In elementary school, our first-grade class was assigned a task. We were told to write on a piece of paper what we wanted to be when we grew up. The plan was that five years later, when we were about to depart grade school, we would open the sealed packets to look back on our childhood ambitions which we had once so innocently sought.
You can imagine the quintessential answers brought forth from our seven-year-old minds. Most of my classmates wanted to become fireman or police officers. The best response I could have recorded would have been, “professional ski racer,” of course, but that probably didn’t happen.
Maybe I was absent from school on the day of the assignment, but when it came time to open our written time capsules five years later, mine was missing. Perhaps I simply didn’t have an answer and left the empty sheet of paper on top of my small desk – a proverbial blank canvas metaphor or one for my lack of acceptable societal direction. Either way, I sat in my sixth-grade class that day without an envelope of my own to unseal. But that doesn’t mean I’ve carried on without ambition.
I am the fourth of four children in my family, so by the time I came around my parents and siblings had a way of life already well established. My parents, both harboring a deep love for the outdoors, would trek us around with them on adventures like we were miniature companions, slowly but surely instilling that same passion in their children over the years.
Skiing was and continues to be a great passion shared by my parents. My mom still skis opening to closing every single operating day of the winter. When the lift closes down in the spring, she throws her boots into a backpack and hikes up the hill.
Most kids have chores in their family. One of our chores as Marshall children was to carry my mom’s boots up the Superstar trail at Killington every day in the spring until the last patch of snow had melted.
Being raised in a family like mine, skiing wasn’t exactly optional. Skiing for us was a lifestyle, an activity you took part in regardless of how you were feeling or what the weather was like. It was not a question of if we were going out on the slopes from day to day, but merely a matter of when.
During our time spent in grade school, classes took place from 9:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. The ski area closed at four, so my mother would pick us up at 3:05 p.m. and 10 minutes later we were squeezing in some hot laps. If we were lucky, we could get four runs in before closing. My sister Chelsea and I once got five, and we reminisce about it to this day.
I started racing when I was six-years-old, following the direction of my older siblings, all of whom would eventually be named to the U.S. national team. Growing up, my friends looked to ski stars like Bode Miller and Daron Rahlves as their idols. But for me, they were a distant second to my own family. My siblings were my heroes, and they lived under the same roof as me. How could I not aspire to be just like them?
When I was coming into my own as an athlete and getting more serious about my career, I was asked plenty of questions pertaining to the growing “Marshall Legacy.”
“Do you feel pressure to be successful?”
My siblings had by that point all raced on the World Cup and one was headed to the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games.
My answer has always been no. I knew from a very young age that my journey was going to be my own despite the incredible accomplishments of my family. I was inspired to be one of them but not cowed by their achievements. I simply wanted to earn my place in the legacy they had built.
In 2014, I was the oldest Marshall child not to have qualified for the U.S. Ski Team, but my passion still burned brightly. I helped co-found a team of competitors at similar points in their careers, and we dubbed it Redneck Racing.
Redneck Racing is a place for athletes to continue competing after others might find it unfeasible. My teammate and co-founder Robby Kelley, who similarly comes from a long lineage of successful skiers, also seems free of feeling excess pressure to perform.
“I’m extremely proud of what my mom and siblings and cousins and aunts and uncle have achieved in ski racing,” Kelley says. “But my career is my own. While they are all my heroes and I look up to all of them, it’s an individual sport and all I can control is myself. My focus is on training and working hard on what I need to work on to keep improving, and just doing the best that I can.”
Growing up in a legacy family with siblings who gain more and more prestige often leads to a steady stream of media coverage, particularly in local newspapers and magazines. I remember being a hopeful kid, scanning the most recent editions, eagerly anticipating my cameo. Most articles failed to mention the youngest brother. The mentions I did get were merely as footnotes – the delayed punchline to an already great skiing family. I may not have felt pressure to perform, but that did not mean that I’ve always felt like I’ve had a place among my siblings. I still don’t feel like I’ve completely found my place in that niche just yet.
“Were you pressured into the life of a skier?”
In the traditional sense, I don’t think so. My parents always advocated for me to make the choices in life that would make me happiest, even if that did not include pursuing ski racing as a career.
Another Redneck Racing teammate of mine and fellow legacy child, Julia Ford, says that she never felt obligated to be a skier either.
“It happened very naturally, as kids, when we were put in the ski racing program,” Julia reflects. “In my family, it wasn’t about ski racing. It was about being hyper competitive, deciding on our priorities, and working hard toward our goals. My mom would ask, ‘What did you do today to make yourself a champion?’ It was never, you have to be one. It was more about the effort and journey of trying to become one.”
Being a hyper competitive individual myself, I empathize with Julia’s upbringing and believe that emphasis on effort and the journey is part of the reason why I still race. But I am not without my insecurities as I progress through this sport. People may commend me for “taking the road less traveled,” but at times it seems more like the path of least resistance. Until recently, I often wondered if I was doing this because I loved what I was doing or simply because it was all that I knew how to do.
Opening yourself up to your insecurities can be quite revealing. I realize that I am not special, and everyone questions where they are in life at one point or another.
Amid my expanding set of morals and ideals that come naturally from growing older, my self-doubts have quieted. To be a great competitor is an admirable quest and one I seek with fierce determination and also with a love for this sport. But I do now realize that it is not all there is for me out there.
While my passions for writing and videography grow, I see choices begin to materialize in front of me. I know that there are opportunities to walk down different roads, and that potential for change has triggered an awareness. I am not chasing this dream because it is the only one I am capable of imagining. I am living this life because it is the one that I have chosen.
I may not consider myself to be fully part of the Marshall skiing legacy just yet, but for now I am incredibly grateful for my siblings who lead by example, offering me road signs in life as I hold my blank sheet of paper.