Melanie Schwartz



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2016 Blog

Entries

First Races - December 14, 2016



Photo of Melanie in Pitztal The race season began with races in Aspen, Colorado and Pitztal, Austria. These races were successful learning experiences. They are the start of a busy season full of traveling and racing.

We raced in Aspen at the beginning of December. As always, I enjoyed racing on my home mountain. It is always nice to be able to race on a hill that I know like the back of my hand. It is also nice to be able to stay in my own apartment and not worry about packing or traveling. About a week before the races, there was a lack of snow and there were thoughts of cancelling the races altogether. Luckily the temperatures dropped ust in time to get the hill prepared. It was a great race and we were lucky to have athletes from other countries compete. I finished the race series with three medals.

A few days after the Aspen races, I flew to Europe to compete at Europa Cup races in Pitztal, Austria. In addition to being my first Europa Cup Race, it was also my first time in Pitztal. For years I've heard horrible things about Pitztal and I was not looking forward to those races. When I arrived, I was pleasantly surprised. The T-Bar was not nearly as terrible as I'd heard, and the weather was not nearly as bitterly cold as I'd expected. I started out the GS race with solid skiing but unfortunately I did not finish the race, I had success in the Super-G. I had a huge improvement from the first Super-G race to the second one. I finished the first race in 8th place and 5th in the second one while cutting my time by three seconds. I am pleased with how I skied in that second Super-G race and know that I will continue to improve.

Aspen and Pitztal was great races to kick off the 2017 season. I had some success and I am looking to carry that success into bigger races like World Championships and World Cup Finals.

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Skier Migration - November 10, 2016



Photo of uHaul trailer It is mig ration time. Skiers everywhere are heading to the mountains anticipating a snowy and wonderful season. This particular skier has settled into the apartment that she will call home for the winter. The migration went well. The packing, driving, and unpacking went relatively smoothly. The only thing missing now is the snow.

Unfortunately it has been unseasonably warm and the mountains are currently looking green and brown rather than white. I knew the snow situation was looking bleak, but I didn't realize the extent of the problem until I arrived in the mountains and saw the runs myself. Worse than seeing the utter lack of snow was feeling the warm temperatures in the air which prevent the making of fake snow. The national team is starting a training camp tomorrow. In theory we are supposed to be training on snow. Sadly we will only be training in the gym until we can find some snow. There is nothing to do but wait for mother nature to decide it is time for winter to begin.

I am ready for winter. I have all the equipment I need. I received my orders of things like skis, bindings and gloves. I also have the team uniform I will wear this season. Amongst all the new gear, I was most excited to open a big box from Enabling Technologies. It contained a new pair of outriggers! My last pair lasted four solid years and served me well but were starting to show some wear. I am thrilled to have new outriggers which are very similar to the last pair. Both pairs are purple! The new ones feature better design and technology than the old ones. They should last longer and be easier to use.

I migrated to the mountains and I am excited to start the season. I can't wait for the snow to fall so I can test out my new skis, outriggers, and other gear. Bring on winter!

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Working Together - October 1, 2016



Photo of Melanie on chairlift in Portillo The world of ski racing is relatively small. The world of para ski racing is even smaller. Although it is an individual sport and we compete against one another, we work together and push one another. This principle applies to teammates helping one another as well as teams working together. There is a poster in the Aspen team's office stating that “ski racing is a team sport until the start wand”. It is an apt sentiment.

During our recent trip to Chile, our team spent a week in Portillo where teammates pushed an encouraged each other both on the snow and in the gym. We also spent a week in Valle Nevado. The para alpine teams from Canada, Japan, and Austria were all there at the same time as us.

All four teams worked together to provide the best possible training. Resources like staff, gates, and timing equipment, were pooled and shared to ensure that each athlete received optimal training. Each day, two or three courses were set instead of the common practice of each team setting their own course. Having only two or three courses, instead of four, meant that each course could be longer and have more staff to maintain it. In addition, teams were not competing with one another for the best terrain on the mountain. Some athletes might be training in one course while teammates trained in another course providing each athlete with the type of training most appropriate for them.

The biggest benefit of working with the other countries was the downhill training we received. Ski racers compete in five different events. Of the five events, downhill is the toughest to train because it requires a long run with challenging features as well as a lot of staff. Sometimes we train “open super-G” which is similar to downhill. But we almost never train full-fledged downhill, especially early in the season. None of the para-alpine teams in Valle Nevado had enough resources to provide downhill training on their own. However, when the American, Japanese and Austrian teams pooled resources, we had amazing downhill training. In fact, it was the best downhill training I've ever had.

