Melanie Schwartz

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2009 Blog

When Good is Not Enough - December 20, 2009

I've just returned home from the first races of the 2010 season. It is a big year and the expectations are higher and there is less room for error. I spent a total of 10 days in Colorado. We had 4 days of training, followed by two Nor Am (North American) races. The first race was the Hartford Ski Spectacular at Copper Mountain and included 2 events; slalom (SL) and giant slalom (GS). The second race was the Winter Park Open with 2 super giant slalom (SG) events and a super combined (SC) event. On one hand I am happy with my performance. On the other hand I am disappointed with my results because I did not achieve my goal for these races. This blog entry is a story about when good is not enough.

I can confidently say that my performance was good. I attended the same races a year ago and I was very disappointed with last year's results. I did not have many clean runs. I suffered from broken equipment, falling on course and I was not proud of a single race. If I had achieved this year's results last year, I would have been thrilled. All seven race runs were clean with no falling, no broken gear, and no major mistakes. I received two silver medals, 2 bronze medals and a 4th place finish. I even managed to improve my FIS points in all four events. But this year I need more. I need to qualify for January's World Cup races.

Results from these races are quite scarce at the moment. I am hoping that the official results will surprise me with good news. But the reality is that I did not achieve my goal for these Nor Ams. I hoped that these races would qualify me for World Cup competition in SL, GS and SG. I wanted to qualify in these three events so I could compete in all events at the World Cup races in Austria this January. I need good results at World Cup races to qualify for the Paralympics. Since these Colorado Nor Ams were my last chance to qualify for World Cup, they were very important races for me. Preliminary results from the Nor Ams indicate that I am only qualified in SL. Even the SL qualification is borderline and I am worried that it might not be true. There is nothing I can do except wait for official results to be published.

Despite good races and reasonable results, I am disappointed because I did not fulfill my goal. I am still hoping to go to Austria and compete in three World Cup slalom races. I wish that I had just one more year before the Paralympics. I've accomplished a lot in the three short years since I started racing. And my recent races were good. But sometimes good is not enough.

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Video Clip: As Far As I Can Go - December 1, 2009

Below is a video clip created by Jon Izma who is a Camera Operator and Editor based in Toronto. The video features an interview and video footage from this past summer. Click here to check out more of Jon's work.

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Jumping off the Metaphorical Cliff - November 10, 2009

The season has officially begun. The first training camp of the season is already finished. Although it feels like I just returned from Copper Mountain in Colorado, I've actually been home for more than a week. And the next training camp starts in five days. I'm spending some time between these training camps to reflect on the first one so that I can ski better and stronger for the next one. Easier said than done.

I have a pretty clear picture about what dryland training I should be doing based on how I felt in Copper. The problem is that I only have two weeks. And it seems like there is always a reason to say "no time for the gym today, I'll go tomorrow". In the past week, I have had six dinners/gatherings with friends and family. After a day at work, and a big dinner, there is no chance of a good workout. In the eight days since Copper I've only had one good, long workout (and 5 shorter, easier workouts). I am going off on a tangent. I meant to discuss mental side of preparing for the next training camp based on my experiences at the last one.

To start off, I should give you a picture of how that first training camp went. Overall, it was a great trip. The weather was cold, the snow was plentiful (perhaps too plentiful), I was healthy, my coaches and teammates were great. But my skiing was not what I had hoped it would be. Watching video of my skiing confirmed my worst fears - I skied horribly compared to the end of last season. I was trying my best and it wasn't good enough.

There is no use dwelling on disappointment. So now I am faced with the task of figuring out where I went wrong and how to fix it. Or maybe there isn't a particular point where I went wrong. Maybe I just need a couple more days on snow. Maybe I can blame my ski equipment which is highly unlikely, but it would be easier to blame something other than myself, especially something that is easy to fix.

Most likely, the problem is in my mind. And it is difficult to train one's own mind. I think I lack the confidence needed to ski properly. I tend to focus on all the areas where I need to improve. I need a better balance between confidence in what I've already mastered and focus on what I have not yet mastered. I am a reserved person, and I tend to ski conservatively. But racers need to "go for it". My coach used a cliff analogy. He said that I am standing on the edge of a cliff with my toes hanging off. And I just need to jump and trust that everything will be fine. I have 5 days to mentally prepare myself to jump off a metaphorical cliff. Step One: sort out my current mental state by writing a blog about it.

