Dream chasing: Enjoying the pursuit
By Greg Bach
Four-time Olympian Katie Uhlaender’s path to greatness involves hurtling head-first on a sled down icy tracks at speeds of 90 miles per hour across the globe.
And while her sport – the skeleton – certainly isn’t for the faint of heart, the two-time World Cup champion eyeing her fifth Olympic appearance four months from now in Beijing hopes her high-speed journey can help other young athletes trying to figure out theirs.
“Sledding is fun, traveling the world is fun, and representing my country is something that’s very special,” Uhlaender says. “So, it’s a great combination of things that continue to help me grow in life and inspire me. And, in turn, I hope to inspire others to chase their dreams and not just be forced to stick to the traditional path and know that there are other things out there to do.”
You name it and Uhlaender played it growing up.
There was baseball and softball, basketball, track and field, weightlifting and skiing among her activities.
But once someone suggested she give skeleton a go prior to her high school graduation, the sport pulled her in and never let go.
“I like how it combines the traditional sense of sport with the power and speed of the start and the extreme sport aspect of the relaxed chaos and dancing with the curves,” she says. “It takes a special state of mind to handle the speed. It’s fun. Who doesn’t like sledding, right?”
Uhlaender’s races are often decided by hundredths of a second.
And the difference between grabbing an Olympic medal and missing the podium can happen in the blink of an eye.
Yet Uhlaender’s approach is refreshing, enabling her to not be overwhelmed by pressure or fears of where she may finish in a race.
“I stay in my own world,” she explains. “I think if you put a lot of meaning behind your performances that’s where the pressure comes from, but if you can stay within the passion of the sport as a kid, where you’re not really worried about winning or losing, or what people think, and you’re just enjoying the act of sport – that’s the best way to go.”
It’s a never-ending process for all athletes at all levels to push the focus away from the results and dial into the process.
“I’ve been honing this in more and more because the more I focus on results, or what it means, or what my performance means, or what the world is thinking, that’s a scary place to go," she says. "But if I just get to the line and I’m like ‘all right, I’m just going to do what I know how to do – I know how to go sledding and I love it’ – and I focus on that, I tend to perform well and I have fun. And I think those two things should be the goal – not winning.”
PURSUING YOUR BEST SELF
Uhlaender devotes all her energy into being her best in that moment, and afterward is when she’ll evaluate, take note of what needs to be worked on, and look to improve the next time out.
“I think attempting to evaluate things while you are doing something is not the way,” she says. “It’s finding your flow and your rhythm and being in the moment and ready to be your best self. And skeleton is a great representation of that because you’re going 80 and 90 miles an hour headfirst on ice and you don’t have time to think of every little mistake on the way down, or everything that is going well. You can’t sit there and start evaluating everything as you are going down or you will miss the ride. So, while you are sliding you enjoy the ride, and you trust that you have prepared to do it. And then off the sled, in the moments that you have to prepare, that’s when you can think about those things when you de-brief and you evaluate your performance.”
Throughout the process, it’s also understanding that no performance will ever be perfect, and many days will be filled with disappointments.
“I think it’s important to understand that success is never a straight line,” she says. “It’s a lot of ups and downs. That’s part of growth and learning and life – nothing is going to be perfect. If you keep your motivation and energy alive, that’s as perfect as you can get.”
HELP TEAM USA – CONTRIBUTIONS NEEDED
Team USA needs help getting its skeleton team ready for the World Cup Season leading into the Winter Olympics early next year. The costs of competing are steep, as travel, lodging, and other expenses come directly out of the athletes’ pockets.
Uhlaender started a GoFundMe page benefiting the Utah Skeleton and Bobsled Association, so that the athletes can put all their focus on the all-important months ahead.
VIEW THE GOFUNDME PAGE
“It’s not our medal, it’s America’s medal and we definitely need the support of our communities and our country to be able to race,” Uhlaender says. “All donations are tax deductible.”
Follow Katie Uhlaender on Instagram @kateu11 and Twitter @KatieU11
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