When Lindsey Vonn admitted to battling depression in 2012, I was very surprised. She seemed to have such a great life and was doing the thing she loved most. How could she be unhappy? I’ve learned since then that champions come in all shapes and sizes, both in their physical make up and in their emotional strengths. What I didn’t anticipate then was my own impending battles with mental illness.
After the 2018 Olympics, I felt the happiest I can ever remember being. Completing one of the greatest seasons of my life, my goals felt within reach, and I was ready to strike. Unfortunately, I struck out with a crash in September training in Chile, when I tore my ACL. I had always anticipated this most common of ski racing injuries, but the reality of it happening swept over me like a tidal wave. I spent months battling anxiety and depression. After nearly four months, I was experiencing daily breakdowns in the gym, crying silently when nobody could see me. It took me longer than it should have to seek help; finally, I couldn’t take it alone anymore and reached out for support.
I sought a sport psychologist, returned to skiing and training, and steadily improved my mental state. There is no easy fix with these things; I know this first-hand. I also learned from skiing with Lindsey that what drives champions above the rest is their confidence.
For me, confidence sometimes means throwing myself wide to the world and admitting my flaws. Copping up to them makes them smaller, gives them less power over us, and allows us to possibly win, despite, or even because of, our vulnerabilities.
Injury causes great vulnerability, both physical and mental, for athletes. We rely on our body’s ability to perform.When our body can’t perform… we lose our minds trying to get back to peak performance. I have made this trek twice now. Although I am not yet completely whole, I am getting there. The first thing I had to do was admit what terrified me, and I had to be real and admit that being injured is tough. Admitting that I was terrified was the first step to facing those fears and allowed me to double down on my commitment to working towards my return.
All of us are vulnerable to something. But the demons we face thrive in darkness, so the first step to either conquering or living with those demons is to shine a light on them. Admitting our vulnerabilities enables us to work on them, protect them, and maybe, with truth and honesty, to pave a path for someone else to make it out of the same woods we might feel lost in for a bit.
Breezy Jonhson– A Team USA Alpine ski racer. She competes in downhill and Super-G.