete reversal of the original position. —Usually used in the phrase “come full circle.”

Portrait taken during Oakley trip to Sochi, Russia 2008.

Portrait taken during Oakley trip to Sochi, Russia 2008.

My first introduction to Sochi, Russia came in 2008 when Oakley took a gaggle of ladies on a trip to film for “Uniquely” an all woman’s action sports film released by the brand in 2009. With a string of unfortunate events including a tornado, my trip began with mastermind behind “Uniquely” John Roderick, photographer Zach Hooper and I stranded in Atlanta on the way over. Only to find on arrival in Sochi three days late, a soggy crew and gloomy forecast. From the get go this was sure to be an epic adventure.

The road blocks continued to pop up over the next nine days, but that would not dampen our spirits. Our group overcame dismal riding and filming conditions by building jibs on vintage army trucks and tree stumps. Our positive outlook payed off on the last day when the snow gods blessed us with sun, safer conditions and fresh snow. With military alerts forcing all helicopters to stay grounded, our plans for the day changed slightly. Instead of having heli-drops on the lines we scoped out, now we got to hike and earn each turn. I can remember feeling determined to make the most of our one sunny clear day, but secretly I was struggling. Only later did I find out that I was battling a life threatening illness that was rapidly deteriorating my functions.

In November of 2009 I was diagnosed with Lyme Disease and forced to change my lifestyle dramatically. Skiing in movies had been a long time dream of mine, and after a taste of this sweet lifestyle in 2008 I was hungry to buy a sled (snowmobile), truck and film full time. This goal of mine was put on hold as I battled back to health over the next 3 years.

After working with John Roderick of Neu Productions during the making of Uniquely, I told friends that if I ever had the chance to make a film he would be my first choice of whom to work with. I was not only impressed by John’s talents and skill, but by his vision. I was like “this man can convey storyline more effortlessly and authentically than anyone I had ever met. I have to hire him to make an all woman’s ski movie!” Three years after meeting, I did hired John to take on a film project. But one of a different nature. As things don’t always turn out as we picture them, this film was not a ski movie but a Lyme Disease awareness film aiming to bring light to a worldwide epidemic stemming from the bite of a Deer Tick.  ”LymeLight” our 30 minute documentary using my story as an educational vessel was born, created and released in May of 2013. This labor of love has reached nearly thirty thousand views and educated countless people in all walks of life. This project has been the single most fulfilling experience of my life thus far.

Getting to take the mission of spreading Lyme awareness with me as I returned to freeskiing, was a gift. When I took a step away from competing in halfpipe skiing in 2009, I was burnt out. Not only from being sick and tired from Lyme Disease, but frankly I was sick and tired of living a selfish life. I would win sometimes, I would fall sometimes, but no matter the outcome of an event I was left feeling empty. That spark of joy that had always been present for me in skiing was dimmed. I didn’t start skiing to win medals, I was searching for something else, and not finding it amongst the pro-skier scene for years had weighed on my heart. I cannot say at the time I was diagnosed I saw this as a blessing in disguise, but today I do. Not only would I have the chance to recover my health but I had the chance to find a more empowering path in my ski career.

Flash forward to the evening of Saturday January 18th, 2014. The Park City Mountain Resort halfpipe was lit up like a christmas tree and glowing in all her glory. With a crowd of thousands, spectators, fans, friends and family eagerly awaited the start of the Park City Grand Prix Finals. This was the final US Olympic Trial event and the last chance for athletes to earn the few coveted US Olympic Freeskiing Team spots for the Winter Games in Sochi 2014. The Park City crowd heated up the chilly night with enormous energy unmatched by any event of my career, including my four times competing at X-Games! The stage was set for magic.

As I landed the most flawless run of my “8 years strong” competitive freeskiing career, I felt the culmination of years of hard work, overcoming obstacles, blood, sweat and tears pay off in a single moment. It was not the outcome of winning the event that night and earning my spot to Sochi, but rather the feeling of reaching my personal potential. For years I had been hustling for a moment when I could say, “I am absolutely proud of every bit of that halfpipe run!” Being sick for years and a perfectionist in life, that moment was 11 years in the making. So you can imagine the epic magnitude of emotion I felt as I skied into the finish coral at the base of the halfpipe. Later I would see the photo below capturing just that, pure freedom!

 

Angeli let's out a cry in celebration after landing her run at the Park City Grand Prix Finals.

Angeli let’s out a cry in celebration after landing her run at the Park City Grand Prix Finals.

