Canadian cross country skier Heidi Widmer had a pretty good 2014: just before turning 23 at the end of February, she represented her country at her first Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. A few weeks later she won her first national championship, in the 10 k skate in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, and clinched the NorAm sprint title as well as second place in the NorAm overall standings.
Things seemed to be going great guns, but Widmer didn’t have such a stellar 2015: she was sick, suffered from low iron, and didn’t have good enough results at Canadian trials races to make early- or mid-season World Cup tours. She also didn’t get to compete at World Championships.
Widmer had a trump card in her pocket, one that gives her more options than the average athlete: she is a dual citizen. With a Swiss passport, she had already spent a month in Switzerland in the summer of 2013 training in Davos. That was partly facilitated by Christian Flury, a Swiss coach who had worked at Alberta World Cup Academy, Widmer’s club, for two seasons. In 2013, Flury was coaching the Swiss U24 team and talked to FasterSkier about development in the country.
Thanks partly to the ties she had forged earlier, Widmer decided mid-winter to spend some time training in Davos and get her European racing fix with the Swiss at some OPA Cup competitions. She later rejoined the Canadians for her only World Cups on the year, finishing 58th in a sprint in Lahti, Finland.
Widmer was not re-named to the Canadian national team, and instead found that she had an option with the Swiss. Flury, a coach she enjoyed working with before, is now helping out with the senior national team. After thinking long and hard, she has decided to move to Switzerland and compete there, hoping that the change will also help her rebound from a tough training and racing year.
We caught Widmer over email as she prepares for her move.
FasterSkier: You wrote on your blog that your season was pretty disappointing. Have you figured out any of the things that might have contributed to you missing your performance goals?
Heidi Widmer: It is never easy to pin point exactly one thing, but my poor performance was likely linked to a combination of many factors. I was under recovered and when your body is run down, it leads to other problems such as low iron and ferritin as well as sickness.
FS: You knew Christian Flury from when he was the coach in Canmore, but will he be involved in your training at all in Davos?
HW: Christian Flury is a huge part of my transition to the Swiss team. He is coaching the World Cup team now and will be involved in my training as well as Bärti Manhart.
FS: What is it like to think about training with a totally different training plan, and maybe even training philosophy?
HW: Exciting! Having trained and raced with the Swiss team in the past, there are more similarities than differences between Canadian and Swiss philosophies, but I am excited to work together with the coaches to establish a philosophy we can agree on and for me to have new input and and a refreshing perspective. It feels so nice to be welcomed into a team that is excited to have you! Once I made the decision to accept the position, it was a huge weight off my shoulders and a lot of positive energy running through my veins.
FS: How long did it take you to make that decision, once you realized it was a possibility?
HW: Definitely a hard decision but it all comes down to what would make me happy, laughing, challenged and healthy. My body and mind needed a lot of time to rest and recharge with friends and family, doing the things I love. I spoke with professionals that I trusted (physiologist, nutritionist, doctors, psychologist, coaches, therapists etc.) to make sure I answered all my questions before moving forward. I wanted to make sure I had confidence and answers before taking a leap to another Federation. I spent some time on the beach in Mexico and contemplated it in the surf. I was super lucky to have a couple great gals (surf coach Emily Harris and biathlete turned student Megan Imrie) in Mexico to have a ridonculous amount of fun with and take the weight off of a decision. When you find something that makes you happy – there is no wrong decision!
FS: Is the team doing anything to help you get set up in Davos? Is it stressful to think about moving, finding housing, etc?
HW: They’ve been more than awesome. I will have a place to stay that Christian has setup for the first month and then search for some housing once I’m there. The moving part is surprisingly cleansing! I didn’t think I had that much stuff, but four boxes of clothing to give away later…. Feels good to get rid of excess stuff. Moving across the ocean makes you really frugal in what you actually need and what is just sitting in your closet. The stress only comes when I realize I won’t be able to bring the espresso machine my brother (Phil) and I own. I will survive.
FS: What about paperwork? Is there a lot of bureaucracy, or will FIS rules let you compete for Switzerland immediately?
HW: The Swiss Ski federation (namely Hippolyt Kemp and Simone Lüthi) was extremely supportive and responsive since day 1 and the process is underway. I have submitted my Swiss passport copy as well as for my dad showing his birthplace and written a ‘letter or request’. That is all from my end, and Swiss Ski will take it from there. The FIS rules should let me compete right away for Switzerland (a different rule when you don’t have blood relation to a Swiss national) as well as in 2018 if the opportunity exists. But I don’t have direct control of that! Let’s just say it will officially be official when I’m at the start line in a Swiss race suit. I’ll focus on the training and the process in the meantime!
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Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.