What I found When I Lost My Edge – From A Silver Medal to Meditation

By | Published: April 27, 2015
I think it’s safe to say that most of you know me and perhaps follow me because of my snowboarding career.  You’ll also know then, that along my career, I’ve felt the responsibility and the inspiration to use my voice to speak up for our natural environment, talk about the effects of climate change that I’ve witnessed as I’ve traveled and competed around the world, and why protecting our winters as we know them is just another aspect of who I am, just like buckling into my bindings.  But over the past year, you also have probably seen that I’ve become fairly outspoken around meditation and the benefits of meditation.  But I’ve realized that I’ve never really told you the full story of how this tool and technique snuck into my story, or the real reason why I feel like it’s important for me to even share this part of my life with you at all.  And so I wanted to write this blog because I realize that some of you may be asking the question, why does someone who gets to do what they love for a living need to meditate?!  That is a message, I again, feel responsible and inspired to share with you all.  And so I’ve decided to write a three part series around meditation.  This first blog will cover the story of WHY it came into my life.  The second blog will cover HOW you can incorporate meditation into your life and WHAT the benefits will be.  And the third blog will cover HOW meditation and SNOWBOARDING have more in common than you might think!  

 

Throughout my fifteen years as a professional, competitive snowboarder I learned many things. Some as simple as which airports have the best restaurant selections and what goggle lens works best for different weather conditions to other deeper, more lasting revelations that took years to understand.

One of those more important things I learned during my career and I will carry with me always is the importance of taking time for ME no matter how busy I am or how well things are going in my life. This is how I got my start in meditation.

In 2006, seven years after I made the decision to pursue competitive snowboarding full time, I won the silver medal at the Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy. I had dreamt of being an Olympian my entire life and now not only had that dream come true, but I had won an Olympic medal. Snowboarding was as popular as it had ever been in mainstream America and I was about to be whisked into a frenzy of media and industry appearances, photo shoots, commercials, signings and obligations.

 



I had done everything to prepare myself mentally and physically to enjoy that day and that truly awesome experience to the fullest, but what I hadn’t prepared myself for was what happened after winning the silver medal.

 


 

Leading up to the 2006 Olympic games I was as prepared mentally and physically as I had ever been. In 2005 I won the US Open, Gravity Games and X Games. In 2006 I won four of the five Grand Prix US Olympic qualifying events. From falling, injuries and cracking under competition pressure, I had learned how to stand up, come back stronger and win. I had learned how to walk the fine line of physically and mentally pushing myself every day to stay at the forefront of progression while simultaneously staying safe and healthy in order to maintain that momentum. Being able to stand at the top of the halfpipe on the world’s largest stage and represent snowboarding, my country, my family, and every single person who had ever contributed to my career was a feeling of incredible love, gratitude and total inspiration. It was everything I had hoped it would be. It was a day I will always remember and winning the silver medal was icing on the cake. I had done everything to prepare myself mentally and physically to make the most of that awesome day and enjoy it to the fullest, but what I hadn’t prepared myself for was what happened after winning the silver medal.

 

Gretchen with her silver medal as well as with fellow US team members Hannah Teter and Kelly Clark

 

First of all, I had to continue to compete. The Olympics is only one of many contests in competetive snowboarding in any given year. The competition schedule alone was rigorous but with the Olympic medal came photo shoots, media appearances, award show events, sponsor obligations and more. I threw out the first pitch at the Colorado Rockies home opener, I was an honorary NASCAR starter, I was a guest on Good Morning America, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Late Show with Conan O’Brien, The Today Show, Access Hollywood and more. I started my own female snowboard competition called Snow Angels. And right after the Olympic season I started work on designing my own signature line of outerwear, goggles, lifestyle apparel, and accessories for Oakley as well as helped K2 design women specific snowboards, boots and bindings as part of the K2 Women’s Alliance.

 

Gretchen on Conan O'Brien, posing for a photo at the Daytona 500 for her Nascar start and at the ESPY Awards

 

I was doing everything I had ever dreamed of doing in the snowboard industry and beyond but I wasn’t prepared for the emotional toll it would take on my life. By 2009 I was completely running on survival mode and found myself perpetually overwhelmed with all I had on my plate. I was drained and run down. I was quickly irritated. I was exhausted. I was becoming this person I just was not and didn’t want to be. It was disturbing. It didn’t make sense! I was living out my wildest dreams and doing everything I loved. So why was I feeling so depleted and disconnected?

 


 

“What do you mean? I’m a snowboarder. I train, I travel and I take care of my body. I go to photo shoots. I compete. There isn’t time for anything else.”

