Mikaela Shiffrin: An Original

DSC_0187 Mikaela Shiffrin
DSC_0187 Mikaela Shiffrin (Photo credit: shiffski’13)

I don’t know what made me more nervous: watching Mikalea Shiffrin hurl down the women’s slalom course at Sochi, or watching her mom, Eileen, at the bottom of the course. While I”ve never raced a slalom course myself, I know all too well the anxiety of being a ski racer’s mom, watching your child lay it all out on the side of a mountain at high speeds. And let me tell you, it’s not an easy thing to watch.

Maybe that’s why every time I see the P&G Thank You Mom Olympics  video tears start to stream down my face. I know all too well what it feels like to pick your kid up, wipe away the tears, ice the aches and pains, and start all over again the next day. Ski racing is not a sport for the faint of heart, the moderately committed child or the non-supportive parent.

I’ve written before about how impressed I am with Mikaela Shiffrin; when my son and I met her last year at Squaw Valley, she couldn’t have been more humble, gracious and down to earth. Success at a young age can certainly change a person, as we unfortunately see all too often in our celebrities like Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus, so I was curious to see how Mikaela handled not only her rise to fame, but also the incredible pressure being put on her in an already pressure-filled sport. The world saw heavily favored Russian figure skater Yulia Lipnitskaya disappointing results. We watched Yuna Kim’s stoic tears of disappointment. But whenever interviewed, Mikaela seemed to have it together – win or lose, she was focused, calm and ready for whatever comes her way.

It’s that mental toughness, I’m convinced, that pulls her and any ski racer through the tough moments-those instants when one bobble can make the difference between flying through the finish, and tumbling down the hill. It’s that extreme focus that comes from hours and months and years of preparation that show them that win or lose, there’s always another day and another race. It’s that determination that reminds young athletes that this is only the beginning.

And that mental endurance, that persistence that makes the difference between commitment and collapse, is precisely why moms like Eileen Shiffrin and thousands of other parents support their young racers. 99% of athletes will never see the fame and notoriety of those we see in the Olympics. Our children may never reach the pinnacle of their dreams. They can wake up early, lug their gear through snowstorms and down through snow, ice and rain. They can sacrifice the typical teenage experiences like proms, football games and weekend sleepovers without any guarantee of the future. But if they can end up with the ability to believe in themselves, and the belief that determination will be the vehicle to success in life, I’m happy to wait at the bottom of the course. What’s that compared to a little stomach ache, when the results can end up like this:

For a couple of years, she’s heard people calling her the next Lindsey Vonn. After the race Friday night, a Slovenian reporter called her a young Tina Maze. “It’s amazing to be compared to them and I’m honored to be compared to them but I don’t want to be the young Tina Maze or the next Lindsey Vonn,” she said. “I want to be Mikaela Shiffrin and hopefully this gold medal is going to prove that.”

 That’s all the thank you I really need.

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Thanks, Coach, For The Life Lessons

17 years later, I'm proud of the woman she's become
17 years later, I’m proud of the woman she’s become

Dear Coach,

We have never met in person, but we have a few things in common. First, we both spend a good amount of our time working with teenagers. Second, we both spend a good amount of time with teenagers who are ski racers. And third, because of our roles, we both make a huge impact on their lives. I’m writing you this letter (after spending two days calming myself down) to thank you for some unexpected life lessons you taught my daughter at Monday’s ski race. I’m not sure if you’ve ever met her in person either, but just in case you haven’t, here’s a little bit about her:

My daughter is just 17, a happy, strong, confident young woman on the verge of graduating from high school. She has been a skier since age 4, a racer since age 7, and has spent endless hours pursuing her passion. My daughter is one of the hardest working athletes I know; she’s sacrificed more than the average teen to excel at her sport, and as a result, she loves every minute of it. She’s even hoping to race next year in college-not because she wants to have a career in skiing, but simply because it makes her happy. My daughter is honest, kind, fair, compassionate and well liked. She’s also a great racer, and because of the mental and physical demands of ski racing, I believe she has grown to be a courageous person. In other words, she’s the kind of kid you’d like to get to know and have on your team.

Now, maybe you had an inkling of my daughter’s spirit over the last few weeks you’ve been watching her race. Or maybe not. I’m not going to second guess your actions here, or unleash my mamawolfe-instinctive-fierceness on you. I simply want to thank you for what you taught us when you threw a temper tantrum and disqualified my daughter for wearing a Go Pro camera on her helmet after she came in first place.

Thanks, Coach, for teaching my daughter that as long as we do the right things for the right reasons, we’re going to be ok. She didn’t strap that camera to her helmet and ski down the course because she was trying to do the wrong thing; in fact, she was given the camera by her coach, who after decades of coaching the high school team, didn’t have an idea that wearing a camera on her helmet would break any rules. She wasn’t trying to hide anything, she wasn’t trying to do anything wrong; in fact, she’s the kind of girl who avoids breaking rules at all costs. Had she known she could be DQed, she would have eagerly removed it. She wasn’t trying to be defiant; heck, she’s never even gotten a detention in 12 years of school! In the end, she accepted that she unknowingly broke a rule, and that since you objected, that was that. Thanks to you, Coach, at the end of the day she could look at herself in the mirror and know she was ok.

Thanks, Coach, for teaching my daughter that it’s not always about you. When she responded to my congratulatory text with the message that you had DQed her, I was shocked. I struggled to come up with words that would become a virtual hug huge enough to console her obvious disappointment, and the first thing that came to mind was to say that sometimes people do things to others because they feel vulnerable, and they project that fear onto someone they perceive as ‘below’ their chain of power. In my eyes, that’s the worst thing  a teacher, coach, or parent can do. It’s bullying, it’s cowardly, and it’s a real show of poor sportsmanship. Thanks to you, Coach, she learned how that feels, and will not repeat your behavior.

