The Olympics is truly the pinnacle of ski racing -- it is the one event in which every ski racer dreams of winning a medal. I can say the same for myself: My biggest dream is to win an Olympic medal. Though I wasn’t able to come back from a March skiing accident in time to make a run at the Sochi Olympic team, when I saw Andrew Weibrecht win his second Olympic medal on Sunday, a silver in the men’s super-G, it gave me renewed hope and faith that winning a medal could happen to me as well.
Here’s why. There are superstars in ski racing like Bode Miller, Ted Ligety, Lindsey Vonn, Julia Mancuso, Aksel Lund-Svindal and Tina Maze. These athletes draw the main focus going into the Games, for good reason. They all have medals in world championships and Olympics, multiple podium placements and wins, and all of them hold some sort of record.
I’m a racer who has one World Cup win and is kind of on the back burner when it comes to being chosen as a “contender,” so it can be hard to relate my career to the racing greats like those above. When I enter a big event like the world championships or the Olympics, I don’t feel assurance that I can win a medal because it’s unknown to me. One World Cup win gives you confidence but not the same type of confidence I imagine a racer would have after winning multiple world championship and Olympic medals.
So when I saw Andrew race and win that silver medal it brought me to tears. Andrew has endured four surgeries in the past four years since Vancouver, and has had no real outstanding results to speak of other than one World Cup top-10. I’ve known him for probably about seven years. I remember for a while it seemed like every time we saw each other, one of us would be injured -- on crutches for me or, in Andrew’s case, in a sling or a boot. We’d always be like, "Oh, weird -- you, again? In physical therapy? Shocking.” It almost became a joke seeing one or the other of us in some state of injury or recovery.
I'm so happy to see him healthy for the first time in awhile, and, of course, I can relate my career to Andrew’s. Seeing the struggles that he’s endured makes me feel like I can be like him -- that I can overcome my own injuries to win a medal on the next go-around in the Olympics or worlds. Even as I write this, I feel the hope rising up in me and the faith that it is possible for it to happen. I now know that winning a medal in one of these big events isn’t just for the “superstars.”
That all said, Andrew’s story also goes to show that it is more than just about the medals -- it is about the journey and the love of the sport. If it had been about medals only, people like me and Andrew and much of the U.S. Ski Team would have retired long ago.
My journey hasn’t been that easy since Vancouver, and I admit that while watching the Sochi Games at home recovering from another surgery, I did not feel inspired and hopeful watching my fellow racers compete. I felt sad and bitter.
Andrew changed that for me, and at a time when I needed it most I saw a performance that reminded me of the love I have for ski racing and that greatness is possible for everyone. I was moved by Andrew’s journey and how difficult it was, and how the passion he has for the sport helped him continue on when it might have been easier to quit.
Andrew has proved to me again that it’s possible for those people on the back burner and people who stick with it when it’s tough, to come through when it counts. And that those same people can put down a performance that matters and inspires.