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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>