Working with coaches from other teams provided incredible training opportunities for all the athletes. Team work is a powerful tool in ski racing as well as other aspects of life. For example, competing businesses can work together to promote their industry or product. Your competitors might also be your biggest allies, so work with them rather than working against them.

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Rio Paralympics - September 7, 2016



Photo of the flags on the Olympic walkway The Summer Paralympics are starting in Rio and I encourage everyone to watch and pay attention from September 7th to 18th. There are a variety of athletes competing in 23 different sports over the next couple weeks. Anyone who watched the Olympics will find the Paralympics very interesting.

Worldwide, track & field is one of the most popular sports. Athletes all over the world are able to participate in athletics because very little equipment is required. I personally watched many of the Olympic track events. In Paralympic athletics, not everyone looks the same or competes the same. Every Olympic runner uses their two legs. However, Paralympic runners may use prosthetics, racing wheelchairs, or guide runners. I think that the variety of methods to complete the same task makes the Paralympics more interesting.

Some people might assume that Paralympic athletes are inferior to their Olympic counterparts. This is false. Continuing with the example of track and field, consider the 800m race. The able-bodied men's record is 1:40.91 set by David Lekuta Rudisha from Kenya in 2012. The para men's 800m record is 1:31.12 set by Marcel Hug from Switzerland in 2010. Hug races in a wheelchair proving that wheelchair racers are faster than able-bodied racers in distances of 800m and longer. Given appropriate equipment, disabled athletes can be on par or better than their able-bodied counterparts. Don't assume that the Paralympics will be slower paced than the Olympics.

If you have ever stared at someone with a disability, then the Paralympics are for you. This is your opportunity to see people with a wide range of visible and invisible disabilities. Unlike staring at a disabled person in every day life, your curiosity is welcomed at the Paralympics because it is expected that spectators watch athletes during a sporting event. Instead of wondering what people with disabilities cannot do, the capabilities of each athlete will be highlighted.

The Paralympics will have more medal events in fewer days than the Olympics and it promises to be very exciting and interesting. There will be less television coverage so please look for your favorite sports streaming online at www.Paralympic.org if you cannot find them on TV. I have numerous friends who will be competing and I will be cheering for them. I hope that you will tune in to the Paralympics too!

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Rio Olympics - August 12, 2016



Photo of the cauldron and flame The flame in the cauldron is burning for the Olympic games. It is a time when the world comes together and is unified though the common language of sport. Differences that too often divide people like politics, religion, and language suddenly cease to matter for a brief period every two years. During this time we focus on incredible athletes achieving seemingly impossible feats.

Athletes are not only making personal bests, but they are also breaking Olympic Records and World Records. Michael Phelps is making history as the most decorated Olympic Athlete of all time. Teenagers like Simone Biles, Katie Ledecky, and Penny Oleksiak are giving legendary performances and earning well-deserved medals. The Fijian rugby sevens men beat the odds to win Fiji's first ever Olympic medal. There have already been too many incredible moments to list and I'm sure there will be many more in the second half of the games.

My own games experience has changed how I watch the Olympics. While many spectators focus on the medallists, I support all of the athletes. Most athletes are their own toughest critics. There is no need for the media or the public to be tough on athletes that do not meet expectations. These athletes are already very tough on themselves. My heart breaks for the athletes who do not perform to their potential at the Olympics. My heart also breaks for the athletes whose chance to compete at the games was stolen by injury and the athletes who deserved a spot at Rio, but lost that opportunity due to a mistake at team trials.

I've been asked whether I cheer for the Canadians or the Americans. I cheer for both countries. I cheer for everyone. I cheer for the underdogs, the hard workers, and the athletes breaking records. Most importantly, I cheer for my friends. I cheer for the athletes training next to me at the Olympic Training Center. These are the people with whom I eat meals, play games, and hang out regularly. I've seen their journeys' on a candid, personal level and I wish them the best in Rio and in all other endeavors.

The Olympics are an exciting time that brings the world together. I support all the athletes and hope that every athlete finishes their events knowing that – win or lose – they gave it their all and enjoyed the journey. I can't wait to see what happens during the remainder of the Olympics as well as the Paralympics in September.

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Back To Basics - July 9, 2016



Photo of me and my neice I had another great training camp at Mount Hood, Oregon. It was my fifth time going there for summer skiing. Mount Hood is one of my favorite places to train.

