Melanie Schwartz

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2017 Blog


End Of Summer - August 30, 2017

Collage of photos of me doing a backyard workout As the summer fades into fall, a new school year begins, the colors start to change, and I am in the last phase of workouts before hitting the snow for the 2018 season. The purpose of my workouts continues to change as the year progresses. I continue to include variation in my workouts to keep things interesting. I want to enjoy the last weeks of summer before ski season craziness begins.

My summer workouts started with a focus on general fitness, then switched to strength. Now the focus of my workouts is shifting to power and explosiveness which means moving weight quickly. The intensity increases and the number of reps in each set decreases a little bit with each workout phase.

It is common to get sick of gym workouts by the end of the summer and wish to get back on snow. To combat the problem of gym burn-out, I am doing as many workouts as possible outside the gym. This includes bike rides, and backyard workouts. I have been cycling all summer long. It is nice to mix it up with running outdoors, and workouts using regular backyard items. For example, I throw logs in the air, run through the yard with a full wheelbarrow, and do box jumps on a step stool.

In addition to my regular workouts, I try to get outdoors and do fun things before ski season. Once the snow falls, I won’t be able to do the same outdoor activities. During the ski season I travel a lot and often don’t have time to do anything other than skiing. Recently I have had opportunities to do some fun summer activities like whitewater rafting, horseback riding, archery, shooting, swimming outside and much more.

As ski season looms, I am starting the last phase of intense workouts before the snow falls. I prevent boredom and burn-out by doing workouts outdoors, and enjoying summer activities.

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Testing Camp - July 21, 2017

Photo of me doing squat jumps on force plates The National team just finished up the third dryland camp of the summer. The camp was held at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. We repeated a number of the tests we performed at our first dryland camp a few months ago. We also got a preview of upcoming workouts and had some free time for fun activities with teammates.

The fitness tests of the camp were successful. The first test involved spinning at pre-defined intensities on a stationary bike until my blood lactate reached a specific level. Compared to when I last performed this test at the start of the season, I’ve made big improvements in my fitness levels. I was able to reach similar levels of wattage and lactate with much less effort as measured by heart rate. I also repeated a test with force plates and six sensors placed my leg and back. The test measures strength and identifies any issues in body alignment. I have not yet seen the results of the force plates test.

Now that we are well into our off-season training, it is time to kick up the intensity level. For the next phase of workouts we will be doing more explosive movements. In our strength workouts we will do more sets of fewer reps. As always, the goal is to keep increasing the amount of weight. We also previewed some of our cardio workouts. They were pretty tough, especially in the heat of the day. It was nice to do those workouts with my teammates since I normally do everything on my own. Working out as a team makes everyone push themselves to the limit.

The camp schedule allowed us quite a bit of free time. My teammates and I used the spare time to do some fun things. We went to a rink where I tried both rollerskates and rollerblades. It was my very first time on rollerskates! I had a blast despite ending up with bruises from all my falls. We also took advantage of the outdoor pool for swimming and sun bathing. Throughout the camp we ate our meals together. Overall, I feel like we came together as a cohesive team unit.

The latest dryland camp was great. The most important part was repeating testing from May to see improvements. It is great to see that all my hard work at the gym day after day is paying off. The camp was also an opportunity to work hard and prepare for the next phase of workouts. The workouts were balanced with fun team bonding. Now it is time to go home and work hard so I can see further improvements at the next dryland camp.

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California Take Two - June 23, 2017

Photo of the whole team on the tennis court in Chula Vista with the US Paralypmpics sign in the background I’ve just completed a two week training camp in California. We spent the first part of the trip skiing in Mammoth and the second part doing dryland training in San Diego. Both halves of the camp offered great training opportunities.

The Mammoth camp was a continuation of last month’s Mammoth trip. We were able to take everything we worked on last camp and put it into a course. We trained on courses that were straight forward, short, and simple. Although we do not race on courses like that, it was a perfect stepping stone. Simple courses provide a middle step in between free-skiing and skiing a real course. It was interesting to see the changes in the mountain that had occurred in our absence. Although a fair bit of snow had melted, there was still plenty left.

