Mind games

  Posted by sneakerfreaker on Thursday 12th April, 2012 @ 13:11 GMT News Category: World Events | Visited 1031 times
I'd entered the Blue Peter Swimathon at about the age of 8, and apart from the sack race at school, it was the only competition I've ever entered. So clutching onto the gates at the top of the boardercross track at the British Championships in Laax, I've never felt anything like it.

Words - Kaz Willmer
They mentally lost me at the rider's meeting the night before. As soon as they said the words “we've made the course bigger and more challenging this year”, all other words went into one monotonous flatline tone. All the important race information was not forgotten – it wasn't even taken in.

The whole horizon was taken up with snow-capped mountains, glistening under the crystal bluebird skies, a view which could paint a smile on anyone's face. But that wasn't what I was seeing. All I could see was this massive wu-tang feature in front of me, part-blocking the view of the first burn. I had a big lump in my throat and a metal gate under each of my hands, while my body temperature was changing from hot to cold in seconds. The guys around me were all chatting happily, while my eyes focused on the blue paint line sprayed across the jump in front of me.

“136. You can go.”

The words pierced my brain, and then all my years of solid riding crumbled before me. I reverted to a shaky rider, unable to hold my stance, straight-air a kicker or straight-line rollers. In fact I don't think I've ever ridden so badly in my life, and I stacked hard. I gave up half way along the track and just sat in the snow, head in hands. My 2-day-old bruised ribs were screaming at me. But that's no excuse. It was my head stopping me going anywhere.

Everyone else seemed in a happy place – whereas I just wanted to be sick. Two girls dropped out, and one was taken off on the back of a skidoo clutching her wrist, leaving me Vs some of the best girl riders in the UK Vs the Armed Forces Boardercross Team. I watched riders deciding which of their 3 freeride boards to use, before re-waxing them after each run. Me with my 151 jib stick just added another mental block to my head.

I tried watching the lines some of the riders took but it just went into a white blur in my head. Kate Foster, who had become my rock leading up to this point, came back over to me and said I'd regret it if I didn't go through with the time trials. So that’s what I did. They were sketchy, but to have made it from top to bottom on such a tough course, I was stoked.

After being told I'd qualified and would have to get back on the track for the semi-finals, and then a short while later told I didn't have to, my emotions on a knife-edge. Mentally I had gone from one emotional extreme to another, all in the space of 5 minutes. Even now I can't focus on what happened. The text from the boy back home, after explaining the last 5 minutes, simply read, ‘thank f*ck for that’. This statement alone couldn't even begin to explain my relief to have successfully completed one of the scariest moments of my life!

Seeing my name in 10th place at the British Championships was one of those moments where I realised how happy I was to have gone through with it, and the words “I've never seen you ride so badly” from WhyAintYouJibbin’s Steve Addicott were actually a motivation. It showed to me I have the ability to perform even better than I did, I just need to find a way of coping with the pressure.

Hands down, it was the single most mentally-challenging thing I've ever done. The reason I wanted to share this experience is to highlight a different side to the competitions. You will always get the haters criticising every run (as they say ‘haters gunna hate’), but riders have so much more to deal with than just the course that lies ahead of them. To be able to block everything else out their heads and just deal with the challenge of the course is an amazing talent and displays such mental toughness. I have gained so much more respect for competition riders, having set myself through this experience. It’s something underlying in competition that many people may never even realise.

I didn't think it'd be easy, in fact I knew it wouldn’t. I had been told my riding was at the right level. I just didn't realise it would be in my head where I would implode so much. Going to the Brits was one of the biggest challenges I've ever done and for many of these grom kids to be playing around in the snow before their races, not even thinking about the challenge ahead, I'm both in awe and envy!

Not only are they pushing their riding limits to get better every day, but they're battling so much more too. I can't thank Kate Foster and Steve Addicott enough for getting me this far, and for the WhyAintYouJibbin grom girls for being such an inspiration without even realising it.

What have I learnt? Simple! That no matter who you are, it's possible to push yourself to your limits. Even if you don't reach the top, it's a personal achievement to say you've come this far and been so far out of your comfort zone. The support I received was overwhelming, and I couldn't have done it without that encouragement from friends, family and even complete strangers on the mountain. I was feeling gutted at how badly I rode but in fact this was a perfect reminder that life's all about learning experiences.

I'm back working with people every day who don't have such opportunities, and the whole ability to have reached that level in something you enjoy so much has to be an achievement in itself. It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks – you've just got to live for the moment and embrace any challenge that comes your way.
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