Friday, February 25, 2011

Empire State Games

Today marks the beginning of the 31st Empire State Games.

This event has been taking place for...well, 31 years, and has been sponsored by the state of New York until this year. However, the local cities have all pitched in to help, and the Games continued this year.

The Opening Ceremonies took place tonight at the 1980 Olympic Rink, where the Miracle on Ice took place 31 years ago. As the parade of athletes marched in (trying not to slip on the ice), the audience was snapping pictures and cheering. Think Olympic Games Opening Ceremonies, but about 100x smaller, fewer athletes, and no fireworks. It was still fun, and a great way to see what the athlete life is like on the other side of the wall (in the athlete parade instead of watching it).

Some of the skeleton athletes getting ready for the Opening Ceremonies

In a strange twist of scheduling, our Empire State Games skeleton race was actually this morning, so we competed before the Games actually opened. Yeah, we were scratching our heads about that too.

The race went off at 11am, and the sleds had to be up at the start at 10:30. Unfortunately, Mother Nature decided to spring a snowstorm on us, so the roads to the top of the track were too slick for the athletes to drive up. A majority of the athletes stayed down by the cars and waited for a van to come, which took forever. Getting anxious as I normally do when I am rushed before competition, I set my rock at the bottom of the hill, blowing snow out of my face and occasionally pausing to empty the inch of snow accumulating in my helmet.

The snow was falling so fast that even 15 minutes of exposure at the top, our sleds were blanketed in at least a quarter-inch of snow. The race was our first "officially run" race, with runners sanded and wiped by a jury, the temperature of our sleds checked, and such the like.

The girls looking good in the bibs!

As far as the actual race goes, my first run was not good by my standards. It was very squirrely (a word, by the way, that we had a discussion about the other day: why squirrely? Do squirrels move like that?) and not smooth. I finished the first heat in 6th place, which isn't bad, but it didn't set me up for an easy top-three finish.

At that point, I wasn't thinking about medals or finishing in the top. All I wanted was a cleaner run. I would be running sixth from the end in the second heat, since they run slowest down time to fastest in the second heat. I calmed myself down, warmed up again, tried to loosen my hamstring, and hit the start hard. I tied my start PR (again) and slid a much cleaner run.

With that slide, I had the fastest downtime of the heat, putting me in first place, but there were still five sliders to go, including the three fastest from the first heat. I've always wondered how it feels to be in the leader box that far from the final sled, or final performance, waiting to hear if your time was good enough to medal. Now I know. It's nerve wracking as all get-out. After I threw down a better second run, I was able to actually realize I could medal.

With each slider, our announcer, Kim, would commentate on their turns, their lines, and their performance as they go down the track. I heard my name a lot, as she compared the slider's splits to mine ("A tenth of a second off the pace set by Lauren," etc) which almost made it worse. Finally, Savannah, the third to the last slider, went which was probably the most nerve wracking, as she and I usually have similar down times. Lately, she's been sliding faster than I am, so I was anxious. I held on, barely, and knew I had a medal, just didn't know what color.

Morgan and Lauri slid again, and a tight race brought Morgan the gold and Lauri the silver, with me in 3rd.

The medal-winning women

Of course, I'm very happy that I was able to earn the bronze medal. However, I'm not very happy with my lack of consistency. I fluctuate during training, sometimes getting two or three very consistent runs, sometimes begin a half second or even a second apart between runs. In skeleton, a consistent run is of utmost importance, as a hundredth of a second can cost the race.

It is consistency that I will be working the most on this coming week. National Championships are next weekend, and it is (as you can imagine) a very big deal. All but a couple of the United States skeleton athletes will be competing, including the Olympians, World Cup athletes and sliders with years of experience. It's a race that will likely have an impact on what circuit I could be competing on next year, and it's a race where we will be seen by national team coaches. Yeah, it's a big race.

Lauri and I test our medals for authenticity

National Championships is a four-heat race over the course of two days. That means, I need to have four consistent runs in a row, over two days after five straight days of training. Insane but completely exciting! It's a great opportunity, and I'm incredibly excited and nervous for it. Wish me luck!

For now, I'm going to sleep! My legs are in need of massive amounts of rest and recovery. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Heat Wave!

After about a month straight of temperatures below 20 degrees, and probably half of those below 10 degrees, imagine our surprise when the temperatures in Lake Placid jumped about 30 degrees over the course of a day!

A general rule of thumb is when the temperatures are cold, the ice on the track is harder, and so the track is faster. While this isn't set in stone all the time, for the most part, cold weather = fast track.

So, flip-flopping that, if the weather is warm, the track may not be so hard, so may not be as fast. Warm weather can cause frost, or even slush to settle on the track, making it tough to go fast.

