Authors’ note: This month, we wanted to explore a few athletes’ perspectives of their own success. Why did they succeed? When did they break through? What helped them stand out in the past, and what helps them continue to progress? Ski Racing is such an amazing sport because it has heroes from all different backgrounds with many, many unique strengths and weaknesses. We think it adds meaning to examine these strengths and weaknesses from a personal standpoint. So, we asked six athletes from different levels of the ski team to talk about their background, early skiing career and what they think got them to where they are today.
Here is part two of the three-part series featuring Steven Nyman and Galena Wardle.
Steven Nyman-“How can I get faster?”
Steven Nyman is an accomplished veteran of the ski team. But he’s also known for his friendliness and willingness to help younger athletes. He’ll spark up a conversation with you at breakfast or the COE no matter who you are and will happily give you tips on your skiing or secret advice on the best way to cant your boots. When asked what his favorite pump up song is he responds “I’m not really a pump-up music person. I have a rhythm inside of me and I feel like I lose it when I’m listening to music.” Here is what we learned about Steven’s rhythm and path to the top.
“The number one reason was my love of skiing. Number two reason was my willingness to continue,” Steven responds with certainty when asked why he thinks he’s been successful. Then he dives into full detail on why those reasons have taken him so far.
Steven grew up racing at Sundance Ski Club where his dad was very involved and helped everything run smoothly at the mountain.
“This started the trend of my parents providing me with the resources needed to succeed. My parents were supportive and helped me realize my talent, but it was always me who was like, ‘Okay how can we step it up?’” he said.
This attitude came into play when Steven began crushing the local competition and realized he needed to be challenged. When he was sixteen years old and could drive himself, he started commuting to Park City to join what was the best team in the nation at that time. Because the winter sports school was too expensive, Steven went to his Sundance school board and convinced them to let him learn from artists in the summer for his art class credits and use his time skiing as PE credits which allowed him to attend half days at school and drive to Park City to train every day.
“This goes back to me figuring out, how can I be faster? I can’t afford it. How can I make it work? A lot of people laughed at me,” he said.
But his joining the Park City Ski Team stands out as a huge shift in his career, and Steven mentions his peer group in Park City as a major factor in his success.
“A lot lies with those guys that were on the team at that time.” Steven also thinks that his lack of injuries and distractions played a role in his success. “I just loved skiing and was competitive, but happy competitive. I was never laser intense. I liked to set goals and go after them. I come off as happy-go-lucky even though I’m focused,” he said.
Steven’s breakout season came in 2002. He started the season on the Park City, FIS A Team skiing super-fast slalom, but in January, Steven went to Junior Nationals in the east where “it was rainy and icy and terrible and I sucked.” A month later, after more challenging races, he flew to Europe and Mike Day, Bode Millers’ coach at the time, handed him a pair of Fischer slalom skis to try. Two turns in he thought “wow this is what a ski feels like!” He then qualified for World Juniors. And won. He went to World Cup Finals and was training with his childhood heroes. And he beat them. In the slalom race at World Cup finals Steven remembers skiing really poorly.
“The first run I was so stiff. There was so much pressure,” he said.
Then the second run he started first and realized he had nothing to lose. Steven finished the race in sixth place. He ended the year qualifying for the U.S. Ski Team’s B Team. A jump from the Park City FIS team to the US Ski Team B Team is incredible. But when asked what the reason was Steven admits there was no secret.
“It was a variety of different circumstances. The main thing was me not blaming other things. I was just always trying to figure out how to get faster. I wasn’t thinking about the coaches, or my equipment, just: How do I get faster? How do I get faster?”
Looking back on his path, he thinks if he could do anything differently he would have paid more attention to his strengths.
“I’m different than a lot of skiers. I’m not that explosive. I have a lot of endurance. The Ski Team thought that they needed to change my explosive because I was lacking that. And that took focus away from my strengths. But when I went back to my strengths I did really well again,” he said.
Today, Steven is still trying to figure out how to get faster. He is continually trying to progress things within the ski team and he tries to foster a good environment, not only with a team of athletes, but with the coaches, and technicians, and whole staff.
“Once you get the whole team of people on board it makes the movement that much stronger and this is when things are most efficient and really start clicking.” Reflecting on what else he does today to improve his skiing, Steven states, “I’m always trying to change things. That’s how things keep moving. Stuff that’s stagnant is dying. You’ve got to always keep moving.” He pauses in our interview and then laughs saying “you’ve got to rest sometimes too,” epitomizing his happy-focused manner.
Galena Wardle- “For the love of skiing.”
Galena has been our teammate and friend for the past five years. We interviewed her in person and she commented, “It’s so different to be interviewed by friends.” Good, We’re glad this feels different! Galena is an amazing mix of contradictions. She can be carefree and down for any adventure, but also is one of the most intense people on the hill. She is goofy and spunky but also likes to take time to reflect on bigger life questions. She is also unquestionably determined. She has demonstrated this past year when she re-tore her knee after only three days back on snow. This interview was an insight into her determination.
“I grew up doing double winters between Aspen and Las Lenas in Argentina. My parents worked as ski instructors at both places, so I was able to ski more than most kids growing up. I learned to free ski a lot and love free skiing,” she said.
She started racing at age 6 at Aspen Mountain, where the ski team also shared her focus on free skiing. Galena recalled that whenever it snowed all the coaches took their athletes up the mountain to ski trees, off-piste, cliffs and anything else the mountain threw at them.
“This was definitely a huge difference between Aspen and other clubs,” she said.
This focus on skiing and not racing gave her basic fundamentals and she says she was always a pretty solid technical skier, which translated into early success. In fact, Galena remembers always being in the top group of skiers her age. Never the very best, but always consistently good. This consistency remained the same as she slowly moved up the ranks. She qualified for the NTG at U16 Nationals and then the U.S. Ski Team three years later.
When asked how she thinks she was different than other racers growing up, Galena commented that she was always super focused growing up.
“I was often very nervous too. More nervous than I think I should have been. But I think my intensity helped me become more successful,” she said.
In fact, her mind was set on the U.S. Ski Team from an early age.
“Even back then it wasn’t just a hobby. I wanted to be a professional skier and ski World Cups and go to the Olympics. I think I had a feeling that no matter how small, every step mattered,” she said.
She thinks this mindset and attitude towards ski racing came a little bit from her parents, but also from within herself.
“Having ski instructors as parents sometimes adds pressure on me to succeed, but I think growing up it also pushed me to work harder and care a lot about my sport,” she said.
That’s something she still does to this day. Work hard and care a lot.
Galena said her back-to-back knee surgeries in April and November of 2017 have taught her a lot. Now, she’s better at seeing the bigger picture.
“Before I got injured I put so much pressure on each individual race, but now I think it’s better to go all out in every single race because it’s worth more to put it out there and be fast than to waste a race and take it slow and safe,” she said.
She realizes that to make the next step in her career she can’t rely solely on skiing well. Her focus for the coming season is “keep the good skiing but also take more risks.”
Ultimately, looking back she said she doesn’t think she would do much differently.
“I grew up skiing a lot and fell in love with skiing itself. Whenever I have a bad day in racing I come back to my roots in free skiing because that’s what makes me happy and that’s what fuels my passion for ski racing. And what set me apart is that I cared so much about every season, every race, every run, even though I was only eight or nine years old. I realized I wanted to do something bigger in this sport. As much pressure as I felt. It made me better and kept me at a level of intensity that got me to the next steps,” she said.