Long time ago, before I became a semi-professional adaptive ski racer – meaning I train full time halfway across the globe & make zero money doing it – I decided on one thing: when it stops being fun, I’m done with ski racing or any other sport for that matter. It may seem like something a quitter would say, but for me it holds a very important truth: you should get out of a sport before it ruins the image you have made about it through the years of dedication and hard work.
The reality of it is – it may come as a shock to you – that I have flirted with retirement many many times this season. The reason for it is my life has changed a lot this summer. For many years, skiing was often the highlight of my life (especially after high school, when my academic achievements went south) and the only thing keeping me on the verge of sanity and away from some serious depression issues that I had. But this summer changed it all or to be exact, N. changed it all. Ski racing lost a spot or two on the “Most Important Things Of My Life” scale. All my ideas about getting out of Slovenia and finding a way to be a full time ski bum for life in Winter Park suddenly disappeared. My lifetime dreams of creating a family – currently just a “2-person-and-a-dog” family, but a family nevertheless – that I have left behind in some dark corner of my brain until Mrs. Right shows up, have suddenly reappeared. And what is more, N. was pursuing it with the same passion and enthusiasm as me. The logical consequence – I wanted out. Now!
There were many reasons why not call it just yet. For the first time in my life, both my personal and athlete part of my life were perfect. I have just started working with Kurt Smitz, a coach I have always had the most respect for. I spent a lot of money on a new sitski, the best so far. N. often reminded me of how much skiing means to me and is a part of me. “Just read what you wrote about it on your website” she said. And then there was the scary part – the question: “What if I’m pulling the plug on the edge of glory – just a season or two away from what I hoped to achieve as a ski racer?”.
There was however a problem – all the reasons were about other people and other things. While my body could still take the physical pressure, my mind was out of the game. Growing up, I was never the competitive guy and what is even more important, that never changed. For me, skiing is the sport that puts me out of the wheelchair and makes me able to compete with the able-bodied athletes, test my own limits and boundaries. While I have always loved to train, but racing was usually pure disappointment. Every time for every race, I had to build up my self-esteem to pull off the best I can and then the single glance at the clock shattered it completely. And then, I had to forget about it and do it again the next day.
Spending the time with me in Europe, Kurt realized how far away from being in the game mentally I was. There were moments when I was torn between the mindset of a professional athlete, willing to do anything to get better and the family man in me. And that is never a fair fight, because for me family is above anything and everything. I guess I should have seen it coming, but Kurt did – much more clearly then I did at least. We sat down for coffee and talked about it. We shook hands and we remain in good relations. More importantly, we remain friends we were when we started planing the Team Jakič Assault at Sochi 2014 Winter Paralympics.
As so many times in my life, I see the amazing clarity of the situation when the world around me starts to shatter. I realized how much fun I have skiing and how for me, skiing was never ski racing. Skiing is not a sport, it is a way of life and in my life, I want to be a skier. I want to ski the perfectly groomed slopes early in the morning. I want to train in the gates until I can achieve that one perfect run. I want to race downhill and Super-G, even if I’m not good at it, just because it is fun. But I also want to see how fast a sitski can go. I want to ski in deep powder with my friends. I want to hang around the snowboard park and try hitting jumps with a sitski. I want to race sitskiers cross, just to see how it feels. I want to get up late and show up at the ski resort well after the opening hour. I want to just go ski for 2 runs instead of 10.
So, from now on I plan on skiing like Bode Miller – even if my bib number is extremely high, even if the clock says I ski like $h!t – and sadly it often does exactly that – I will ski for myself. I will not ski for points, I will not ski for medals, I will not ski for trying to beat the best. I will ski because it is fun and it is all coming to an end. Maybe my last season is in 2014, maybe it’s this one. Maybe this is my last Winter Park tour, training and racing as a part of NSCD. As of tomorrow, points and rankings can kiss my sexy Paralympic butt (don’t laugh – ask N., she’ll tell you it’s true), because having fun is all it’s in it for me.
One day – maybe soon, maybe not – I plan on waving ski racing goodbye with a raised up head and with a smile on my face. And after I roll out of ski racing, I will be the skier I always was and always wanted to be.