One of the reasons I love training in Mount Hood is that we experience winter and skiing in the mornings, and summer activities in the afternoons. I went on bike rides nearly every day. We had a small group at this year's Hood training camp. Unfortunately we lost two athletes to injury before we hit the snow which made the camp even smaller than expected. Hopefully both will recover quickly. Due to the small size of the group, I feel like we also had some great team bonding opportunities. We went to the Salmon river and Trillium Lake where a couple of my teammates brought blow-up-kayaks which were great for paddling around. We also went bowling, and played Wallyball which is a game best described as volleyball's crazy cousin. We played a dice game called Farkle, had some meals together, and spent time just hanging out.

I am happy with how things went on the snow. We went back to basics and did lots of drills. The focus on fundamentals was exactly what I needed. I was able to try some new things and focus on making solid turns. I made a minor change to my technique that I hope will translate into courses as the season progresses. Changing technique is difficult. For now, it requires all my concentration to get this one little thing correct, and I'm not getting it perfect every turn yet. I must make thousands of turns with focused concentration before this technique will be ingrained in my muscle memory and feel like a natural part of my skiing.

The only negative aspect of my time on snow, was that there just wasn't enough of it. We were unable to ski our first two days in Oregon because the chairlifts were not spinning due to bad weather. It is unfortunate that the weather days were right at the beginning of our trip and not in the middle when we were ready for a day off. I feel like I accomplished a lot despite losing two days of training. At least those two days were used for fun team bonding activities.

Despite injuries and weather, our little group of athletes and coaches persevered. Our ten day trip at Mount Hood featured the best of both summer and winter with skiing fundamentals and drills, and team bonding.

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Off The Grid - June 17, 2016



Photo of the Yampa canyon walll We live in a world powered by technology where we are dependent on screens of various sizes to deliver our entertainment, communicate with others, and learn new things. It can be a wonderful place, but sometimes it is important to let go of technology and be immersed in nature. I went off the grid for a five day float down the Yampa river. It was great to ignore the rest of the world and simply enjoy the people and the environment around me.

My trip began at the Deerlodge Park Campground where I was reunited with some old friends and met some new people. The next morning our interesting group and all of our gear was loaded onto four rafts and we began our float.

Each day we floated through combinations of rapids, wave trains and calm water while surrounded by majestic canyon walls. Each afternoon we set up camp at a unique and incredible camping site. We ate gourmet dinners, enjoyed lawn games, and campfires. There was time for hiking, fishing, and relaxing.

On the fourth day, the Yampa River met up with the Green River which was colder and had a distinctly green color. When we reached the end of our journey on the fifth day, I was both sad to see the trip end and excited for a shower and bed.

I never once wished for a connection to the outside world while on the river. I was happy to spend my time with the people around me and enjoy the rare opportunity to experience the only major free flowing river in the Colorado River Basin. Once I was reunited with the outside world and technology, I learned about tragic events that had happened while I was off the grid and I missed the peace I'd felt on the trip. While I could not imagine being disconnected in the long term, going off the grid temporarily is an important part of my summer.

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Training for Next Season Begins - May 24, 2016



Photo of me and my neice My summer routine begins this week. I am ready to push myself in the gym after some restful time off and a motivating team camp.

After the final race of the season, I had a few weeks to enjoy skiing on my own schedule. I skied whenever and wherever I wanted. I had to opportunity to play in a variety of snow conditions, including a couple powder days! It was nice to be able to ski without any training, racing, or pressure. In addition to skiing, I spent some valuable time with my family and friends. It was exciting to meet my baby niece for the first time. It was incredible to see how much she grew and developed in the weeks I was with her. I watched her learn new things like how to sit up, grab toys, and eat from a spoon. After an enjoyable break, it was bittersweet to return to training.

As usual, the American team kicked off the new season with a dryland camp at the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center. Unlike previous years, the camp focused solely on gym workouts. We tried some workouts that are different from my regular routine which was exciting. Working hard alongside my teammates gave me motivation to continue pushing myself throughout the summer.

Now I am in my first week of regular summer training. I am grateful to be working with the same trainer that I had last summer because we have a good working relationship and we can jump into training right off the bat. I already have a program set up that suits me perfectly and has appropriate exercises.

After the transition from winter to summer, I am ready to get back to work. In my time off I enjoyed skiing on my own terms, visited family and friends, and eased back into gym workouts. I attended a motivating team camp and now I am energized and ready to put full effort into my regular summer routine.

