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  • Writer's pictureTess Johnson

Overcoming Adversity: Sweden, Finland, China, Colorado!

Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a lovely holiday break filled with family and fun. It's been awhile since I've written a blog, and I want to update you all on the past two and a half months. We started November in Idre Fjall, Sweden for a camp, then went to Ruka, Finland for the first World Cup, followed by two more World Cups in Thaiwoo, China. After this six-week grind I spent two amazing weeks at home with my family and just arrived home from a two-week camp/competition in Steamboat. It's been enjoyable, frustrating, busy, beautiful and completely crazy, and I've been looking forward to being a little vulnerable and sharing my experiences.


For those of you who have never heard of it, Idre Fjall is a tiny resort in northern Sweden close to the Norwegian border. We flew into Oslo and drove four breathtaking hours north to Idre. My brother Tommy spent an incredible last year outside of Stockholm, so Sweden will always hold a special place in my heart. November is one of the darkest months in Scandinavia and it's only light from 11 am - 2 pm everyday, and more often than not, 'light' means an overcast sky. When the sun comes out, though, it's the most gorgeous sight I've seen: pink and orange skies against endless frosty trees dotted with tiny red cabins. I love Sweden. During the five weeks that we were up north, however, we saw the sun only four times which definitely took a toll on my mental health.

The course in Sweden was flat, but provided solid training. After the first week, I felt more than ready to compete, but we still had two more weeks until the FIS competition (not a World Cup) in Idre. My coach Riley and I worked hard to make it productive and worthwhile, but I could feel my spark dwindling. I didn't need anymore training, and I was yearning to compete. I had a new trick (360 mute grab) ready to bring to contest and after seven grueling months of prepping in the gym and on snow, I was tired of training. I've always loved the competition season more than the prep season, so when it felt like prep would never end, I started to burn out. During these dark two weeks, I got sick and started to lose more energy. Looking back, I would describe it as overtraining which was detrimental to my health and mentality.

By the time the FIS event finally arrived, so did the fog. On the first day of competition, we spent eight hours at the bottom of the course waiting for the fog to lift so that the judges could watch us compete. Around 1 pm after four hours of delays, the fog finally cleared, but we needed a training run to warm our bodies back up. Not surprisingly, by the time 30- minutes of training was finished, the fog rolled in even thicker. It was demoralizing. We ran out of water, snacks and hope, and we started to go stir-crazy. It was one of the strangest days of my life because by the time the event was finally cancelled, all of us girls were dancing in a circle to one of the judges playing the air guitar on a shovel to the song "Funky Town". I'm giggling to myself even just thinking about it.


The next day of competition was cancelled again due to fog, and it was time to move on to Ruka! Despite the mental adversity, I did have a lot of fun in Sweden, but I was ecstatic for a change of scenery and to start competing again. Unfortunately, we ran into an obstacle. The Finnish airline FINNAIR was on strike the day we were supposed to fly to Ruka and our flights got cancelled. Our amazing team manager scrambled to get us to Helsinki, where we had to take a twelve-hour bus all the way across Finland to Ruka. It's comical now, but in the moment we were all defeated. Nevertheless, we thankfully made it to Ruka safely and had about a week to settle-in before the World Cup.

During this week I trained great and was having so much fun. We even got to cheer on our Nordic teammates in their 10k World Cup event! I've always loved going to Ruka and last year I got 3rd, so I was amped for the event. When the time came to compete, however, I was extra nervous and did not feel like myself. I was still sick, feeling fatigued from the previous weeks, and I didn't deal with it well. I've learned through sports psychology that you don't have to feel good to perform your best, in fact, feeling good is overrated. It's awesome when you feel fantastic at a competition, but it doesn't always happen that way. The key is to acknowledge the thoughts and feelings and aim your attention to the cues that consistently make you perform your best. In Ruka, I wasn't feeling confident on the day of the event, I gave into my thoughts and feelings, and I fell in qualifications. It was heartbreaking. While I'm not glad that I fell, however, I'm glad I could eventually take something positive away from an extremely difficult failure.


I went to China feeling hopeful. I wrote down all my thoughts from Sweden and Finland, reached out to my sports psychology resources, and was excited for another opportunity to reach my potential. Landing in China and seeing the sun was a huge relief. My mind and body felt rejuvenated to feel the sun again, and we had a fun day touring Beijing and eating "hot pot" (a Chinese food tradition where you cook raw meat and veggies in a piping hot broth) before driving up to Thaiwoo for the event.