Once again, this is not a 100% theory. During a big competition, such as World Cup or ICC or National Championships, the ice workers will be at the track 23 hours of the day, maintaining the ice enough to keep it hard and fast.

It was our luck that just as the weather warmed up, an ammonia pump on the track's cooling system failed, causing all the ice from Curve 1 up to be at Mother Nature's mercy.

This isn't the thermometer at the track, but it shows the temperature from sliding November 17.

Thursday siding turned out very interesting. The ice at the top (so the start and into Curve 1) was sludgy, and got worse as the session went on, while the ice on the remaining parts of the track was faster than the day before.

There are so many things that affect the ice conditions, and I'm still learning so please forgive me if I ramble off into track jargon! (I was already accused of that a few times in this blog!)

Lake Placid Cup Series Race start

Because of the ice conditions on Thursday and the warm temperatures Thursday night, Don moved our Friday race to Start 3. This is where the luge athletes start on the track, and its start empties into Curve 4. Because it is lower on the track, the speeds are slower, and the lines one takes on the track are different.

Added on the slower speeds to begin with was a layer of frost covering most of the lower track. A run from Start 3 that usually takes 43-47 seconds was taking athletes 55 seconds to a minute. Even someone who doesn't understand skeleton lingo can see that is pretty slow.

The athletes had fun with it, though. It was low-key, with lots of laughter, costumes, and even an interesting method of starting. Since the luge start is very steep and luge athletes start with their hands, it isn't a great place for skeleton athletes to start, since we sprint and then jump on the sled.

Some of the guys figured out that if we attached stretch bands to the start consuls of the luge start, we could slingshot a skeleton athlete off the start.

Needless to say, it didn't work. But it was still fun.

Mike in an outfit not usually seen in a sliding sport!

It was interesting to go from trying to drive to the right lines on the track to this race, where really the best thing to do was to lay on the sled and relax. It was a good time to practice form and relaxation, which is what I tried to do on my two runs.

Today marks two weeks until National Championships! I'm nervous to slide with these great athletes who have been training for years. Some of them have gone to the Olympics, and many have won World Cup and other Cup medals. But I'm anxious to show what I can do, and I feel much more confident in my abilities now than I did a month ago.

I feel confident in my sled, though I just got weight moved (again) to help me go even faster. I also feel confident in my strength, though I'm also excited for the summer to gain back muscle that I've likely lost during the season.

All-in-all, I'm ready to show what I can do, and I'm excited to learn even more.

Thank you to everyone who has helped me financially thus far. If you or anyone you know would like to sponsor a budding skeleton athlete training for the Olympics, please contact me at!

Thank you all for continuing to read!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Glory of Post-Workout Recovery

All athletes know that recovery is key for success. Here at the OTC, nothing is different.

The recovery methods and techniques available for the elite athletes who live here are many, and most of them I've tried.

I mentioned NormaTec pants in my last post: inflatable, compression pants that help pump blood to the legs and flush out lactic acid. These can be used pre- and post-workout. Though they felt kind of weird and almost uncomfortable the first couple times I used them, I've gotten used to the pressure, and it actually feels quite good, particularly when the compressing cells are pressing on a sore or painful area.

Getting rid of that lactic acid with the NormaTec in the OTC!

Most high schools and all college sports training centers have some form of ice baths. At Hemet High School and at Northern Arizona University, where I went to college, the ice baths were basically horse troughs filled with cold water and ice. These can reach around 50 degrees, and the athlete only gets in them for 10-15 minutes. They can go in up to their neck if they wish, but who wants to do that?

Here in Lake Placid, the cold tub is actually that: a tub, like a hot tub a hotel would have, but filled with ice-cold water. There are two horse troughs in the treatment center, but they're filled with hot water for hot baths.

When I use the ice bath, I usually go in to my hips, and occasionally will sit on an inflatable ball, which puts me in up to my stomach. I've only once gone lower than that, when I had bruised ribs from my saddle. I went all the way up to my chest for that one...and I will never do it again! It took over an hour to get warm again!

Following rough days at the track, many of the skeleton athletes will get in the cold tub. This week in particular, after sliding, 5-8 of us have been getting into the cold tub as soon as we get back to the training center. Since the recovery center closes at 6, we have to rush back sometimes, but it's well worth it. Actually, several athletes use this tub multiple times a day.

Braving the cold tub after sliding

There are many other treatment options available to us, including stem (a machine that sends electric pulses through the area targeted), foam rollers, stretching machines, and ice machines located throughout the training center. They make it easy for us to treat ourselves, and the trainers also make themselves avaliable to us. It's much easier to take care of injuries and soreness when I'm here, as opposed to back home in California or in Virginia.

