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.

Comeback Update #2- Finding Balance

When I was very young my mom told me that life is like a tightrope walk. If we push away the bad and only reach for the good, we will fall off the rope. The goal is to find middle ground while navigating the positive and negative experiences life presents us with. I have carried this metaphor with me through some major ups and downs in my life. With each new challenge I face, the depth of her wisdom sets in a little more. Life is not just about the good stuff. It’s about balance. Without a bad day, we would not know a good one. Without hot, we would have no concept of cold. The contrast is what gives us foundation.

That being said, let’s get into my Comeback Update #2- Finding Balance.

In Update #1 I left off just before the busy competition season began. Since November, I have competed in 3 contests, landed on 2 podiums, traveled to 1 country outside the US and sustained 1 noteworthy injury.

It all started off with a bang! The North Face Open at Copper Mountain, CO was a dream come true. I was reunited with old friends and landed myself on the podium in 3rd place.

Qualifying day at The North Face Open Copper

Qualifying day at The North Face Open Copper

Click link to see the Freeskier article on Qualifiers

Finals day at Copper.

Finals day at Copper.

The podium at Copper.

The podium at Copper.

Click link to see the Freeskier article on Finals

The very next week was the Dew Tour at Breckenridge, CO. Training went great that week but when it came to qualification day, something was off. I was sick to my stomach and thought maybe it was just an extreme case of nerves. I pushed through and placed 7th in qualifications, just missing finals by a spot. It turns out I had unknowingly eaten scrambled eggs with milk in them that morning and I am lactose intolerant. Oops! Lesson learned, people often add dairy to fluff up scrambled eggs.

Reunion of friends at Breck Dew Tour.

Reunion of friends at Breck Dew Tour.

After a month of skiing in Colorado it was time to make the 8 hour road trip home to Salt Lake City, Utah. I happily settled back into my apartment but just long enough to fit in my first powder turns of the season. A day of shooting with photographer Re Wikstrom at Alta, one of my favorite mountains, was just what I needed! Then it was off to Green Bay, Wisconsin for some long overdue holiday family time.

Happy to be home in my favorite halfpipe. Park City with Kimmy Sharp!

Happy to be home in my favorite halfpipe. Park City with Kimmy Sharp!

After the hectic holidays I was ready to get back into a halfpipe. Park City Mountain Resort is home to my favorite halfpipe in the world! Opening day was epic! Great people, great weather and a beautiful halfpipe all to ourselves. Training progressed smooth that week until one day while working on my left 900, I caught the deck (top of the halfpipe) falling 15+ feet onto my side. I knocked myself out and sustained only a minor concussion thanks to my helmet and mouth-guard. I was restricted from skiing for 10 days, forcing me to miss the Copper Mountain Grand Prix. This was a huge let down, for the Grand Prix competitions are very highly ranked in our sport.

After 10 days off, I got back on snow and began to rebuild my confidence. With 1 day of skiing in Utah, I was off to Whistler, British Columbia, Canada for The North Face Open Whistler event. Being born and raised in Bellingham, WA (only 3 hours from Whistler), flying into Vancouver was like coming home. I was greeted outside the airport by air heavy with moisture and evergreen trees abundant. The Pacific Northwest will always have my heart. I placed 2nd at the event and my mom drove up to cheer me on!

2nd place podium in Whistler and my mom was there to cheer me on!

2nd place podium in Whistler and my mom was there to cheer me on!

Click on link to see the Newschoolers article on Finals

It was bittersweet being back in Whistler, where I first met my friend and fallen skier Sarah Burke at a summer ski camp many years ago. That summer Sarah taught me my first 360 in a halfpipe and snuck me into my first bar to go dancing. Whistler was Sarah’s home and where I fell in love with freeskiing. After her passing last January, we gathered in the Whistler halfpipe for a memorial and celebration of her life. Being back at the place where we lit candles to symbolize her light living on in all of us, brought back so many emotions. It was a roller-coaster trip for me. I am so grateful for the support of my coach, good friends and my mom!

Forever in our hearts, we miss you Sarah!

Forever in our hearts, we miss you Sarah!

“Balance” is my mantra for 2013, reminding me to embrace both the ups and the downs this year. For each is vital in knowing the other.

Next up: Park City Grand Prix January 31st. Click link for event Schedule 

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!

May horaaay!

May has brought much more than just flowers this year! Here is a recap of what’s been going on:

  • *Lyme Disease Awareness Month began.
  • *I released a trailer and Kickstarter fundraiser for LymeLight, my Lyme awareness film.
  • *ESPN, Powder Magazine, Skiing Magazine and Grind TV wrote articles about LymeLight, creating buzz about Lyme.
  • *Friends, family and community spread the word about LymeLight and Lyme Disease awareness.
  • *My “LymeLight kits” went into production (T-shirts, wristbands and other Lyme awareness gear coming soon.)
  • *I ran my first 5K race, and dedicated my efforts to Girls On The Run (a program that promotes young girls being active), Lyme Disease awareness and the memory of Sarah Burke.

What a BIG month May has been thus far!

The second week of May marked the release of a month long fundraiser for LymeLight, the Lyme awareness documentary I am making. I have been working with Neu Productions since November 2011 to capture footage for the film. Our goal is to raise enough money to produce and complete the documentary, take it on tour to spread Lyme awareness and share my story around the world. To find out more about my project and how you can get involved and donate, visit the LymeLight Kickstarter page.

I’m blown away by the support LymeLight has received from family, friends and community! With nearly every person I know -yeah you know who you are :-)reposting, emailing, tweeting, and telling people in their lives about LymeLight, we were able to raise 25% of our goal in 7 days! Now we are at 70% on day 14! Beyond just raising money to finish LymeLight, with everyone’s help we’ve spread the word about Lyme Disease far and wide. My dream of raising awareness has already begun to come true, thanks to the support of people like you!

I started off the 3rd week of May by running my first 5K race. This is an accomplishment that solidified my triumph over illness. It was only a few years ago that I was unable to run at all due to severe pain and arthritis.

Here are a few photos of Becca Babicz and I during the “Girls On The Run” 5K at Sugarhouse Park. We dedicated our race to the memory of Sarah Burke and Lyme Disease awareness month. Thanks to Reid Persing for his photography skills and support.

I encourage you all to get out and partake in Lyme Disease awareness month! No matter what form your support takes, every bit of energy towards this cause makes a difference. Here are a few ideas of ways to get involved and spread the word:

  • *Reposting the link to the LymeLight Kickstarter page on Facebook.
  • *Share with the people in your life why you’re motivated to spread the word about Lyme Disease. (In person, over the phone or in an email.)
  • *Wear a lime green ribbon or article of clothing to symbolize your support.
  • *Join a community event/walk/race and wear lime green.
  • *Blog about Lyme Disease awareness month, sharing what you know and feel about this illness.
  • *Instagram/tweet/facebook artistic photos of limes, with captions mentioning Lyme awareness month (Being creative by using the “play on words” to catch people’s attention.)

Thanks to everyone for your support! Let’s keep the ball rolling…

:-)