Thanks, Coach, for teaching my daughter that winners aren’t always the ones who come in first. Anyone who has been around ski racing knows that if you focus on being first, 99% of the time you’ll be disappointed. Ski racing is about preparation, persistence, and perseverance. And of course, it’s nice to make the podium once in awhile, especially when you earned it fair and square. But ski racing has taught my daughter to always do her best and the results will follow. Do you know that after you DQed her (against the objection of every other coach at the race), that your racers came to her and apologized for your behavior? Those results surely don’t show up on the score board. So not only was my daughter validated by her teammates, but also yours. I sincerely hope that your lack of sportsmanship doesn’t change theirs; in my parent handbook, I’ve learned that kind words go much farther than words spoken in anger or fear. Thanks to you, Coach, she learned to hold her head high-she knows what a winner looks like.

Coach, at the end of that day, as she tried to drift off to sleep, I know she was sad. She’s only 17, and hasn’t had nearly the time to learn about life and its inevitable disappointments that you have. I know she felt loved, and safe, and that tomorrow would be a new day, and that there’s always another ski race around the corner. And I also know that one day, when this monumental experience shrivels into the minute, momentary instant in her glorious life, she’ll be able to look back and smile, and maybe even, for just an instant, wonder if you learned something, too.

With gratitude,

mamawolfe

 

 

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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A Perfect Summer Day

a perfect summer day

My girl’s idea of a perfect summer day

Starts in the dark, before dawn

waking up in a narrow dorm bed under well-worn covers

stumbling across the tiny room to quiet a blaring alarm

and gulping down a quick bowl of cold cereal with  milk.

My girl’s idea of a perfect summer day

doesn’t involve a plan for cruising the air conditioned shopping mall

tanning by the pool in a teeny tiny bikini

or a mani-pedi with girlfriends, chatting about the latest celebrity gossip

My girl would rather pull on her red and black speed suit

knee high magenta and orange wool socks

slather her freckled face with sunscreen, hair in a messy braid

throw her pack on her back and grab her Volkls

My girl’s idea of a perfect summer day

isn’t like mine was, playing jacks on the cold linoleum kitchen floor

reading Nancy Drew in the soft grass

or dominating the world at RISK

She’s climbing high above the clouds

looking out from the edge of her world

hoping for sixty seconds of air time as she zigzags down the snowfield

wind brushing her face, bright blue eyes shining behind pink goggles

golden brown braid blowing in the wind

My girl’s idea of a perfect summer day

fills both our hearts with happiness

and gratitude

What does your perfect summer day look like?

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Life Lessons from Mikaela Shiffrin: What a Real Winner Looks Like

Meeting Mikaela Shiffrin, Squaw Valley, U.S. Nationals
Meeting Mikaela Shiffrin, Squaw Valley, U.S. Nationals

See that boy in the red sweatshirt? That’s my son. And the girl handing him the paper? That’s Mikaela Shiffrin, the World Cup champion slalom ski racer. She’s smiling, but she just lost a ski race. My son waited and watched her with careful concentration as she made her way down the ski course. She’s not hard to miss, really. We just had to follow the little girls, tv cameras and reporters that trailed her every move.

She was full of grace, really – on and off the slalom course. This year, 18-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin won the World Cup in slalom. That’s a huge accomplishment for anyone, let alone a teenager. She’s only five years older than my son.

As soon as she crossed the finish at the U.S. National Championship races at Squaw Valley last weekend, she skied into the open arms of her fans, mostly young kids. The budding races were eager to meet her, pose for a quick photo or have her autograph something-anything, really. Helmets, speed suits, arms, sweatshirts and scraps of paper were quickly scribbled on, and then Mikaela flashed a huge smile for  the best moment any young racer could hope for. She’s quite cool for 18. Barely bigger than they are, she’s small for a female ski racer-but mighty.

Ski racing is a sport against the clock. Hundredths of seconds can separate the winners from the losers. The sharper the ski edges, the wax on the skis, the split second decisions as the racers run down the course can change a first place run to last place. Intense pressure, to be sure. Mental and physical toughness are essential. Hours and hours of training result in one sixty-second run. And one guarantee: everyone falls. Including Mikaela.

In first place after the first run, she was poised to win. But that didn’t happen. In front of a crowd of thousands, she straddled a gate instead of skiing around it, and her race was over.

C and Mikaela Shiffrin

And still, she smiled. She skied into the finish area to once again sign autographs and pose with her fans. All the racers knew how she felt, the disappointment of going from first to last in one split second. All the race moms wanted to give her a hug.

And still, she smiled. TV cameras waved in her face, and she smiled.

“I think it’s most important that I just try to connect with the younger kids here. Most of them say they watch the World Cup races so I think they’ve seen the skiing and it’s probably cool to see it live. But I think the most important thing is that I get to have some time face-to-face with them and show them I’m not actually that different and that I’m a goofball. We can have conversations and they can get to this point,” she said.

She’s right. The fans didn’t care  that she didn’t finish. This crowd of kids-including my son-know that she’s a real racer. She’s just like them. She’s not perfect. She falls, gets up, and does it again. Over and over. She knows there’s another race, another victory, and likely another defeat, too.

He’s still watching her, carefully. It doesn’t matter that the scoreboard shows her in last place. We can all clearly see what a winner looks like.

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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