When it rains, it pours

After some good results in Park City, our team headed back to Calgary for the Christmas break. We were fortunate to have nearly 3 weeks off for a little R & R and some holiday festivities.  For me however, it is the only time during the sliding season I can get some guaranteed shifts at work in, so that’s where I spent most of the break.  I was lucky to have my family come to Calgary and keep me company for though, including my sister who traveled back from Abu Dhabi for her holiday break, my brother and nephew from Edmonton, and my parents from Camrose.  I even managed to get a little sliding in just for fun! I spent New Year’s Eve on the plane over to Europe, where the second half of our circuit is underway. The second half consists of two race in Igls, Austria, two in Altenberg, Germany, and one in Winterberg, Germany.  We are also competing in the Europa Cup race in the week off between the ICC races in Altenberg and Winterberg.

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Upon arrival in Austria, I was super excited to finally get my real Christmas present–a new skeleton sled.   Although I am still completely in love with my Davenport sled, unfortunately the builder, Ryan Davenport, is no longer making sleds.  At some point therefore it will be necessary to switch sleds, whether I want to or not.  Being that my sled is now a few years old it is starting to show some signs of wear and tear, it was time to continue to hunt for my next sled.  During this hunt I have come across Willi Schneider sleds, which although are almost opposite of a Davenport in terms of stiffness and driving technique, seem to be fast and as a bonus look real sexy.  Luckily, there happened to be one for sale, and after some modifications to fit my weight and arm length, etc, the new sled was lovingly delivered on January 2 at 10:45 am, weighing in at 28.4 kg.

Here is the tricky part.  I now have two sleds in Europe, and am about to slide on foreign tracks.  I still have the opportunity to get Olympic Qualifiers if I win the races.  And I only have 6 runs on each track before the race.  But I there is potential to click with the new sled right away, get a head start on next year’s sliding season and do well right on it right from the get go.  Given the next track was Igls, a relatively simple and safe track, it was a difficult decision. In the end, after discussion with the coaches, and some internal combination of curiosity and desire to push the limits of my comfort zone, I decided to go with the new sled (as of yet nameless).

In training the new sled felt completely foreign, but did get high speeds.  It was also tricky to push as the new saddle is a completely different shape and position than on the old sled.  Plus, I found it difficult to balance.  Nonetheless, since I had decided I would race on it I didn’t want to waver between the sleds and committed to race on it at least for the first race.

Race day was reminiscent of the first time I was on this track in 2008.  It was a monsoon.  I remember struggling at that race, having never slid during significant rain before.  And given that Calgary has a desert climate, and the Whistler track is almost completely covered, I haven’t had much practice since.  To get an idea of how rainy it was, tune into the World Cup Altenberg video which had similar conditions to ours.  To make things worse I had absolutely no idea how the new sled would react to this soaking wet ice.

Unfortunately, it was a disaster.  As soon as I came out of the groove after loading on to the sled I knew I was in big trouble.  They sled was completely uncontrollable.  I basically hydroplaned through the top of the track, skidding back and forth like a windshield wiper.  The bottom wasn’t much better.  I was on my side bumpers 3 times, which is very unusual for a relatively simple track like Igls.  I crossed the finished line happy to be in one piece, but also with a time a few seconds slower than in training.

As the other sliders went down, it became clear how terrible my run was.  In fact, for the first time ever, I did not get a second run (only top 20 athletes qualify).  I finished 22nd.  It was a nightmare.  I knew it was a risk to try this new sled but I decided to roll the dice.  This time it didn’t work out.  In one short day I fell from top Canadian on the circuit to lowest, and also lost my top 5 ranking in the ICC circuit. But I am really proud of myself for taking the plunge to begin with.  As the Olympics are approaching quickly it is time to push the boundaries.  Sometimes that means sacrifice in the short term for long term gain.

The weather forecast for the Race #6 the following day predicted rain again.  I decided at the last minute to switch back to my old sled, even though I only had one training run on it.  Again it was a risky move but I weighed the pros and cons.  Likely I would have a similar result as the day before if I didn’t change anything which was unacceptable for me.  The race did go much better although it was like learning a new track once again.  I finished 16th, which normally would be a disappointing result for me.  However, given the circumstances I was okay with it.  I also pushed a personal best by over a tenth of a second!

Once again this sport has proven to be a roller coaster ride.  But I am confident if I can make it through the lows the highs will be that much more exciting and rewarding.  From here, hopefully it can only go up?!

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Park City Podium

After spending over a month in Whistler this fall, culminating in two less than stellar races, I was looking forward to some new scenery.  The morning after our second ICC race we boarded the plane to Park City, Utah.  Unfortunately, the illness I had through the previous week in Whistler decided to come along with me and continued to wreak its havoc.

The day after we arrived was a much needed free day, and I gratefully spent the day curled up in bed, trying to get some recovery in.  Emerging only for a track walk, I slept and hydrated and prayed to the gods of health to please please take me back.

The next day our official training commenced, and even though my fever reappeared in the night I felt relatively refreshed in the morning and ready to give it a go.  Park City is a track that I have some familiarity with, and thankfully not the beast that Whistler or Altenberg can be.  Nice and relaxing way to get back into things, right?

As I loaded onto my sled for the first run, I felt okay.  However, as the run proceeded I felt the whole body fatigue sneak in.  I sensed I was in trouble for the second run but went for it anyways and can safely say it was one of the worst runs of my life.  Again I couldn’t keep my head off the ice, or feel pressures, and finished an incredible 2 seconds slower than my first run.  Needless to say, it shook me up.  And my coach too.  Who promptly pulled me over and had a long discussion with me about what was going on and what we were going to do about it.  It wasn’t a great day…

From then on I decided to take it on a run-by-run basis.  I can honestly say that I did not know if I would be able to race.  It wasn’t only an issue of performance, it was also an issue of safety.  I would fight tooth and nail to race, I worked so hard to earn this spot on the national team.  But, all of us have limits.  So I agreed to see how it went, listen to my body and my coach, and keep an open mind.

After sleeping the rest of the day and night, and talking things over with my family, I went to the track the next day wondering if my next run would be my last of the first half of the circuit, or maybe of the season.

So as I loaded onto my sled for the first run I threw all expectations out the window and did what I do best–slide. Fortunately, it wasn’t too bad. I could feel the energy returning into my muscles and feel the pressures of the track better.  So I took another run, and two more the next day.  Each run I felt more normal.  By race day I was around 80%, which was pretty good by my standards.

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The first race I managed to pull a top 6 finish.  I also pushed a new personal best,  breaking into the “teens” for the first time.  Although it wasn’t my best result of my career, I was really pleased with it considering I wasn’t even sure I would be able to race at all.  And the next race the next day was even better–a bronze!  And what made that one better was that it was a snow race, like selections in Calgary.  I was determined not to let the snow get me down and slide smart–staying in the middle of the track and going where others before me went.  And it actually worked.  Again, another small victory in this crazy roller coaster of a ride sport.

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