World Cup!

It has been just over a week since the second and final national team selection race, and now that the dust has settled, I’m just going to come out and say it—I MADE WORLD CUP!  And in my moment of self- indulgence I will add that I made the #1 spot, I am currently the Canada-1 sled!

Flashback to my last blog post at the end of October.   On ice training was going well and I had been feeling a good groove with my sled lately.  Clean lines and high speeds were mine, just the way I like it.  My worries about my push were nagging me though as I had been on a modified training program for the last month and a half due to a low back injury.  I wasn’t sure if I could pull it together in time for the selection race series, if at all.

The first race, also Canadian Championships, was on November 1.  The sliding conditions the week leading into the race were ideal.  The skies were blue, no hint of precipitation, and hard, fast ice.  I should have known from past experience that could mean only one thing for race day—snow.  Upon awakening the morning of the race the sky was a foreboding deep gray and the air felt heavy.  I could tell it was coming and I was glad I paid attention to the changing forecast in the days leading to the race.  I had prepared my sled for a snow race, which was a roll of the dice, just in case. The snow held off until approximately one hour before the race.  Then the skies opened and poof, huge blizzard.

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Alexis looking at the snow filled start before the second heat.

Hearkening back to the selection race 2 years ago, my first thought was “not again.”  But then a few more thoughts crossed my mind: a) this is a winter sport and a large number of races are in snow so this should not be a big surprise/problem, b) I have many years of experience training and racing in these conditions, c) everyone else is probably just as worried and frustrated as I am, and d) I have two choices—succumb to the adverse conditions, or adapt and face the challenge “head first.”

I waited patiently for my run.  I drew 6th position off the line, which was not good in such conditions, and watched the heavily falling snow accumulate rapidly as each slider went down.  The times were very slow, much slower than training.  I made the decision to stay cool, relaxed and trust in my equipment and experience.

When it was my turn, I pushed off the block with as much power as I could muster to the cheers of my family and the crowd.  As I loaded my sled, I instantly felt the braking of the inch or so of snow in the uncovered portion of the start as the grooves ended.  I put my head down and let it fly as much as I could.  I had a good run, I was able to execute good “snow lines” and avoid a couple of pitfalls I had anticipated in the snow.  I crossed the finish line pleased with my run, but dreading the number that would flash on the timing screen.  Much to my surprise, a #1 flashed behind my time.  I was shocked but thrilled that I was able to execute my game day plan, and that it actually worked.

In run two, I was last off (the second run goes in reverse order from slowest to fastest from the first heat).  The snowing still hadn’t stopped and again each passing moment meant more snow in the track.  I tried to keep relaxed and when it was my turn gave it everything I had off the block, and managed to go 7/100ths faster than the first push.  As I entered the track, the snow was so deep my toes were dragging in it, and I had to keep my head much higher than normal just to be able to keep it out of the snow and see.  I had a hard time getting around the corners due to the heavy accumulation and I hit a snow bank on the exit of corner 8 which killed my speed in the straight.  I crossed the finish line, and even with a significant margin of time in the bank over my competitors, I knew I was in trouble.  Behind my name a #2 flashed.  I had dropped from 1st to 2nd, which stung.  However, given the conditions and previous experience of having a 1st place and then 10th place run dueto snow in a selection race, I knew it could have been worse.

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Canadian Championships Women 2014 Medalists: Gold: Madison Charney, Silver: Lanette Prediger, Bronze: Elisabeth Vathje. Photo credit: LucasnMimislide

The second selection race came quickly, a little too quickly for me in fact.  The race was scheduled for the following Friday, less than a week after the first one.  However, two days before the race the coaching staff made the last minute decision to move the race up by one day as there was a small chance of snow in the weather forecast for Friday.  All my fine tuning and precise preparation for the week was suddenly thrown out the window. I was especially upset because I had ordered brand new runners that were to be delivered two nights before the race, giving me one day to try them out (a must before any race).  Now I would be unable to use these new runners in the race at all.  Again, I had no choice but to adapt quickly to the new circumstances.

The second race day gave everyone the conditions they were hoping for—no snow, a fast groove and similar conditions for everyone in the field.  I knew I would need to have two great runs as there would be girls pushing 4/10ths faster than me.   In fact, the Canadian push record was broken twice, by super-speedy Jane Channell!  This time I was 2nd off, so had very little idea of what anyone would do, and pushed off strong and settled into my sled nicely.  I had a nice run, consistent with the previous training weeks, and from then on had to wait and see how the chips fell.

Similar to the previous week, I managed to hold on to the #1 spot for the first heat.  I could feel the pressure mounting—my World Cup dreams were actually within reach.  One more short run, less than one minute in duration, would determine my entire season and potentially skeleton career.  I tried not to think about it too much, and blasted off for my second run with a decent push.  The run itself wasn’t as good as the first, I had some small mistakes at the top and a messy Kreisel.  I kept as relaxed as I could through the bottom portion of the track hoping to maintain my speed.  I crossed the finish line unsure if it would be enough.  And, fortunately, it was.  I have never been so happy to see the number “1” in my life!

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Photo credit: Ron LeBlanc

A first and second place finish in the two races ranked me first overall and I was officially named to the World Cup Team later that day.  The following days have been a whirlwind of emotions and a flurry of planning.  My current plan is to fly to Konigssee, Germany for a week of training and a week of racing on the Europa Cup circuit as I have not yet been to that track.  Then I will fly back to Calgary for a week, followed by my first ever World Cup race in Lake Placid, New York!  The next week I will return for my second World Cup race in Calgary.

My success in getting named to the World Cup Team, my long time and ultimate goal in skeleton, has come largely as a result of my amazing support system.  I would like to take a moment to express my deep gratitude for the amazing people in my life.  From my amazing husband, brother and family to my sports psychologist, strength and conditioning coaches, chiropractic and massage therapists, and of course my friends, team-mates, and the uber supportive staff at my work—thank you.

As the season progresses I will try to keep you all up to date with frequent blog posts and twitter updates.  Thank you for your support and until next time…

“It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up.”
– Babe Ruth