We certainly take advantage of everything that we can while we're here!

I want to send out a huge thanks to Robbie and Susan Robinson for their donation! It helps boost my confidence so much when I know that I am supported by not only family, but friends as well! I appreciate it so much!

For those who are interested in supporting me in my run towards the Olympic Games, please contact me either at, or send your donation to my name at 196 Old Military Road, Lake Placid, NY 12946.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

And Bronze Makes a Set

Having just completed my (*counts quickly on fingers*) seventh week of sliding, ( my fourth week this side of the New Year), my body is beginning to show signs of strain. This is to be expected when one sprints as fast as one can before jumping on a small metal sled and careening down a ice-covered, mile-long, 20-curve track at 70+ miles an hour. Add on top of that two times-a-week weight lifting, two times-a-week push start training and sprint training, and finally two days-a-week, 6-hour long stints of being on my feet at the restaurant, and you have my typical week. Even an elite athlete gets tired!

While my legs were protesting at work, my body is feeling stronger than it has in quite some time. I think I'll attribute 60% of this to my own training, and the other 50% to new methods of recovery that I am constantly discovering (That's 110%! Get it? Like they always say... "an athlete needs to give 110%" etc etc. Yuk yuk!). I'll explain these in another post later in the week (so I can get pictures!) but take my word for it: they're working wonders on my legs!

The last week and a half have been frustrating on the ice for me. I've been hitting slower times than what I would do otherwise, and I wasn't feeling comfortable on the sled, nor confident on the track. Needless to say, if you're a little uneasy in this sport, things can go wrong. I was getting so preoccupied with my poor performance that my sliding was suffering for it.

I take a start early in the week

Not only was I worried about my own performance, but I was comparing myself to my fellow sliders. "Well, this is sports, isn't it," You might ask. "The goal is to beat the other person." Yes and no. At this point in my very young career, I need to be focused more on learning to drive the sled and learning to improve my own performance. Times aren't as important now as they will be in four years, or eight years. They are a great way to see where one is messing up on the track, and where one is succeeding.

I am extreamely unfortunate in that I've always had a shaky confidence in athletics and out. I have a weakness of comparing myself to others and not focusing on the positive. Ask my siblings. Ask my parents.

HOWEVER. I am extreamely FORTUNATE in that I have a twin brother who is not only a gifted athlete, but who also has quite the head on his shoulders. Kendall has been my mentality coach, my sports psychologist, if you will. He calls me to offer support, encouragement and advice. I call him to complain about my runs, only to have him turn the conversation 180 degrees and start listing the things I'm doing right. He has the uncanny ability to make me see things that I just can't see because of my moping around. He'll patiently (well, until I get complain-y again...then it's a qiuck redirection!) steer the conversation away until I am telling him what I need to do next time. Brilliant!

This week especially, Kendall has been incredibly helpful. I was running 59+ and even some 1:00+ times throughout the entire week, when I finally broke down on Thursday, griping that I couldn't get my head around what I had to do because all I was thinking about was how I didn't want the other girls to beat me. As easily as if he had been coaching athletes all his life, he talked with me until he calmed me down, and began explaining what he wanted me to focus on for the race on Friday. What it came down to was Mom's old catch-phrase: "Focus on the positive, eliminate the negative." In other words, don't focus on the other girls. Don't focus on the time. The bad stuff always outweighs the good stuff in sports like this. So, pick a couple curves to focus on, do them right, then chill the rest of the way. I'm here to learn, so learn gosh darn it!

On Friday, I did just that. I wrote goals in my journal. I chose my curves to focus on (1-5...those little buggers have given me some rough rides over the past couple of weeks), and I reminded myself to hold my form and relax. After the first five curves, all I wanted to do was look into the corners, turning my head slightly to do so. This tactic was going back to my very first day of sliding, but I was fine with that.

I did my best not to listen to the announcer commenting on the slider's time as I warmed up and got ready, though the speakers are quite loud around the track, so it was almost impossible. I don't like listening to music during my warm-up so I can't really drown it out. As my turn down the track approached, I felt butterflies, so I used a breathing technique taught to us by some martial artists in December to calm myself down.

I was surprised that my first run was so smooth. I used minimal movements, and after successfully sliding the first five curves without skidding, I relaxed and was able to focus on the rest of the track without much problem. I checked the clock as I slowed down on the out-ramp at the end, checking my time. 58 something flashed in my head, but the number 3 followed the time, indicating the place I was currently ranked. Well, that's odd, I thought, remembering most of the girls had run 57s, and even a couple 56s. I was happy to hear that I had set a start PR, running a 5.60 second start.

