Thursday, March 19, 2015

On the topic of comebacks

Or how did I end up giving another go

I have always thought that when an athlete calls it a career it should be once and for all. I have always believed that whenever a professional athlete was announcing a comeback it was because he, or she, could not adapt to a normal life, I thought it was a mistake, I thought one should have not retired in the first place, if so. 

I could not be more wrong.

It is hard to put yourself in another one’s shoes, but on this topic especially. Things change in life, that is a fact, situations change and sometimes our plans for the future take sudden twists that were not foreseeable. One thing does not seem to change with the time, like a friend of mine told me when I admitted him that I was missing some slalom gates earlier this year: “once a racer, always a racer!”

He could not be more right.
At Vail 2015 with my Eurosport colleague De Tessieres

You might remember the piece I wrote more than a year ago about my official retirement from professional skiing due to my choice of moving to the UK and chasing my dream of becoming a journalist (if not, well, here you can refresh your memory). Well, ever since many things have happened indeed and my career took off much better than I expected: in January I flew downunder to follow the Australian Open swing for tennis, then I flew all the way to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, where for 20 days I worked in the mixed zone of the FIS Ski World Championships of Vail.

This last event was somewhat of an epiphany for me, because after almost three weeks watching all the best skiers in the world challenging themselves and each other for the crown of ski world champion, I realised how much I missed competing, training and challenging myself. It is hard to explain how this all came about, but if I was to pick one moment, I guess it was when I saw some of my old time friends and rivals going down that slope and stopping by my box for interviews. They convinced me to go back to some training sessions once back home and, why not, giving it a go to some races, if I felt ready.

My decision to be a freelancer is giving me a lot of time between one event and another, so I thought I could really use this time to do something I love, something I missed, something that makes me feel good.
I called my coach and organized a training session: we were both shocked, it was almost two years since the last time I did any gates, yet everything seemed to comeback after the first couple of turns. I know I am not as well prepared physically and the difference between good sections and bad sections is immense at the minute, but I am enjoying it all as if it was the first time again. I did a couple of local races and I finished second in the first, despite only one training day, and won the second one a few days later. There was not much competition, to be honest, but I loved the feeling of being back in a racing event, so I decided to push it forward and enter two FIS races.

My comeback to international races was not as good as planned: I fell in the first run on the first day when I was skiing very well, whereas I straddled a few gates from the end on the second day, but I was not skiing any good either. But what mattered to me is that I missed everything, I missed the tension when going to the start, the disappointment when you see the ground getting closer as you fall, the amazing feeling of skiing well…I know my comeback is not meant to be an effort to become a full-time pro, it is more of a hobby during my breaks from work, but this changed my prospective totally on the comebacks of professional athletes.

Of course, I still believe that one should not give up easily and then try a comeback whenever things are favouring it again, but I finally realize what pushes a professional athlete of whichever sport to call it a career and eventually change his mind.
Kim Cljisters made one of the most successful comebacks

I realized that you can feel old while being in your 20s, you can feel your body hurting every day on the training grounds and during your everyday life, you can feel that your mind is blocked and no matter how much effort you put on your trainings, races do not go as planned. I realized that when you are 22 you are likely to have been training for your dream for about 10-15 years and suddenly you could find new interests, “distractions” and your mind starts to fight against your will of working harder and harder.

I realized that when you surrender to these, you cannot give up to your love for the sport: you can fake indifference, but you cannot erase the feelings. I have felt this and I have seen it in most of my friends and former rivals: when I told my friends I was going back to some races I expected some jokes, but all I got was respect and some words of encouragement because they would love to do the same.

So what? Well, I think this experience taught and is teaching me lots and for my future as a journalist it gave me a deeper understanding on a topic that is always relevant and difficult to understand. 

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