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Dear Ski Boot - April 28, 2016



Photo of me enjoying the view from the top of Snowmass Dear Ski Boot,

Although I enjoy your company, I think it is time for us to take a little break from one another. We've spent 146 wonderful days together this season. I care about you a lot because you allow me to fly down mountains with exquisite control of my ski. You fit my foot perfectly. I feel lucky that you are usually comfortable. More comfy than most people's race boots, at least. You sometimes let my toes get cold. I will not hold you accountable for my occasionally frigid foot because the fault lies more with mother nature than you.

Our recent problems started when you started to become painful. We had the same problem at the end of last season but it was so long ago that I'd forgotten. I think the pain is caused by spending too much time together. When we you spend countless days squishing my toes, they eventually get annoyed and swell up. The swelling intensifies the toe squishing and a vicious cycle ensues. As a result, I feel like we need a temporary separation.

Please do not take this separation personally. It's not you, it's my toes. They just need some time to go back to normal. I'm sure that we will be reunited soon (probably late June). Until then, we should both take advantage of our separation.

Sincerely,
Melanie

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Hungry For More - March 31, 2016



Photo of me skiing Slalom The season is finished. There will not be any more races or training. As I look back on the 2015/16 season, I am content with my results and would label it a success. Despite having a good season, I am still hungry for more. I know what I need to improve in my skiing and I am eager to solidify new skills in pre-season training camps and demonstrate improved skiing next season.

This year I competed in plenty of races. Some were successful, and others were not. Overall, I am pleased with my performance in at least one race of each discipline. In particular, I had a solid run of World Cup races. I did not ski to my potential in the first World Cup races of the season in Slovenia and Italy. However, I pulled it together for the remaining World Cup races and enjoyed success in Switzerland, France, and at home in Aspen. I managed to place 4th in 5 consecutive races. I also placed third in the Downhill World Cup overall and, along with my teammates, won the women's Nation's Cup. Taking these results into consideration, it would be tough to deny that I had a successful season.

Although the results are nice, the quality of my skiing is actually more important. I have been working on a new strategy this season and I think that it is starting to work. I am focusing on different things in my skiing and my new focus is starting to show in how fast I ski. It is still a work in progress and cannot perform my new skill consistently. I look forward to working on new skills and having time to perfect them. It takes time and effort to change one's skiing and I am committed to improving my skiing. I will have plenty of days on snow before my next race to cement new skills and get faster.

Having completed a successful season, I am excited to train and improve so that next season is even better.

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World Cup Finals - March 6, 2016



Photo of Marie, Anna and myself on Downhill Overall podium World Cup Finals recently ended, signaling the completion of the 2016 World Cup season. We had two busy weeks of racing in Aspen. While I am satisfied with my performance in some of my races, I know that I made mistakes and I am constantly striving to be faster.

World Cup Finals included two Giant Slalom and one Slalom race on Aspen Mountain followed by two Downhill and two Super-G races on Buttermilk Mountain. It was the first time I've been able to sleep in my own bed during an international competition. I enjoyed sharing my home town and my home mountains with friends and competitors from around the world. I think that everyone enjoyed the races in Aspen, especially since we were blessed with warm, sunny weather.

I surprised myself with a solid performance in the first race of the series. I placed 4th in Giant Slalom. Unfortunately, I was unable to keep the momentum going for the next two technical races on Aspen mountain and slid to 8th place.

My focus for the season was Downhill. In particular, I was hoping to do well at the Downhill races on home turf at Buttermilk. I actually did better at January's Downhill races in France than I did on familiar snow. However, my results in the Buttermilk Downhill races were good enough to secure a third place result for the World Cup Downhill Overall. The Overalls are the cumulation of the World Cup points earned at all the World Cup races during the season. It was my very first World Cup Overall medal. I did not even realize that I was in the running for an overall medal until my competitors approached me after the last Downhill and mentioned that they thought I was third in the Downhill Overall.

After the first Super-G race, I realized that I had a shot at another third place medal in the Super-G Overall. Unfortunately I missed that opportunity because I did not finish the final Super-G race. It was disappointing to finish the World Cup season with a DNF (Did Not Finish) because I felt prepared and confident going into that final race. Knowing that I'd lost my chance to win another Overall medal deepened the disappointment.

There are five women and two guides on the American team. Collectively, we had a great season. Our women's team outperformed the women from all the other countries. We earned the women's Nations Cup. I really enjoyed being part of the team effort that earned the Nation's Cup. Although skiing is an an individual sport, we succeeded as a team.

