When I qualified for the Freestyle Skiing World Cup tour, I began competing with athletes from all over the world. As an unknown skier my first year on the tour, I had no sponsors so my parents had to support me financially. I wanted to prove to them that I wasn’t going to waste their money, and I did.
Four times in the first year, I placed in the top three, even winning in my fourth World Cup competition ever. By the end of the season, I found myself in ninth place worldwide. I couldn’t wait to take the videotape of my contest jumps home to show my parents how effectively I’d used their money.
I popped the tape in the VCR and we sat down to watch it together. Now, while it seems long when you are in the air, an aerialist is actually airborne for about three seconds — as compared to the top basketball players, who are airborne for one. I competed in a total of 10 contests that first season, with two jumps per event, so the whole tape was about sixty seconds long.
After we viewed it, I eagerly sat at the edge of my seat, awaiting my parents’ response. We sat there in silence for another thirty seconds. I figured they must be pondering the praise they were going to pile on me, but my father, ever the comedian, had other thoughts. He finally turned to me and asked, “I just spent fifteen thousand bucks for thirty seconds?”
Being caught off guard, I had no clever reply. But I did heatedly explain that a lot of work went into those thirty seconds, and that I had to really make sure I was “on” when it counted most. My dad quickly agreed on the importance of working hard and making sure I took my "A" game to those key moments.
Two years later, bringing enough "A" games to the competition hill helped me qualify for my first Olympics. I was so excited that I might have a chance to win the medal I’d dreamed of since I was five years old.
I quickly learned that it wasn’t just my expectation, but that of my family, my friends, my hometown, my home state and my country. The hundreds of letters people sent to encourage me unintentionally threw a world of weight on my shoulders.