After skiing for seven days in a row at Mammoth, we embarked on a road trip through California. It took most of the day to get to the Elite Athlete Training Center in Chula Vista which is just outside San Diego. It was a brutally hot day and I was a little worried about having to work out near the Mexican border during a summer heat wave.

Despite the heat, the Chula Vista dryland camp was beneficial. We had both morning and afternoon workouts each day. Most of them were outside. Drinking plenty of water was crucial. The coaches weaved some important lessons into the camp. They emphasized going above and beyond the requirements of our workouts to push our own limits. We also worked with our teammates to plan and execute a workout which was a lesson in teamwork and taking initiative to create good workout. Our coaches usually provide our workouts and we simply need to follow orders. But it is important for every athlete to be able to create and execute their own workout.

My two weeks in California included both summer and winter activities. My teammates and myself worked very hard and became better athletes and better skiers. It was a busy trip and now I am ready for some relaxing time with my family.

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Back on Snow - May 31, 2017

Photo of me at the top of Mammoth I just finished the first on-snow camp of the 2018 season. After my first month of being 100% back into my dryland routine, it was a welcome change to hit the snow once again.

Surprisingly it did not take me long to fall into my summer routine. The routine (so far) includes going to the gym for strength training three times a week and doing the remainder of my workouts on my bike. I really enjoy exploring the world around me via bike. Biking allows me to cover a lot more distance and area than walking or hiking. Cycling also gives me access to paths and areas that I would not know existed if I was limited to roads like a car. I’ve explored cemeteries, bridges, rivers, and passed farms, golf courses, and construction. I’ve ridden under blue skies, rain, and wind. I’ve challenged myself to see how far and fast I can go. Mostly, I’ve enjoyed the fresh air and the views. As much as I love the summer, I missed being on skis.

Luckily, we had a chance to get on snow at Mammoth for the last week of May. Mammoth is holding onto record amounts of January snowfall. It is typical summer skiing which means that the snow freezes overnight and we start the morning with a solid icy surface which is perfect for training. As the morning progresses, the snow melts and it perfect corn conditions by 10am. The corn conditions would have been great for my mid-fat ski, but weren’t ideal for carving race skis. So we called it quits by 11am each day. Since we started early in the morning, I was already tired by late morning. It felt a little odd that we were done for the day before much of the general public put on their ski boots.

We spent the entire Mammoth camp working on our skiing. We did not run any courses. It was a great opportunity to go back to basics. Most years the national team does not have this type of training camp. I’m glad we had the opportunity to solidify the fundamentals. Since it very early in the 2018 season, it is the perfect time to go back to basics before we start full-blown training courses. Going through an annual cycle that starts with basics and ends in international races allows athletes to improve. I look forward to the next camp where we will build on the basics and move into drill courses.

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April Resting Brings May Testing - April 30, 2017

Photo of me at Aspen mountain April is the only time of year when I take a break from being an athlete. Every year we finish the season with tech nationals at the end of March. When April rolls around, there is no need to train on the snow or in the gym. The freedom of not training in April allows me to do other things until May when I start preparing for the next season.

The highlights of April included skiing, relaxing, and spending time with family. April is a great time to remind myself why I love skiing. During the race season, it is easy to get wrapped up in the stress of racing and forget that skiing is a fun sport! April is when I have fun on the mountain without any pressure. I cruised around Ajax mountain alone and with friends, jumping off little knolls and lips, winding my way through slush bumps, and carving sweet turns on the groomed runs. Each time I took the same ski to the same mountain I found a new adventure and never got bored. I also had plenty of time to relax in April. Most importantly, I slept in! After a whole season of skiing first thing in the morning, it was nice to enjoy lazy mornings before heading to the mountain.

By mid-April, the mountains were closing and I could no longer ski at home in Aspen. I took the opportunity to visit my family. I spent ten days with my family and loved every minute. It had been eight months since I’d seen them. I spent my days caring for my 16 month old niece while her parents were at work. It was amazing to see how much she had grown and learned in the time I’d been away. We have a special bond and it was tough to leave her as my visit came to an end.

