By Jan Ottobre
In March of 2007 I became only the 2nd woman ever to snowmachine over the top of Snow King Mountain. Only 50% of the men that race the snowmachine hillclimb circuit have ever reached the top of Snow King. It was an immense accomplishment in the sport, and an amazing, fantastic experience for me. Made me famous.
And the next year began on a high. I led in overall points in two classes on the hill climb circuit coming into the Jackson Hill Climb at Snow King.
It was a beautiful sunny day, my entire family was there and everyone was sure I would become the first woman to climb Snow King…. twice!
I thought I was totally prepared. I was even a little cocky.
Qualifying happens first. You have to ride your sled to the first catwalk of Snow King under a time limit to make it to the finals the next day and have a chance at the summit. That day, just 5 of 21 women riders qualified.
Perhaps it was the conditions, maybe it was my mind set – I wasn’t one of them.
I didn’t qualify for the finals.
A huge failure. One of the biggest in my life.
Failing qualify for the finals after being the second woman to make it to the top of Snow King the previous year was was the hardest thing I’ve had to deal with in my racing career.
I hadn’t met expectations. I’d let everyone down. I was embarrassed …. humiliated …. crushed.
Time went on and I fought through. More hill climbs came, I won several, but crashed plenty too.
Finally I began to realize something . . . maybe my failure to qualify wasn’t failure after all. Maybe it was just life.
Living in mountain country offers us an unlimited array of opportunities. What we do with those opportunities is completely up to us. And with the choices we make – as professional athletes, as mothers, as fathers, as coaches – comes success, but also failure.
So how do we accept that by taking these chances we might fail? Why would we want to train as hard as we do, and take the chances that we do, when it is quite possible that we may fail?
I so badly wanted to learn how to snowmachine with the boys when I was in my early-20s. This was not normal – it was barely acceptable. But I did it, and the experience I gained and the lessons I learned are what have allowed me to accomplish the things I have accomplished in this sport.
Sure, I’ve crashed as many times as I’ve won races, I’ve broken hoods and windshields, I’ve hurt myself – but I have never failed. If you take the chance to pursue the opportunity you are offered, you can’t fail.
Overcoming the feeling of being a failure is one of the biggest challenges in life, especially for those of us that strive to excel at our specific sports. It’s hard to convince yourself that, gosh, I’ve spent hours and hours at Mountain Athlete, and I’ve trained in the field and I’ve worked and sacrificed and neglected my children, all for what? To come in second or second to last? That’s the tough part. But never should we feel that we have failed.
Failure is not risking it. Never stepping outside the box. Failure is to not make a commitment and to not try your hardest at whatever you decide to do. No one on the hillclimb race circuit remembers any of the times I crashed, or didn’t qualify at the Jackson Hillclimb. They only remember the time I went over the top.
It’s up to me to accept that not qualifying the next year, or that coming in 2nd or 3rd or last at the other races is not failure. Concentrating so hard on the difficult parts of a race course and then crashing or missing a gate in the lower, easy part of the course is not failure. Failure is quitting after the disappointment of not finishing to your expectations. Failure is to never try it in the first place.
In the constant uncertainty that is life, I believe one thing to be certain. Take the chance. You may work and train to be the best, and you may still come in only second . . . that is life. It is never failure.
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