● By Dan Greeson
Jasper Good works on his jumping form at Utah Olympic Park in Park City, Utah. Photo by Nathaniel Mah.
By Brian Fletcher
What is life like on the road as a Nordic Combined athlete? A real-life version of the movie Groundhog Day. Sound mundane? It is, but the creature comforts we come to love along the way are what keep us going.
These are things like the cultural nuances within a specific town, a unique jump or cross-country trail, small family-run hotels where you actually feel like you’ve come home for the week, the bonds you build with the other competitors both on and off the course and the fans with their crazy, unique and sometimes bizarre chants, costumes, or dances they do.
Those same creature comforts come in our travel too. As weird as it sounds, I look forward to certain airports or travel itineraries. We all hope for short travel days and upgrades. If that’s not the case, then we’re thankful for pre-booked airline seats and quiet lounges, which we know like the back of our hands. Sounds trivial, but not when you are carrying bags full of 260 cm jumping skis, 10-12 cross-country skis, jump suits, clothes, boots and helmets. Logistically it’s hard enough by yourself, but when you add five teammates with the same amount of stuff to the mix suddenly our team is the elephant in the room. Everyone wants to get ahead of us. We’ve become masters of efficient check-ins, getting through security and finding a spot to relax before a long flight.
All over Europe, our team has favorite gas stations where we know the food is going to be good and the lines short. We opt for the Marché stops, where we find fresh produce, salads, smoothies and great food cooked to order. They are a bit pricey but nothing beats a healthy meal while traveling. If we can’t find a good option, we fill the nutritional gap with Honey Stinger or USANA substitutes. The hours we spend travelling are numerous, and every little thing we can do to make them more enjoyable or less detrimental to our performance is a must.
After spending Mondays traveling, Tuesday is distance and weight training. Wednesday is intervals, Thursday is recovery, and Friday is pre-race and qualification. Then finally the weekend comes, and we put our best foot forward in competition. Hopefully we made good use of our week of training and it shows in our results. After it’s all said and done, usually late Sunday afternoon, we pack it all up, hit the road and repeat again the next week.
Every place I go these days, I know if I have had a good jump or a bad one simply by watching what the crowd is doing. You can see the excitement in their faces when they see a far jump, or the enthusiasm they have when watching and cheering for a finishing sprint. These are the things we love as athletes, and they are the reason we take pride in competing week after week.
Everyone on our team is in school at least part-time. We rely on good Internet service. I have literally walked around the sides of buildings in blinding snowstorms at 11 p.m. or 5 a.m. in an attempt to get a wireless signal strong enough to turn in the next week’s assignments.
It’s also our lifeline for staying in touch with family, friends, sponsors and donors, without whom none of us would be here. For me, a Skype call or Facebook chat with my wife can turn any day around or be the perfect end to an already great day.
Day in and day out, week after week, month after month and year after year, we put as much effort into training as possible. Sacrifices are made every day in order to make training as effective and efficient as possible. It’s tiring, demanding and oftentimes overwhelming. Putting yourself through rigor that demands every ounce of strength and finesse becomes a habit – a habit so challenging that at times you question how much longer you can take it. Yet it only takes one great day of competition for your mind to be refreshed, your body recharged and a lifetime of motivation restored. While success is rarely a creature comfort, the hard work almost always is.
So now when I am asked, “What is life on the road like?” I answer that life on the road is about finding solace in the environment around you so that you have the energy and the will necessary to push yourself outside of your comfort zone and to the next level of mastery in your sport. Suddenly it’s clear why so much excitement and enthusiasm surrounds those mindless creature comforts in the day-to-day of an American Nordic combined skier.