Now that April is done, it is time to start the next season. After a month off, I am ready and eager to get into a summer routine and start working towards a great season. The new season begins with a testing camp where staff will evaluate the health and fitness of the athletes with the assistance of some high tech equipment. We will also have the opportunity to spend time in the gym with staff helping us get ready for a summer full of workouts.

I thoroughly enjoyed a break in April which gave me the opportunity to ski for fun and visit family. I feel re-energized and ready for the new season to begin. I am looking forward to getting into my summer routine.

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World Cup Finals in PyeongChang - March 19, 2017

Photo of me at bottom of downhill track The World Cup Season wrapped up yesterday with the last race of World Cup Finals. For myself, my teammates, and most of our competitors, it was our first opportunity to see the venue for next year's Paralympics.

It was my first trip to Asia and I really enjoyed exploring a new country and a different culture. From my experience I found that the Koreans were extremely friendly and polite and went out of their way to be helpful. They like high tech, order, and efficiency.

More important than experiencing Korea as a country was the opportunity to see the Paralympic venue. We raced at the JeongSeon resort. It was built specifically for the games and will be torn down when the games are over. In many ways, it is the ideal mountain and was designed as such. The race run offers a variety of steeper and flatter terrain as well as some interesting terrain features like jumps and fall-aways. There is a training run next to the race run and appropriate lifts to get everyone to the correct spots on the hill. There is a chairlift for spectators, a gondola which is the main lift for athletes, and a chairlift which can be used when there is no need to go all the way to the top of the mountain such as a slalom race.

The abled-bodied racers only use the JeongSeon venue for the speed events (Downhill, Super-G, and Super-Combined). They use the YongPyong resort for the technical events (Slalom and Giant Slalom). Yong Pyong is closer to the athlete village and the other Olympic venues. Similarly, able-bodied border cross will take place at YongPyong while the Paralympic snowboard events will take place at JeongSeon.

I am thrilled that I had the opportunity to race on the JeongSeon downhill track this year. It will be a huge advantage for the Paralympics to have experience on that track. I really enjoyed the downhill because it is challenging with a variety of terrain feature without being dangerous. Unfortunately we only had two chances to run the downhill. Instead of getting the typical two training runs, we only had one training run due to gondola difficulties which cost us a day on the mountain. The original schedule included two downhill races, but was changed to accommodate a free ski day so everyone could get familiar with the hill. Although it would have been nice to get more than two runs on the downhill track, I understand the circumstances and that it was the same two runs for everyone.

It was a wonderful opportunity to spend time at the Paralympic venue in preparation for next year's games. It is going to be a great venue for the Paralympic alpine events.

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Kimberley Downhill - February 24, 2017

The first six weeks of 2017 were a busy time of traveling and racing for me. My most recent race was the Canadian and American speed nationals held in Kimberley, British Columbia. After struggling to ski well at World Championships, I received a confidence boost racing Downhill in Kimberley. I have spent plenty of time training and racing in Kimberley and I know the hill well which is an advantage. I love skiing there and I was ready to race before I even arrived.

Downhill is one of my favourite events because there are training runs before the actual race. This means that I am able to memorize every inch of the course and I know how it will feel before the race. Downhill is also a mental game because I “ski” the course in my mind hundreds of times until I know it like the back of my hand. There is also a fear factor in downhill due to the high speeds. I think I do well in downhill because I am not as scared as my competitors. I don't feel fear when I know where I am going, I have time to think, and I am on a stable speed ski. Athletes normally have the opportunity to complete two training runs before the race. In Kimberley we had the luxury of four training runs as well as two race runs. One race was Canadian Championships, and the other was US Nationals.

Over the six runs of downhill, it wasn't all good. I made mistakes and had issues. I watched video, talked to my coaches, and adjusted my line accordingly. On race day I finally put all the pieces together for some solid racing. Of course there is still room for improvement – as always – but I skied the way I planned and accomplished my goals.

