VAIL, Colo. – Cody Marshall is a great friend and a phenomenal skier. I was lucky enough to be his coach as he foreran the Men’s and Women’s slaloms at the MacDermid Nor-Am races in Vail, Colorado.
Cody and I have a long history of racing together, rooming together, and sometimes even hating each other after really long Europe trips. But more than anything else, just being good friends. Two years ago at Eastern Cup Finals in Killington – near Cody’s home of Pittsfield, VT – Cody came up on the hill for two miserably, rainy days to coach me. After first run, I think I was in 8th, he proceeded to completely rip me apart and the rest of the field for sucking sooo hard. He had been on snow a handful of times, but wasn’t ready to train or race yet. Literally he spent 5 minutes tearing me apart for not dropping my knees in hard enough and skiing like an 8 year old. To say he was disappointed would be a massive understatement. I looked at him and couldn’t really believe what he was saying. I hadn’t put on a pair of slalom skis in months and was just up there having fun; but after embracing his fury, I realized he was totally right. I sucked and the field wasn’t killing it as I wasn’t all that far off. With his inspiration, I won second run moved up to third and was happy to thank him at the end of the day. We were both pretty psyched.
The reason Cody isn’t racing now is because two and a half years ago he fell about 30 feet on to his head from a hand railing. “He was in the hospital for seven weeks after sustaining a traumatic brain injury on July 15 2009. A subdural hematoma, fractured skull, brain surgery, a coma, seizures, seven fractured ribs, a splenectomy, and blood clots are a list of some of the more serious problems he had while in the hospital. Cody had to learn how to breathe, talk, walk, and swallow all over again. It was two weeks after he awoke from my coma before he learned that I wasn’t in a “hotel in Canada.” – From the homepage of his website.
Cody and I have always had a way of firing each other up when one of us is too hurt to race, we focus all our energy on energizing the other one. After first run in San Candido, Italy, I blew out and Cody was in second. The rest of the Europa Cup Team left Europe so it was just the two of us racing for the ski team. I blew out and was in the finish second run. There was a decent pitch on the bottom and I could see everything that really mattered in the course from the my vantage point. I jumped on the radio a few before he went to explain, “The course has a solid grove, the snow is a little soft, it’s really important to work that groove, set up one turn on the pitch coming into the first hairpin and everything was totally money. You got this. You’re going to crush it!!” Cody came over the roll ripping, nailed the hairpin, and won the race by over a second.
When Cody decided to come to Vail to forerun for two days, I was overjoyed to be his coach. The ski team coaches totally support him and want the best for him. However, their legal/medical team thinks he is too much of a liability so they refuse to clear him to ski, which means he can’t train, be coached, or race for the ski team. It’s classic ski team administrative bullshit. Even though he passed the ski team impact test and his doctors – that have worked with him throughout the last two years – cleared him to train and race over a year ago.
When you ask Cody about his future ski racing, he’s not really sure what he wants to do. Money is tight, he’s doing some coaching, and he’s not sure he has what it takes to be a competitive World Cupers. When he first saw the extremely high level of skiing at the MacDermid Nor Am Cup races here, he didn’t even see how skiing at that level was even possible again, which is understanding. The level is so high right now. It was great to see a bunch of friends and young guns absolutely killing it at Vail. It’s been almost three years since he scored World Cup points in Slalom, but he was back in the gate and everyone was psyched to see it. I was in the finish talking to Canadian Olympian Trevor White and he kindly said, “I was on the lift and immediately recognized Cody forerunning. It’s great to see his distinct style back in the gate. He was dropping his inside shoulder a little, but it’s just great to see him here.” That was the sentiment from coaches, athletes, and the rest. It’s great to see Cody back in the gate.
he first day of forerunning, Cody made some strides. It’s was great to see, but the second day I came down on him. He was definitely sucking for a World Cup slalom skier. He was killing it for someone that sustained an injury as serious as he did. It’s amazing that he’s back on his skis; but let’s be serious, Cody wants more than just being able to get around a couple gates. At this point, he had completed 6 of the total 8 runs of forerunning (in two days) and the top of his turn was just too damn soft. He wasn’t committing to his ski the way he used to, he wasn’t bringing confident intensity to the front of his boot that immediately transfers to the tip of his skis, which creates – the one thing that matters in the sport – raw speed. When he was over his skis and committed it was good, but not great. He was missing the snap out of his skis.
I told him about the soft top of the turn and then told him it was time to get fired up! I told him I was going to be at the start to fire him up and I’d do whatever it takes to get him going. “I can’t wait to start punching you up there!” I said not unkindly. He immediately said that’s not what he wanted. He needed more miles and I completely disagreed. He needed some intensity.
Before his next run, he admitted I was right. He needed some fire. We started doing a punching sequence. Where I was the trainer and he was the boxer. Jab, jab, cross, upercut. Jab, jab, cross, uppercut. He was starting to get fired up. I was psyched. I told him, “I’d be overjoyed if he brought intensity to 5 turns and blewout of the course.” We all wanted to see him snap off some nasty turn. He went out of the gate with good intensity and had it for a few gates. I was overjoyed. On the lower section he broke a couple gates and then cruised to the finish. He was ready.
There was one final run left. It had been two long days, but he was fired up. We went back to the old jab, jab, cross, uppercut again and again. He said with a smile, “It’s a lot easier to not feel like a piece of shit, when you don’t ski like a piece of shit the whole way down.” I had to write this one down on the spot because it was just too damn funny. With both of us laughing we were psyched. I once again explained how he should arc and hammer as hard as he can. Who cares if he blows out after a couple gates. Demo, an ex-ski team service man, clipped him into his skis and it was game time! I slid down to watch and the old Cody Marshall exploded out of the gate. He snapped of 5 nasty
turns and was going far faster than he had in years. He was bringing all of his intensity into the front of his boot. He got a bit late and his intensity was still at an all time high, but wasn’t quite as good. Who cares? I was overjoyed to see him make a few turns that were at the same level as some of the top skiers in the world. Cody was racing again!
I don’t know where his professional ski racing future is headed – it is still a long road – but I do know this is exactly what he needs right now. He needs to know for himself that he can compete at a high level again. Much like the Ah Hah moment Dane Spencer had three years after his serious injury when Dane won the second run of a Europa Cup GS by over a second in Meribel, France he knew he was back in the game. After that season, he moved on to coaching, but it was so impressive and inspirational to watch and see Dane prove he had it.
In the finish Cody explained, “That was the first time I was looking for speed since I got hurt. I just need to remember to bring that kind of intensity everyday I ski.” The smile on his face and twinkle in his eye made it clear Cody’s desire to be competitive is still strong.
Oh and by the way, Cody won the women’s race the first day! Booyeah!
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