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Fall is Here - October 9, 2009

I will leave for my first ski trip of the season in only 2 weeks. Although I've already started thinking about snow and skiing, I was really surprised this morning to realize that fall is here. I was driving to work, taking the same route as any other day, when I looked up and saw the beautiful colours on the trees. Somehow, when I wasn't paying attention, summer faded into autumn.

I've been counting the months and weeks until ski season since I returned home from Mt Hood in June. A couple months ago the weeks were dragging so slowly, and it felt like ski season was eons away. But now ski season is actually approaching and the weeks are quickly flashing past me. On one hand I can't wait for it to start. But on the other hand I'm not ready yet. I know that it sounds crazy. I've spent months waiting for this, and now that it is here, I'm not prepared. There are so many things that I planned to do before ski season. And I still haven't accomplished these things. I guess I still have a couple weeks to pull myself together, but it is tough when I am working all day and going to the gym in the evenings.

Now you are wondering what I need to do before the season starts. And you are probably going to laugh because some of the things on my list are random and have nothing to do with skiing. For example, I've been driving around with my "Check Engine" light on for over a month now - oops. I am overdue to see various types of medical professionals; doctor, dentist, optometrist etc. I have books to read, forms to fill out, and stuff to organize. In terms of physical activity I intended to go for a few nice long bike rides, go skating and rock climbing. I also have responsibilities as the Alumni Advisor of my sorority; Sigma Lambda Gamma. On the ski side of things, I have to get all my equipment together. This process should involve ski boot fitting, mounting bindings, buying assorted ski gear, and creating some slalom padding. I also had lofty goals of getting myself mentally and physically prepared for the upcoming season, but I don't know if that is going to happen or not. I guess I won't be able to evaluate my preparedness until I return to snow and see how it feels.

I only have 2 weekends remaining before ski season starts so I must spend them wisely. This weekend is Thanksgiving. And I am using the long weekend to spend time with friends and family. Once ski season starts I am rarely around long enough to see the people I care about. So I will try to get my fill now. The following weekend I will be at the Toronto Ski, Snowboard and Travel Show. It is a great opportunity to get into the ski season mindset, buy gear for the upcoming season and drool over skis. Last year I bumped into many people that I had not seen in a while and met ski bums from every walk of life. The following weekend, I will be skiing in Colorado! Needless to say, I am looking forward to the upcoming weekends.

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August Review - September 1, 2009

It is nearly the end of August. Students are getting ready to go back to school and most ski racers are kicking off their training for the season in places like New Zealand and Chile. As for me, I am working in Toronto and feeling a little bit jealous. Just to clarify, I am jealous of the skiers enjoying the southern hemisphere snow, not the students going back to school. Since I can't perfect my on-snow technique, I am focusing on my dryland training.

I am shaking up my dryland routine and ramping up for ski season. Over the summer, my workouts got boring and repetitive. So now I am changing everything and keeping it interesting. It all started when I got a trial membership at a new gym. My year-long membership for the Athletic Centre at the University of Toronto was about to expire. And I thought that it would be nice to try a different gym before renewing at U of T.

I found myself in a new environment with different equipment. I also talked to a personal trainer who was very helpful. As a result, I've completely changed my workouts. Instead of following a pre-planned routine, I am making my routine up as I go along and changing it every day. It has been about a week so far. I am much more enthusiastic about going to the gym and I am having more fun because I am being creative and trying new exercises. I have spent a lot more time working out, and yet I am not sick of it (yet). I must admit, my body is getting a bit sore and tired though.

Enough about working out, I should tell you more about my various summer activities; the ones that may not happen again until next year. Things like going to the beach, and spending time at cottages. I went camping for the August long weekend. This might not sound revolutionary to you, but it was my first time really camping (ie. no stopping at Subway for dinner, no fridge, and no house nearby). And I loved it! Three days of sun, beach volleyball, swimming in Lake Erie, campfires, and climbing the biggest sand hill I've ever seen (according to the brochure, it is the largest sand pile in Ontario).

Let's see, what other interesting things happened in August. My sister and I threw a surprise party for our parent's 25th anniversary, I enjoyed some stand-up comedy, discovered all-you-can-eat at the local Japanese restaurant and went to the 40th year reunion at Saddlewood. Saddlewood is the overnight camp I attended for nine summers . Overall, it has been a good summer. I will finish the summer with another cottage weekend. And then I will start looking at what gear I need to fix, tune, or acquire before ski season.