I tried to focus on the van ride back to the top of the track, visualizing the track twice in my head, remembering what I had to do the next round. I wasn't thinking about the others for the first time in a while. Before I began my warmup for my second race, I checked with Mrs. Sweeney, whose children are also sliders and who was keeping the times recorded for Don. My time she had written down read 57.20. I told her that couldn't be right, and that I swore I saw 58. Well, don't argue, right?

My second run was also smooth. I hit my start at 5.60 again (talk about consistant!) and made it down with another 57, and another 3 flashing after my time. It was the first time in about two weeks that I had felt I had a good sliding day, and it showed in my performance. I wanted nothing more than Kendall to be there so I could jump on him and hug him!

The third-place finish earned me a bronze medal, meaning that I now have a complete set. Since the first race back in January, I have finished, in this order, 2nd, 4th, 1st, and 3rd. While I don't physically have my silver medal yet, I have my gold and now the bronze. But I have to say, the bronze that I just won is sweeter than any of the others and I appreciate it more. With my brother's help, I fought back from mental poop-hood to medal among a skilled group of athletes. The fact that I had been able to overcome my own naysaying helped me believe that I can actually do this.

Laurie (silver) and I watch as Kristina is awarded her gold!

To cap off a good day at the track, the girls went to the bowling alley to celebrate Sherri's 21st birthday. It was a lot of fun, with lots of laughter, smiles, neat bowling tricks, and well deserved relaxation.

The girls get goofy

It was a great finish to the week, and makes me even more exited to spend time with these newfound teammates/friends/fellow athletes of mine! Before I leave, here is a video I made at the bowling ally of one of Kristina's most glorious moments of the night.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

23 years and counting!

Yesterday, February 1, was my twin brother and my 23rd birthday! If you know the story of our birth, you will know that it is a miracle that we survived to celebrate it! My mom put it best over the phone last night: "23 years ago, I was dying and so were you! Yay for us!"

Some of the girls out celebrating my birthday with pizza

Yes, hurrah for us for making it this far! And best of all, we're both healthy, happy and living life to the fullest!

My birthday was spent at the Olympic Training Center, at Mt Van Hoevenberg, and at a local pizza place in the village. I spent it with my newest friends: my teammates and fellow athletes on the US Developmental skeleton team, and some fellow athletes up in the ranks. After pizza and a movie ("Salt" Don't watch it. It's bad.) we chowed down on ice cream and got some little goodies to share between us.

Rachelle poses with some of our sweet stash. We all have sweet tooths!

I haven't updated much since forerunning, mostly because when it comes to a typical sliding day, I've already talked about it. However, I do have a plan in the works for a video diary following me on a "typical" day here at the OTC and in the life of a skeleton athlete. When I post it, it will be a pretty close show of what I, personally, do as my routine during my training day.

I've had a couple bad days of sliding (not crashing bad, but just frustrating bad) including a run that scared the bejeezus out of me. I was up too far forward on my sled, so my runners weren't digging into the ice like they should have been. Because of that, I was skidding all over the place. It wasn't bad until the Chicane, where I felt myself coming in wrong to the entrance of Curve 17. About a split second later, I realized that I was skidding sideways, with my feet pointing towards the roof and my head staring down into the walkway. Not good.

Basically, I was jolted off my sled as I hit the wall coming out of 17, landed hard with my bicep crashing into my saddle, resulting in a dead arm, and almost flipping in 18. I stayed on my sled, held on with my eyes closed for the remaining curve and a half, and got off the sled shaking. My arm was pounding, and hurt to the point that I almost dropped my sled as I carried it down the couple stairs to the finish house.

I was definitely shaking as I waited to get on the van back to the top, and fighting back tears. It was very frightening, especially after the fact. It was also frustrating because I had several excellent runs the week before.

Needless to say, I was a little gun-shy of Curve 17 the next run down, but luckily I made it through relatively cleanly. My times for that day were not my best, but I got through the day, with a welcome encouragement post by Kendall.

But my runs yesterday were good. I hit my first sub 59 (I think, but I can't remember for sure, so we'll say this is my first!!) and scored a 58.91. I also was sub-minute on my other two runs. They were all pretty consistent, but I'm still working on bringing my times down.

Pushing the start

Sliding was cancelled today due to the crazy snow that's hitting the East Coast, so we've been chilling in the OTC. I did a weight lifting session, braved the slick streets in Morgan's Jeep to drop off our movie from the other night and pick up another from the library, and have been struggling to complete my first crossword. Ok, so I've peeked at the answers (I'm doing yesterday's so today's paper has the answers) a couple times, but only twice to get a word, and the rest to double check that I got the word right. If (when?) I complete it, I will be taking a picture of it, since it will be the first crossword I've finished.

Short update! More to come at another time!