I didn't train my best in Thaiwoo, but still felt better than in Finland. I approached training with a winning attitude, telling myself that "I can do it, I can win" over and over again. To be honest it felt pretty silly, but the power of positivity helped bring some of my confidence back. Something still felt off, however, and it was because I wasn't truly believing what I was telling myself. I continued to struggle with my top air landing (the bane of my existence), and I decided with my coach not to do the 360-mute grab so I could put a clean run down to make finals. Well, that didn't go to plan. I messed up and didn't make finals. It was heartbreaking, again. I allowed myself no more than fifteen minutes to feel bad for myself and then, the pity party was over. I realized that until the very second those fifteen minutes were up, I was feeling sorry for myself since I fell in Ruka, and that's why it was hard for me to truly believe that I can win. I also accepted that it's okay to make mistakes; it's okay to fail. I'm really hard on myself and while oftentimes this is a strength of mine, sometimes I just need to be okay with falling short of my goals. I did some research over Christmas and many sports psychologists agree that the first step to bouncing back from failure is to stop feeling sorry for yourself, and this is a huge part of mental toughness. Once I did that, I could ski again. Everything became much simpler, and I skied to a 5th place in duals the next day while my teammates Jaelin Kauf and Hannah Soar got 2nd and 3rd! My boyfriend and teammate Jesse Andringa also got his first top ten while my other teammates Nick Page and Alex Lewis had incredible World Cup debuts. Unfortunately, my teammates Nessa Dziemian and Olivia Giaccio injured their knees, and I'm going to miss them so much this year. I ended my time in China with clear personal goals for the future: compete 360-mute grab no matter what, stop comparing myself to others, and believe in myself wholeheartedly.

When it was finally time to go home, we ran into another wall. There was reportedly a snow storm coming to Thaiwoo, so instead of leaving the morning after duals we scrambled to leave for Beijing by 10 pm that night (after deciding to do so at 9:15 pm) to beat the highway closure that was going to be from 2-5 am. Our bus driver drove like a maniac and we, along with our luggage crammed into the seats next to us, were getting thrown every which way from the dirt road riddled with pot holes. At 1:50 A.M., we arrived at a rest stop and didn't move for 30-minutes...without any official word from our driver who didn't speak a lick of English, we concluded we were going to be there awhile. Luckily the French and Great Britain teams, who were in the same boat as us, had a soccer ball and a bunch of us played pick-up soccer in the parking lot of this random Chinese rest stop to pass the time. At 5 am we drove the remaining 20-minutes to Beijing (we were SO close), checked into our hotel for a quick nap, and flew home to America. It seemed like a travel day sent from hell, but we soon learned that the teams who waited to depart from Thaiwoo in the morning were stuck there another two days...we were counting our blessings for that 3 am soccer game in a Chinese parking lot!


It felt liberating to be home. I spent the entire Christmas skiing, baking cookies, and spending time with family. I even took my final exam for the American government class I was taking with the Harvard Extension School (I got an A!). It was incredible skiing for fun again. Gliding on bigger skis through powdered natural bumps reignited my passion for the sport, which was something I didn't even realize I needed. It's easy to forget why I'm a mogul skier since we train so hard and often, but luckily the solution is just as easy: get out of the mogul course and go skiing! By the time we were back training in Steamboat, I felt a new sense of creativity in my skiing. Every run on the course felt like a new challenge overcome with a different style. Training felt so much simpler than it had in Sweden, and it didn't feel like an exhausting job; it felt like my passion.

While we were in Steamboat, we competed in U.S. Selections, an event that I hadn't skied in four years. I always associated coming back to this event as the worst thing that could happen in my career since the competitors' objective is to either earn NorAm or World Cup starts. Our entire team, however, used this event as an opportunity to get in the gate during a massive break in the World Cup schedule, and I'm so thankful we did. I got to redeem myself in a singles competition by getting 3rd the first day (the photo below is of me on the podium with Jaelin in 2nd and Kai Owens in 1st) and 5th the second day! But the best part was proving to myself that I can overcome adversity, and that I can bounce back from heartbreaking failures. Furthermore, I sucessfullycompeted 360-mute grab in all six of my competition runs which has given me great confidence to bring it to World Cups. As tough as the six-week grind in Sweden, Finland, and China was, I'm grateful it happened like it did because I learned so much about myself. I fought battles with overtraining, confidence, overcoming failure, making mistakes and even crappy travel days. I know these battles will never be over, and I know there is much more to learn, but I also know that I came away from these two months mentally tougher than before.

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