The Abyss

FasterSkierAugust 8, 2006

Laura Valaas is a 2006 graduate of Whitman College and a current member of the Central Cross Country (CXC) Team. Originally from Wenatchee, WA, Laura finished 4th in the 15K free race at the 2006 NCAA Championships, and 5th in the sprint at the 2006 US Nationals. Now, as she makes the jump from busy collegiate skier to full-time ski racer, Laura will be sharing her experiences with readers. You can also follow her quest on her website:

All skiers, at some point in their career, must choose whether to attempt greatness or settle for good. Good skiers are often also good students, good employees, or good cellists, and portray skills in a myriad of other areas. Failure is easy to bear because their success in the rest of life mitigates any shortcomings as a skier. The skiers who pursue greatness, however, run screaming off a cliff, leaping explosively away from the reassuring security of family, hobbies, and employment, clutching at tenuous roots of advice during the fall into the unknown abyss. At least that is how I feel.

I spent the last 22 years excelling in well-roundedness. Life was a matter of balance and compromise. My skiing goals took into consideration my desire to graduate with honors, my academic goals took into consideration my desire to perform in the Spring dance recital, my performing art goals took into consideration my desire to win a race at Collegiate Cycling Nationals, and, well, you get the picture; you have been there, or perhaps you are there. So when I decided to join the CXC Team and shed the protective mantle of good student/employee/cyclist/dancer, I felt naked.

I moved out to Cable, WI where the CXC (Central Cross Country) Team is based, loading everything I wanted for the year into the back of my Subaru and driving across the country with an oversized plush puppy named Jake riding shotgun. I drove away from one life to another, leaving behind my family, friends, Whitman classmates, and teammates and arriving to find a new team and to explore an entirely new part of the country. I am looking forward to a new regimen of intense training and study-free resting. In a new place it is easier to develop a new lifestyle where training takes priority.

I can no longer say, “if I didn't work 40 hours a week all summer I could train more,” or, “if I didn't have to write that thesis I would get better rest.” Because now I am not employed and I am not in school; I am skiing. I do not want to denigrate these now extraneous activities. Have a job, earn money, spend money, support the economy. Write a thesis, earn a degree; it will enrich your life and challenge you. Do these things knowing that they will reduce your ability to train hard and race fast but they are probably worth the sacrifice. Because looming in front of me is the danger that, after committing myself unequivocally to ski racing, I might, in the end, lack that intangible, elusive quality required to be great.

Now I have pared down my life so I can try to be the best skier possible for me. I have no idea how fast that is. Fast, I hope, because if not there will be no excuses to mollify the angst at the finish line of a heartbreaking race. Here I am, not chasing promotions and money or more degrees, but pursuing single-mindedly personal excellence in the sport I love. Stripped of excuses, supported by dreams, I am not falling into the abyss, I am flying.


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