Graves on Nordic
by Peter Graves
I've been around skiing since 1966, when I first took it up in high school. Through it all, as an athlete, coach and journalist, it has taken me around the world and back, introduced me to more friends than anyone has the right to ask for and has given me the greatest highs and some of the lowest lows one can possibly imagine. There have been many more good times than bad.
So as we are on the brink of a new season, I thought of writing something more personal in the form of a letter to my younger self.
Dear Peter: Welcome to a new sport, one that allows you to stretch your legs, muscles and mind. One that will test you in ways you haven't experienced yet.
You spent a great deal of time measuring up to others, checking your graphs, analyzing your results. The burdens you put on yourself did not serve you well. Sometimes you were so focused on performance that you didn't see all the other things. Think of the times you spent in the woods of Prospect and saw only the tracks, and not the beauty of the winter landscape and all of its silence. You can do that now.
Early races during high school and college, you were fraught with anxiety. You thought your turtleneck was too tight, choking you, but that's what's known as anxiety. You didn't have all the tools to manage it then. You didn't put your quest for results in perspective. Now you know better, but then, you were so nervous at times that it prevented you from having the race you wanted to have. You learned over time to silence the inner critic that said you weren't good enough or fast enough.
You weren't the best skier of the bunch. You tried to make the USST back in the day, but you never did. Sometimes you had some really good races, but you experienced little true joy in your racing because you were already thinking about the next one and about measuring up to the top stars. You were so preoccupied with trying to prove your worth and fitting in that you didn't stay focused and lost a little bit of the authentic person you are. Now you know you were tough enough, and good enough.
You were lucky, Peter. You had great coaches to help guide you and wonderful teammates to support you. You made friends easily; that was a gift of yours.
How many times at night on a winter's eve did you look up at the stars? You know that's important now.
You were so constantly fixated on results and medals to prove your worth, you didn't experience the joy of just improving – none of this was life or death. Some of it was guided by your impatience. Things do take time, and now I tell you to have some faith. Slowly, you learned to let that go.
You didn't realize how new to the sport you were when you started, and that between high school and college, you skied only eight years. You didn't understand that the longer one trains and competes, over a decade or more, brings steady improvement. You'd understand tactics, you'd relax a bit instead of trying to find bomb-proof kick – remember, then you were on wooden skis. That was a special era – you still remember wearing knickers with long socks and the aroma of pine tar. Saying this, I can almost smell that pine tar today.
Now 40+ years later at 63, I hope you feel more comfortable being you. You were blessed to find a sport that gave you so much and that you continue to feel passionate about.
Thanks for listening, Peter. Now go out and tell people to enjoy their sport, live authentically with it, take a deep breath once in awhile, and be less occupied with results and more concerned with doing the best you can.
When you were younger, you didn't know all this – nobody does. Some of it you just have to live through and experience. For those who are well on their way to Olympic success, these words might not be much help, but for all the young racers seeking to race well and to enjoy the journey, I hope you learn from me. The experience can and should be joyful.
And it is a beautiful journey.
(left) Skitrax columnist Peter Graves at high school event.
(below) Ski buddies from yesteryear: (l-r) Joe Bristol, Larry Martin, Peter Graves