 

I returned to Russia in February 2014 to compete as an Olympian and my journey came full circle. I was back in the same location but I was transformed and so was Sochi. The next month was far from smooth or easy as I experienced every human emotion possible. This being an eery similarity to my first Sochi trip. Some call it bad luck but I think it’s all how you look at it. After tearing my MCL (medial collateral ligament) in my right knee during our final practice session the day before freeskiing halfpipe’s Olympic debut, I reminded myself that I came to ski my heart out. The day of our event, through searing pain I did just that. The Olympics was the most amazing experience I have ever had as an athlete and I know now for certain that the best things in life do not come easy. The contrast of the “ups and downs” gives us perspective to fully appreciate life. I did not win a medal in Sochi, but I feel like a winner. That is what skiing is to me. Everyday that I am out there, I am winning! By following my passion I am on track to reach my potential in life. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Thank you Russia for your warm smiles, your joy and excitement. Thank you to the volunteers that made my stay in Sochi smooth and fun. My favorite random moment was when a local kid asked to carry my skis and walk with me to my building. This happened almost everyday after that, new faces but same welcoming gesture. They were just as excited as I was to be at the Olympics. It was always refreshing and just what I needed on those days when frustration threatened to get me down.

I have been truly touched by the outpouring of love from around the world during my comeback and Olympic journey. Thank you to my coach Luke “Ocho” Allen, my sponsors Atomic, Oakley and LymeLight Foundation, the US Olympic Team staff and my friends & family for supporting me on my road to Sochi. Thank you to the ski community, Lyme community and my hometown of Bellingham, WA for believing in me and cheering me on.

It has been an absolute honor, I am forever grateful.

View from the peak of Rosa Khutor

View from the peak of Rosa Khutor

The Olympic halfpipe Sochi 2014

The Olympic halfpipe Sochi 2014

Angeli grabs a quick photo before departing for the closing ceremonies in Sochi.

Angeli grabs a quick “Rings” photo before departing for the closing ceremonies in Sochi.

The Comeback update #1

Seems fitting to start with a stroll down memory lane…

Hello from sunny Breckenridge, Colorado. It’s update time…

After returning home from New Zealand, I spent 2 months preparing for the North American winter ski season. With strategic planning, training, eating and mental preparation, I feel ready to take on the busiest competitive season I have ever had. (For example, I have 4 contests before Christmas, when in years past my first contest was mid January!)

Thanksgiving day I set out in the “Silver Bullet” (my Subaru Oakback) from my cozy home in Salt Lake City, Utah to chilly Boulder, Colorado. I was lucky enough to spend a fabulous “Friendsgiving” at the beautiful Katrina Siegfried’s home. I rolled up to her house right as dinner was being served. Katrina took on the challenge of baking a feast that stuck to my Whole30 dietary needs. In a nutshell, Whole30 eating cuts out grains, legumes, dairy and anything processed/refined. Basically I can eat meat, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds. It was quite the treat to be able to eat everything at the table. Believe me, this NEVER happens!

I have been skiing in Summit County for 9 days, 4 of which have been in Copper Mountain’s halfpipe. With it being the first halfpipe open of the season, everyone and their brother is here. It is a wonderful, yet busy reunion of old friends and new faces.

Day 1, 2 and 3 at Copper had their ups and downs, falls and triumphs. But today provided my most profound lesson yet.

“When making a comeback, you must let go of what was, what could have been, and what should be… and focus on what is.” 

My friend Tori Beattie gave me some amazing advice. She suggested I treat each trick as if I am learning it for the first time. This really resonates with my current struggle… my frustration comes when I compare my current skiing to how I used to ski 4 years ago. My plan is to calm my mind and focus on the progress I am making. Rome was not built in a day, and I WILL ski to my potential once again.

BIG shout out to my friends, family and coach Luke Allen for all the positive vibes and advice this week.

Cheers to patience, dedication and strength of character!

 

The Comeback

I traveled to New Zealand and found old friends, new friends and family, many a muddy sheep, sunny days at SnowPark, powder days at Treble Cone, trials and tribulations and greatest of all… confidence in my health.

It has been a long journey back to health for me over the past 16 years. After 2 1/2 years of intensive treatment, lifestyle food and activity restrictions and both physical and emotional turmoil, I’m happy to report I’m back doing what I love most, SKIING! My trip to New Zealand this past month solidified my triumph over Lyme Disease. After placing 2nd in the North Face New Zealand Open on September 1st, any self doubts I had about returning to competitive halfpipe skiing have vanished. This event meant far more than any in my career. Below you can check out a quick edit of my run at the NZ Open, just click the “NZ Open 2012″ link.

