a silly sporting event. But still, we secretly hope for success every time. Wouldn’t it
be easier to just have the good days and put off the agony of defeat indefinitely, or
at least until adulthood?
I can say from experience that the fantasy of child stardom is not all its cracked up
to be. The pros are, of course, an early sniff of glory and an instant endorphin hit of
success. Up into my early teens I won every ski race I entered. I fell and got up, and
won. My boots got stolen from the car so I borrowed a friend’s mother’s boots, and
won. A big kid in ski boots stepped on my bare toes and broke them the day before
a race, and the next day I won. You get the picture. Yay, me.
But then one day, I didn’t win. And I kept not winning, like it was my new job, until it
felt my world had crumbled. I had three close friends who resided solidly in my rear-
view mirror during my young days of untrammeled fabulousness. All three of them
scooted past me and made their ways on to the U.S. Ski Team while I ground my
gears. They were teaching me the lesson I had taught them long ago — that sooner
or later you’ll get your butt kicked, so you’d better know how to deal with it. I did not
appreciate the lesson.
For the next few years (not weeks or months), I wanted to quit more days than not.
I was discovering the cons of child stardom — chiefly, the unrealistic view it creates
of what it takes to succeed. It takes perseverance, self-confidence and a bit of blind
faith. Fortunately, in my case, the urge to sniff glue, roll in a ball and make it all go
away was overcome by the urge to dust myself off and get back up, as if to say:
“Thank you sir. May I have another?” Sticking to that decision has made all the dif-
ference, not only in ski racing but also in every challenge since. When I see these
kids make that same commitment day after day I am truly inspired.
All this leads to my compulsion to give the “long road” speech, which is closely
linked to the “box of chocolates” principle. Well into their teens, kids are growing and
changing and learning so quickly that you really have no idea of the potential that
lies inside of them. In the words of Mr. Gump’s momma, you never know what you’ll
get. As proof look no further than Ted Ligety, who barely made his ski club team at
this age, and even as a 17-year-old struggled to keep pace with his peers. Skiing
and all sports are riddled with examples of unremarkable young kids who turned into
great champions through perseverance and hard work. Likewise the path to the top
is littered with one-time sensations who got off track and lacked the will, the desire,
or perhaps just the plain old good luck it takes to get to the top of their sport.
Not that true success has anything to do with “making it” in a sport or not. There
is no “it,” no achievement that confers success on you. It really is all about finding
what matters to you and going after it with all you’ve got. How often do we get to do
The long-term view is a very tough perspective for a young person to have. One kid
going through an exceptionally frustrating bout of character-building summed it to
his parents as follows: “I know that this is making me a better person. But right now
it sort of sucks.”
He’s right. And there’s no way around it. Dwelling on disappointment is neither
healthy nor productive, but disappointment in itself isn’t such a bad thing. It means
you have some skin in the game. Coaches and parents may seem to be discrediting
the right to be disappointed, and diluting the value of a competitive spirit with default
comments like “just have fun,” and “keep smiling.” I still cringe a bit when I interpret
those words as admonishments. But as a quasi grown-up, I get the broader intent,
the reminder to keep your eye on the bigger prize — on enjoying the process. Enjoy
the things you get from having the dream, making the effort and going out each day
with a goal to get just a little better.
We recently had the last of our qualifying races for the state championships, fol-
lowed immediately by the naming of the state championship team. Kids who miss
the cut-off can battle for a spot at the champs by going to the state finals, but this is
the big announcement. They start with the first qualifying individual and go down the
list to the last, making it an agonizing ceremony for anyone who is “on the bubble.”
unsure of whether he or she made the team. I can assure you from experience that
whether you are waiting to be picked last for a softball team on the playground, or
listening to a coach read off the names of who made the Olympic team, it’s all the
This time, as always, there were a few athletes on the bubble who did not make it.
These are kids who have put in as much time, worked just as hard, and wanted it
just as badly as any of their teammates. But for whatever reason, it hasn’t all come
together for them, yet. When the last name was read I wanted to cry. OK, maybe I
did cry. But I tried not to show it, because one of the bubble kids came straight up to
me. He looked me in the eye and announced, “I really think I can qualify through the
finals!” That was his first reaction — not tears, or moping or a tantrum, but a positive
That moment in itself reminded me of why we put ourselves and our children through
this. The bravest skier I know used this quote to get through life-threatening illness
and injury, as well as a ski race or two: “Success is not the act of never falling. It is
the act of repeatedly getting up.” If a 12-year-old kid has learned to greet adversity
with renewed effort, he’s pretty much learned the secret to success in anything.
As I said, it’s a long road. Some take the highway, and some take the scenic route,
but in the end we’re headed for the same place.
Originally posted on March 2 on racerex.com. For more from two-time Olympian
Edie Thys Morgan, check out her new book, Shut Up and Ski: Wipeouts, Shootouts
and Blowouts on the Trail to the Olympic Dream, available at