Nineteen years ago I put on skis for the first time whilst on holiday with my parents, and I absolutely loved it; a typical beginning to most ski racers’ careers. I showed significant potential by progressing very quickly through the ESF system. By the age of 6 I had competed in my first GS race and at 7 I competed in the Etoile D’Or as the youngest competitor.
Since the age of 3, I had wanted to be in the Club des Sports de Courchevel, purely because I was a big fan of their jackets! In December 2003, I joined the Club and committed to a season with them, living in the Alps and going to French school for a term. I loved it so much that, come the end of the season, I insisted on doing the exact same thing the following year!
I spent 8 years training with the Club and they were the best (and most crazy) years of my childhood! Between the ages of 10 and 14 (four ski seasons) I had to find a way to balance both my skiing commitments and the demands of senior school life. The solution was to ski 3.5 weeks at Christmas, 2 weeks in February and 3.5 weeks at Easter. In addition, commuting every weekend between those periods to the Alps in order to compete in, or train for, essential qualifying races. You would often find me sitting on a British Airways A319 or Easy Jet A320 bound for London doing my homework or revising for a test!
In my last year before FIS, I was the Leader of the Regional Rankings after the first round of Regional Championships; having placed 5th in SG, 3rd in GS and 1st in SL (sadly I injured myself during the second round so was unable to maintain my lead). I also won a run of the French National Championships in Slalom; something that had not been done by a Brit before!, and posted some respectable times in GS (coming 3rd on a run…fell over 2nd run, placing 22nd overall) and SG (coming 10th) at national level. By the end of the season, I was one of the top ranked skiers in France my age, up there with the likes of Clara Direz, Estelle Alphand and Laura Gauche, all who have now made appearances on the World Cup scene. I actually had the best FFS points (equivalent to FIS points) for the 1995 YoB girls in the French national rankings. It was an incredible year and I was full of hope for FIS racing. I truly believed I could make it to the top, as did my two coaches.
Next up was FIS racing. I’m not going to go into great detail about last 5 years. But to summarise, by August 2014, I had achieved the following over my A-level study period:
- I competed in the inaugural official Winter Youth Olympic Games (Innsbruck 2012) as the only female British alpine skier.
- I had been selected for the European Winter Youth Olympic Festival in Romania (2013) and World Junior Championships (2014 & 2015).
- I came 1st and 3rd in Slalom and Super G at the World Citizen Championships 2014.
- I won a few English and British National Championship medals.
- I had my fair share of podiums at FIS, CIT and NJR level in Slalom, GS and SG.
- I competed in a few Europa Cups during 2014 and 2015.
- I committed to both a full time education and 3 full time ski seasons whilst studying my A-levels, missing vast amounts of school. I had to pretty much teach myself most of the A-level syllabus in Geography, PE, French and RS. In fact, I did actually teach myself the full A2 Geography syllabus (which ends up being 3 full ring binders of notes!) and I managed to achieve AAAA at AS and A*A*A at A2.
Upon successfully completing my A-levels and receiving the results in August 2014, I was finally ready to be a true Full Time athlete. The 2015 season was extremely tough for me because whilst I did progress in both Slalom and GS, throughout the whole season I didn’t achieve a single result to represent the improvements. I kept making huge mistakes, crashing, hiking or skiing safe just to try and make it down! I also had a couple of niggly injuries and one lovely winter cold (my coach made me eat raw garlic…yummy!). My season finished on 17th March 2015 when I was diagnosed with a meniscal contusion after a turn went slightly wrong in training…!
Whilst undergoing rehabilitation back home in the UK, I drove my parents to and from dinner one evening. My father remarked how smooth my driving was and how I’d be good at flying (having had a couple of flying lessons himself back in the day). So I gave it a go…and…well…it was quite fun! Five months later…after sitting 9 theoretical knowledge exams, flying solo cross country for 3 hours with two landings, clocking up 45 hours dual & 10 hours solo flying, and successfully passing a 2h30 Skills Test with 3 diversions…I attained my EASA Private Pilot’s Licence with a Single Engine Piston (land) Rating!
‘What has this got to do with skiing?’ you may ask yourselves. Well…I was supposed to get back on the old planks of wood at the end of June. However, five days before I was due to fly out, I realised I really didn’t want to. Instead, I wanted to stay at home and continue learning to fly! I phoned my coach to tell him I didn’t want to go because I was not ready, due to my knee (as it was still giving me a bit of grief) and this conversation turned into me actually confessing I didn’t want to ski race anymore!
I had come to the conclusion the previous day, after a few weeks of exploring how I felt about ski racing. Fundamentally, I no longer enjoy it as I once did. Ski racing had become too result-focused for me. To be fast, you have to cut the strings of the theoretical parachute holding you back, as this restricts your speed (as it increases drag), your ability to relax and have fun. FIS racing has been a rocky road for me, with a lot of up and downs squished into five years. Despite my struggles, I kept persevering and trying really hard to achieve my goals in my ski racing career, even when I considered throwing in the towel on numerous occasions.
Undergoing PPL training also unveiled my hidden passion for flying and the aviation world. Over the summer, I fell in love with flying. When I flew solo for the first time, it was the happiest moment of my life. No trophies, no selections, no awards have ever made me as happy as I was on that day. It was after that flight I became certain I knew what I wanted to do with my life. When I am in the cockpit at the controls of an aircraft, I feel totally at ease and I feel it is where I am meant to be. Prior to flying, I was unsure of what to do with my life. University didn’t feel quite right, and despite all the time and finances I had invested in my ski racing career, it had not felt entirely right either. Now, I cannot imagine myself doing anything else except fly aircraft as a profession!
So ladies and gentlemen, it is on this note I officially announce my retirement from ski racing, a sport to which I have committed 12 years of my life. I have tried to be the best ski racer I could be. Reflecting back on those years, as I have done, I would not change them for anything. The experiences ski racing has bought me have made me into the person I am today: confident, hard working, motivated and enthusiastic. I’m ready to start the next chapter in my life and chase new dreams up in the sky!
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