The two weeks that spanned World Cup Finals felt like a roller-coaster with both success beyond my expectations and disappointment. After looking forward to this race series for an entire year, it is difficult to believe that it is over. I was glad to introduce my hometown and the para-alpine ski circuit to each other. Everything added up to an incredible experience for myself and everyone involved.

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Trust the Process - February 2, 2016



Photo of me racing Slalom in St. Moritz, Switzerland I learned an important lesson during my recent three week trip to Europe. I had the opportunity to compete in 10 World Cup races in four different countries. It was a whirlwind trip with nine different hotels. I struggled a bit at the beginning of the trip, but things started coming together for the later races.

A couple days before leaving on my European adventure, a coach gave me a new focus in training to improve my technique. The new focus was not anything earth-shattering. It was simply a new way to think about things. In two short days I did not master the new focus, but worked towards figuring it out.

During my first races in Slovenia, my coach asked me us the new focus. I was skeptical about trying the new focus in a race because I had not yet mastered it in training. Furthermore, I was unsure about applying it to a different discipline than the two days of training.

I tried despite my skepticism and I failed. Over the next couple days, I continued trying and failing. I got discouraged. I asked the coach if I should switch to a different focus. He insisted that I should not give up claiming that I could master the new technique.

By the fourth race, which was in Italy, it was starting to come together. Although I did not ski fast, I was skiing with better technique. For the fifth and sixth races, which were held in Switzerland, I finally managed to apply the new focus in a way that helped me ski both better and faster. In particular, I was mastering the new focus in my free-skiing. After some better skiing at the Swiss races, I went to France for successful speed races.

It is still a work in progress and I have plenty of room for improvement. It was an important lesson. I learned that I need to trust my coach, trust myself, and never give up.

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Setting Goals - January 3, 2016



Photo of me hiking the bowl It is a brand new year and many people make new years resolutions at this time. Although I have never been the type of person to make New Year's resolutions, I set goals for myself. Goals are resolutions are quite similar, and I don't need to wait for January 1st to set a goal.

I am not an expert at goal setting, in fact I reject most of the experts' recommendations. I have been told numerous times that I should write my goals down and ensure that they are SMART (Specific, Meaningful, Action Oriented, Realistic and Time Bound). I am not a fan of formal goal setting in this manner because it feels forced and it seems like homework. My goals are set naturally when the need arises. I want to be excited about setting and achieving goals, rather than having meaningless goals that I wrote down because someone told me I should. I set both big and small goals. Simple goals might include the things I want to achieve in a day, or a week. Bigger goals take longer to achieve and I have many goals that I have not met, at least not yet.

Hiking the Highlands Bowl is a good example of my goal setting process. The hike starts at the top of the highest chairlift at Aspen Highlands. It is a boot packed path to the highest point on the mountain. Once reaching the top, there is a plethora of challenging and fun terrain to ski down. Since the bowl is accessed by hiking, a limited number of people ski there ensuring good conditions. The hike can be shortened by riding a cat for the first section. I've always opted into the cat ride which still leaves a good distance of hiking with my ski strapped to my back. The first time I hiked the bowl I was not paying attention to time and it took me 75 minutes. My second hike was completed in 65 minutes. After the second hike, I decided that I wanted to make the trek in under an hour. A goal had been set. The third time I hiked the bowl I tried to make it under and hour, but I failed. Despite my failure, I did not waiver in my commitment to achieving my goal.

Yesterday was my fourth bowl hike. I told my hiking companions that I wanted to get to the top in under an hour and they were very supportive. Once I had my gear strapped to my back I started the clock and took my first step. I pushed at a slow and steady pace. By the 10 minute mark my arms were already starting to feel sore from crutching up a mountain. It probably did not help that I was battling a cold which drained my energy. At the 25 minute mark I asked if we had reached the halfway point. My friend said that we were probably a third of the way. He was lying. In hindsight, we were probably past halfway. At the 40 minute mark the top was getting close and I knew that I could not take any breaks until I reached it. I took the final step of my hike and looked at my watch which showed 44 minutes and 29 seconds. Almost two years after setting my goal of hiking in under an hour, I succeeded with flying colors.

Setting goals is part of life. Everyone has goals, even if those goals are not written down, spoken aloud, or SMART. Congratulate yourself on the goals you reach, and strive to achieve the ones that have not yet been fulfilled.

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