Unfortunately, the two super G races that were scheduled had to be canceled due to the snow and weather conditions. I would have loved the chance to race on one of my favorite hills two more times but I understand that the conditions were unsafe. It is especially unfortunate because we have not had many Super G races this season. The tally of canceled Super G races is now at 6 which outweighs the four Super G races I've finished this season.

My success in Kimberley is important because it gives me the confidence I need as I prepare for the upcoming races. I will leave for World Cup Finals in South Korea in a week.

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It Takes A Village - January 22, 2017

Photo of team USA at the opening ceremony for World Championships This afternoon's opening ceremony will mark that beginning of the 2017 World Championships in Tarvisio, Italy. The World Championships occurs once every two years so it is a time when the sport of para-alpine skiing comes together for a common goal. Athletes from all over the world will represent 30 different countries and race all five disciplines. It is also a time when each the teams from each country come together .

Team USA has taken over an entire hotel in the quiet town of Malborghetto, Italy. It is a small hotel with about 20 rooms and it feels like home. We've stayed here for races in previous years. The difference is that this time we have commandeered every corner of the hotel. In addition to filling the rooms, and taking control of the dining area, we have set up our traveling tuning room and traveling gym. We are also prone to take over the bar area to watch ski racing on TV. It was great to watch an Italian win the Hahnenkamm (the biggest ski race of the year, which is held in Kitzbuel, Austria) while in Italy!

Team USA is not yet complete because only the downhill crew is here. The tech team is currently training in nearby Kranjska Gora, Slovenia and will join us in a few days. In addition to athletes, a large staff is here. Once everyone arrives, we will have six coaches, three ski technicians, two medical staff and a nutritionist. The staff will support all 17 athletes. They will take care of everything from designing our workouts, to making sure our skis are race ready, to dealing with any injuries that arise. Often the athletes get credit for their race results and the staff working behind the scenes do not get any credit for their hard work.

In addition to the staff within the Team USA hotel, we have a large support system in the outside world. The IPC (International Paralympic Committee) organizes our sport, ensures that races happen and rules are followed. The local community and organizing committee here in Tarvisio are doing a great job to make sure that this race is a success. There are sponsors back home. The CAS Group has been an amazing support for me personally. Adaptive Spirit is a huge support to the entire team every year.

I would like to thank all the people that make para-alpine skiing a reality on the international, American and personal levels. I can't wait to check out the downhill track tomorrow morning. Let the 2017 World Championships begin!

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Giant Slalom Curse - January 6, 2017

Photo of me skiing GS in St. Moritz, Switzerland I compete in all five alpine disciplines (Slalom, Giant Slalom, Super-G, Super-Combined, and Downhill). This season I am struggling with one of the five events; Giant Slalom. I am having trouble finishing GS (Giant Slalom) races this season.

Training indicates that my skiing is progressing in all the events, including GS. However, it is tough to prove that I am getting faster because I lack GS results. I've finished all my races in all the other disciplines this season. I've managed to miss out on one GS race at each of the five mountains we've raced. I did not finish GS races at Aspen, Pitztal Austria, Kuhtai Austria, and St. Moritz, Switzerland. The GS race in Winter Park, Colorado was canceled due to excess snow. Although it is unfortunate when races are cancelled, it was an amazing day of powder skiing!

I've managed to finish a few GS races so it is a light curse, not a complete one. I finished GS races in Aspen, Kuhtai, and St.Moritz. I even went to extreme measures when I nearly fell in a World Cup GS run and somehow managed to recover and finish the race.

My current GS curse is a stark contrast to last season when I finished every single race except one. And the one race I did not finish was not GS, is was Super-G. There is a saying that “to finish first, you must first finish”. While there is logic in that phrase, I also know that I need to make changes to get my skiing to the next level. I like to think that the GS curse is simply the growing pains of improving my skiing. There is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I am taking risks and pushing my limits which are required to start skiing faster and find the end of the rainbow.

I hope that I will emerge from this GS curse as a better skier. In the meantime, when I get frustrated about lacking GS results, I remind myself to look at the bigger picture and know that it is better to lose a race by pushing the limit than to finish a race slowly. I attempt to give my best effort in everything I do even if it means risking failure. I will continue improving my skiing with or without a GS curse.

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