 


 

I was asked in one interview, “What things do you love to do other than snowboarding?” I was confused. I thought, “What do you mean? I’m a snowboarder. I train, I travel and I take care of my body. I go to photo shoots. I compete. There isn’t time for anything else.” I heard myself say those things and that’s when I realized that I was completely out of balance. It wasn’t really that I was over scheduled or too busy but I hadn’t been actively making space in my days for ME to actually enjoy the life I had created for myself.

I had been living from the outside in versus the inside out. But does anyone know what that phrase really means anyway? Or does it just sound like I’ve gone a little abstract, totally cheesy, and “new age” on you?! What I think it means is that we as a society have defined success as the accumulation, attainment and accomplishment of awards, titles, roles, and material things. We’ve misplaced where our values should lie. Now don’t get me wrong, I think this is part of life, and I’ve gotten a lot of enjoyment and pleasure out of this aspect of being a human being and being successful at my sport and career. Also it’s critical to have the means (money, security and health) to be able to prosper in this world. BUT, I also know — now — from experience, that if all of the “accomplishing” and “doing” isn’t balanced out with checking in on oneself to make sure you’re feeling whole, cared for and that you’re doing all of this “accomplishing” for the right reasons, there will be a discrepancy that most likely comes in the form of things just not feeling “right.” And the more you continue plowing forward, the louder and heavier this feeling becomes. I think it’s pretty safe to say that most of us have been through this experience or can really identify with this place that I’ve just described. Is that true? But what most people wouldn’t suspect (and what I never saw coming) is that this can happen to you no matter what role you are playing in life. So whether you’ve become a mom who truly loves your kids and they’ve become your life, or you’ve become a computer software engineer who loves your career and everything that comes with it, or you’ve become a pro snowboarder who loves to travel around the world and compete, it’s all the same thing. If we don’t take the time to fill ourselves up from the inside, while we’re enjoying these roles that we play, then we can become disconnected and depleted from all that we’re creating on the outside. Success in life is not winning an Olympic medal. Success is winning an Olympic medal, and knowing how to take care of yourself, so that you can continue to make the best decisions for yourself and everyone else involved in those decisions along the way. Same holds true for any success you have be it raising healthy kids or being the best computer engineer you can be.

Now taking the time to fill yourself up, looks different for everyone.  And it’s really important to connect in with what energy qualities you need in your life to feel whole and fulfilled.  But coming from a Type A personality, meditation is a tool that really gets the job done! It’s simple and it’s universal because you can do it anywhere, all that’s required is a place where you can sit down and close your eyes. Meditation has given me the space in my days to add me back into the equation. I didn’t have to change anything I was doing. It was more about taking the time every single day to sit and to surrender to the commotion of my spinning mind. I had become inundated with thoughts of my responsibilities and my to do lists which always seemed to be multiplying. It also was a process of letting go of the idea that I always had to be striving for, doing, or achieving. I grew up with three active brothers, in an active family, in Aspen, an active town. I had set big goals for myself my whole life. I worked hard. I was always pushing myself. And it wasn’t that those goals or those actions were wrong or too much, but I was not balancing them with taking some time each day to re-center, re-charge and focus my attention on myself.

 

Gretchen meditating in New Zealand

 

So taking the time to just be with myself, by sitting with my eyes closed and letting the regular chatter of my mind quiet down so that I could go beyond that noise to subtler layers of myself that are still and silent, this is what restored my essential nature back into my daily life. Now I was showing up to life from a place of wholeness rather than depletion. When you’re whole you naturally feel more connected and engaged in everything you are doing which also helps you feel like everything you are doing has more purpose and meaning which is when you find yourself happy and fullfilled. This was the chain effect that meditation had not only with my snowboard oriented projects and training but with my friends and family as well. It helped provide balance. I was still doing everything I was doing before but I was doing it with energy, purpose, meaning, patience, compassion and intention. Now the things I always loved doing, felt good again. So nothing changed but everything changed.

When I realized how much my life had changed and for the better because of this simple practice, I decided to explore deeper. I knew I had only scratched the surface and I wanted to learn more so I could share it with people. We are in an age right now where we have become a society of “Human Doings” rather than “Human Beings”. Besides creating and doing we’re also meant to take the time to enjoy this life and just BE. But we’re a little out of balance in this area. Meditation can be a tool to slow down the fast pace of the world in which we live and re-gain balance. A tool to help us still do all the things we’ve done before but be able to do it all more fully and from the place of who we really are.