LARISA YURKIW ~ R.E.S.P.E.C.T.
Respect the mountain. As racers, we use the side of a mountain to create speed. Needless to say, it’s in our best interest to be in healthy, functional relationships with the mountains. Some South American mythologists even esteem mountains as gods and protectors of surrounding territories.
There’s every type of successful racer out there. The one that fights their entire way down and really digs their nose in it. The one that cruises like rivers along the path of least resistance, similar to their lives. For me, the key was to distinguish when to push and when to surrender. There was never such a thing as winning against a mountain.
Respect the people. Athletes in individual sports have a unique work environment. The most critical minutes of the day are fully solo, but the entire preparation relies heavily on a large group of intelligent, intuitive people with an innate ability to see what’s required for success.
Beyond the support staff, fellow athletes also deserve a ton of respect. Competition is a great thing. It was an honour learning to win and lose with those powerhouse group of women. Missing a podium by a hundredth of a second is scarring. The tendency was to pick apart the entire structure. But over time, I learned to respect the people on the other side; winning the races by hundredths of seconds. It was a mini margin but these people were on the right side of it for a reason. It’s been an amazing experience to watch the circuit from afar. I’m in awe of these brave, capable women that throw themselves at this sport willing to “risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss”. It’s so incredibly difficult event to muster the mustard required to even push out of these start gates.
Respect the body. All athletes concern themselves with pain and pleasure. Lactic acid, muscle strains, bone breaks, head injuries. They’re all terms thrown around fairly lightly. The circuit goes on with or without you. At the beginning of my career, I merely had a hot chocolate for warm-up. By the end, warm-up started the night before with heating pads, continued the next morning with a full-blown work-out and then continued up until the minutes preceding the race. The body has the last word, and we only get one. It’s with a heavy heart that I have time now to write this piece because I listened to my body, and don’t ski race anymore. But I am so grateful I had an environment that allowed me to constantly reassess my level of health and what direction I was headed. I learned the importance of body awareness and the courage required for trial-and-error training and therapy until I was seeing results. I’ve always said I have a good amount of pain tolerance, but zero pain patience.
Respect the opportunity. Someone asked me ‘what changed from one season to the next?’ Improving my ranking from 77th in the world to 3rd was, in part, just more of everything. I was one more year away from a tough injury, one more year with the same coach, one more year on the speed tracks, one more year with my sponsors, one more year with myself. The opportunity to exercise a passion at a profit is epic. I remember a time after the novelty of making the Canadian Alpine Ski Team wore off where I just cruised with the jacket on. I had little desperation to perform as a rookie and worked tirelessly, but not purposefully. Every facet of being an athlete is so much fun to address, and yet the two-minute races still occupy entire minds for so many.
I’m only 28, but if I can get life-lesson-preachy for a moment, even if just for the ski racers, soak in every single layer of your sport. Learn about the structure. Ask questions. Reassess daily. Stay open to change. Ask management if they can also stay open to change. Learn about your body and leave out the middlemen. Learn about the towns you’re visiting. Take responsibility for your equipment. Know an insane amount about your skis. Stay involved in the communities that supported you for years prior. Learn the business of sponsorships and pursue professional relationships. Understand the ins and outs of a turn and why skis can help you haul ass.
So, as Aretha would say, “Take care of TCB”, which I only learned yesterday means Taking Care (of) Business (TCB).