Chemmy Alcott Feb 2021 5 min read 377 views
My weakest cog and the one that I had to be most cognitive of was more holistic than the rest. In some areas I was good. Maybe not for the right reasons but I used to have enough rest - unfortunately instead of it purely stemming from being a performance indicator it was superstition. I needed 9 hours sleep. So I would count back from when I needed to wake up (and sometimes come spring time that was very early) and make sure I was in bed by 8pm. Then I knew I would have my spark.
I also employed an extortionately expensive nutritionist to help me be my best. From delving into the complexities of using caffeine, protein and even beetroot juice to maximise performance to manipulating my weight to peak at the Olympics. Yes, most people will be surprised at that last statement - people think skiing is a gravity sport so you want bulk power in order to be as fast as possible. But actually this didn’t always work for me. We would create 4 year weight changing performance plans dependent on Olympic DH track. My last two Olympic cycles I tried to manipulate my natural weight to improve my performance to carry speed on different terrain. Vancouver 2010 was a lot of undulating terrain and super technical so I tried to lose weight and increase power to around 68kg. For Sochi the tactic was to be heavier, to carry more speed on the double steep to flats, so I tried to get up to 80kg (coincidentally I achieved the first and not the second weight goal - the failure was due to injury preventing weight gain).
Despite being more known for recovering from multiple injuries than any actual ski racing achievements, for 8 years in my prime I only had small niggles. On paper that sounds good - I must have been in great shape physically to be able to withstand the pressure and crashes. But the reality is, I didn’t get injured because I never left my comfort zone. And here is where I have to delve into some personal mental learnings from my career. I had a fear of failure, letting others down and managing expectations so I chose to perform at 80%, keeping 20% in my back pocket so I could justify to myself why I wasn’t winning. It was a really unsatisfying way to perform and race - knowing I could be better but not having the confidence and freedom to let go. And that is why I never got injured.
THE FINE LINE BETWEEN SUCCESS AND RISKING TOO MUCH
Then everything changed in just one race. I put myself in a position where I displaced all the pressure. I stood in that start gate with the confidence to charge. And charge I did - I ended up making history and becoming the first and only female British ski racer to win a run in a world cup! That is when I found my growth mindset - the confidence and self belief to find my ceiling and smash through it. To risk and reap rewards. But also to risk and to crash. There is a fine line between success and failure. Overstepping it would result in many emergency helicopter rides to hospitals and multiple surgeries in the following years.
Injuries in a sport like ski racing with high speeds, minimum protection, and tiny margins, are to be expected. Nearly every world cup winner has overcome them. In one of the Olympic games I raced in, two out of every three medal winners had had at least one ACL knee reconstruction. You have to enjoy the highs but be prepared mentally and physically for the lows - the enforced time away from a sport you love. One of my rehabs was 18 months long. I couldn’t walk for 6 months. Another I was in a wheelchair for 2 months.
I remember after my worst injury, buying a guitar to learn to play and signing up to a German language course to pass the time. However, in reality an injured athletes’ day schedule is more packed than a healthy one. I spent 4 hours a day for a whole month travelling to north London to spend hours in a hyperbaric chamber to help healing. I spent so much time in there that in the first fortnight I had finished reading the whole Harry Potter series
The one thing that it is certain is that 9 times out of 10 you will be able to come back from an injury physically. But it is the strength that it takes mentally to be able to charge again, to go to your limit that is so, so much harder.