NZ Open 2012

My trip began with a 12 hour flight, giving me plenty of time to reflect on the past few years of my life. How much had changed, and how much was still the same. I was surprised to find butterflies in my stomach as I boarded my flight at the Los Angeles International Airport. Excitement and yes, I was nervous! This was my first trip abroad in 2 years and my first competition back in even longer. I also found myself being nostalgic. I have the fondest memories of my previous trip to NZ in 2007. I met people that are to this day some of my closest friends and won the New Zealand Open halfpipe event. Now I can add my trip this summer to those fond memories. Having only 3 weeks in a halfpipe before my comeback event, I was able to put together a run that landed me in 2nd place. To top it all off, my adopted NZ family showed up to cheer me on with signs! Check it out along with other moments from my trip in the gallery below.

A huge thanks to my family and friends for always believing in me, the Toomey family for welcoming me into their home and going above and beyond as hosts, my boyfriend Reid for being a constant support at any hour of the day/night, Peter Legnavsky for connecting me to anything I needed in Wanaka, Freeskiing NZ for the event footage, Anna Segal for being an amazing friend and the most fun partner in crime, the memory of friend and fellow skier Sarah Burke for giving me inspiration in my moments of doubt, and last but certainly not least my amazing sponsors who made this trip possible ATOMIC and OAKLEY. Also, I want to thank everyone who sent support my way throughout my recovery from Lyme. There is one word that sums up my overall sentiment, gratitude!

Cheers and see you on the slopes this winter, whoohooo!

Believe in Sarah

I have written and erased sentences for days trying to find words to express my thoughts/feelings on whatSarah Burke has meant to me. I feel strongly compelled to share this story. It says it all.
When I was in high school I followed my older brother to Whistler, BC to attend a summer ski camp named “Momentum.” This camp was located on the Blackcomb glacier and specialized in moguls and park skiing. We would wake up early and take 2 chair lifts over grass and mountain biking terrain to the last bit of snow left on the mountain. There were jumps, rails, a quarterpipe and a halfpipe. I had never skied park let alone heard of hitting rails, so you can imagine how all over the place I was on my skis that week. I tried my first 360′s and slipped out on so many rails, that by the end of the week my hip was black and blue. I was a mess! But the best kind of mess there is. I was sun burnt, bruised and sore but had the biggest smile on my face. This is the week I fell in love with Freeskiing. This is also the week I found my hero, Sarah Burke.
But wait… there’s a twist in this story. Half way through the week I ran into a speed bump on my way to “falling for freeskiing.” There were many coaches at this camp, Sarah being one of them. These were talented and impressive athletes. We all looked up to them so very much.
…The speed bump came when a coach (who will remain nameless) told me to stick to just skiing, that maybe park skiing wasn’t for me. I was heart broken. I loved this new sport more then any sport I’d ever participated in (and I tried them all!) As I was hiking up to the top of the hill with tears in my eyes, Sarah came up to me and said something that changed my outlook. She told me to follow my dream no matter what anyone said. She believed in me fully! She was able to see past my tight and torn non stylish gear, my non twin tip skis, my amateur abilities, my lack of formal ski training and see the potential that lay within. She saw something in me that I had not even begun to see in myself.
I took her words to heart and 5 years later placed 3rd at the US Freeskiing Open. That day, the same coach that doubted me in Whistler years prior approached me and complemented my skiing. Everything came full circle. He now saw the potential that Sarah saw in me years before.
Frankly speaking, Sarah is the reason I am a professional skier. She not only paved the way and created a place for women in freeskiing, her friendship inspired bravery. I looked up to Sarah in every way. Her kindness and inclusion of all people lit up a room. Her dedication and drive for freeskiing is inspirational and unmatched. I will hold onto every lesson learned from her, every gift she gave me and cherish all the memories we made over the years.
Today and everyday, let us be thankful for all we have in life. Let us be thankful for life itself. Let us fill up our days with passion and dedication. Let us continue to follow in her iconic footsteps. Let us be thankful for Sarah.
With love and gratitude, rest in peace my beautiful friend.
Trennon Paynter said it best: “She’s in every snowflake, every ray of sunshine, every breeze. More than ever, now and always, I #BelieveInSarah.”