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Summer - July 18, 2009

It is officially summer time. I am sitting outside on the balcony with my laptop looking at a perfect cartoon sky - blue with fluffy white clouds. Summer time means that I am in full swing for dryland training. It is a bit disappointing knowing that I have over three months until I can ski again. It seems like a long time and sometimes it is difficult to muster the drive to do dryland training. I often think about skiing and my goals for the season to keep motivated for dryland.

Speaking of working out, I am accustomed to going to the gym alone. Tomorrow I will have an entourage at the gym. Jon Izma is coming to kick-off the filming of the documentary about me. Yesterday I saw signs warning gym patrons about the filming. I smiled when I saw the signs.

The past couple weeks (since I returned from Mt. Hood) have been quite busy. I've been occupied with good stuff, like hanging out with friends and family, and boring stuff, like filling out forms. Yesterday I finally submitted the last of five forms that I needed to give to various sport related organizations. I am going to tell you a bit about my struggle to submit an application yesterday. I know that you are wondering what I am applying for. But I can't tell you. Not yet. Stay tuned to future posts because if my application is accepted, I will explain everything. Back to my story about the application form. I had issues with references. Huge thanks to Kevin and Vicky for being awesome (as references and in general). My third reference was a disaster. The first person I asked never responded so I asked someone else. The letter was finished on Tuesday. I was hoping to pick it up on Wednesday since it just needed to be printed and signed. But it wasn't ready. And the person didn't go to work on Thursday. Friday morning (the day the form was due) I found out that the person was at home sick. So I went to his office to get the letter printed on letterhead. After a couple hours at work I took a a "lunch break". I brought the letter to the sick person's house to be signed. Then I drove to the place accepting the application and back to work again. The good news is that the completed application has been submitted and today I am relaxing.

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Mt. Hood - June 30, 2009

I recently returned from Mount Hood, Oregon. It was a fantastic trip. My team (Canadian Para-Alpine development team) usually trains at Mt. Hood every summer. The last two summers I was unable to attend due to school and work. This summer I was determined to go. And then I got bad news from my coach; my team wasn't going to Mt Hood this year. I decided to train at Mount Hood with an American group called Challenge Aspen. It was a great bunch of coaches and athletes. Although I missed my team, I enjoyed spending time with Challenge Aspen. I met some new people and heard plenty of Canada jokes.

My alarm rang at 5:15am each morning. Although it was very early, it wasn't bad because the sun was already up. I looked out the living room window while eating my bowl of cereal. Most mornings the sky was gloomy and overcast. Regardless of the weather at the condo, I stuffed a few different jackets in my knapsack. By 6:00am we were loading ourselves and our skis into the team vehicles. We often drove through the clouds to arrive at a bright and sunny ski hill. However, on the first day of summer, we couldn't ski due to high winds and poor visibility. The following day, we arrived to see fresh snow on the ground.

When the lifts opened at 7:00am I was wide-awake and ready to ski. It took 20 minutes and two chairlifts to get all the way to the top of the mountain. The first hour on the hill was spent doing skiing drills and re-inforcing good ski habits. Meanwhile, the coaches set up courses and threw salt on the ground to make the snow firm instead of mushy. Each morning began on icy snow conditions and ended with sticky slush. By 8:00 we began running the gates. Time would fly quickly. And before long it would be break time. After a quick snack, we returned to our training. Each day I dreaded the moment (usually around 11:00) when a coach would say "last run". I didn't want to stop.

We sometimes stopped for lunch before returning to our condos overlooking the golf course. Afternoons were spent at the gym, playing basketball, tuning skis, and watching video of our skiing. I also learned how to ride a scooter and play croquet. The afternoons were generally sunny and boasted beautiful views which almost rivalled the picturesque scenes at the mountain.

My trip home was chaos. We left our condos early in the morning and arrived at the Portland airport at 7:00am. My flight wasn't scheduled to leave until 3:00pm, and I was supposed to land in Toronto at 1:30am after a layover in Vancouver. I tried to get on an earlier flight, hoping to get home at a reasonable hour. I managed to get a 9:30am flight out of Portland. Which was great...until that flight was cancelled. So I had to change my itinerary again. This time, I was scheduled to fly through Chicago instead of Vancouver. When I arrived in Chicago, I changed my flight itinerary again to get home sooner. It involved rushing around, talking to a lot of airline agents, and waiting in lines. After getting my new boarding pass, I only had about two minutes before the flight started boarding. I landed in Toronto at 10:00pm, reported that my baggage hadn't arrived, and was home by midnight. Did I mention that my computer died somewhere between the condo and Portland? I had to get a new one.

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