SOCHI 2014

Journey Of Champions presented by Liberty Mutual Insurance: Steve Mesler Talks With Jen Hudak

By Steve Mesler, 2010 Four-Man Bobsled Olympic Champion | March 05, 2013, 6:30 p.m. (ET)
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Jen Hudak competes in the freeski big air women's final at
the Winter Games NZ at Cardrona Alpine Resort on Aug. 20, 2011,
in Wanaka, New Zealand.

Alright - time to switch gears here!

Last month, I interviewed Meryl Davis and Charlie White. Ice dancers have three to five minute programs - these long, graceful, elegant things. I was the opposite, I was five seconds. Bobsled was unleash the animal for five seconds and then shut it down. Well, our driver had a little bit more work to do…

But I digress - how long do your runs take?

Our runs take about 30 seconds. I have between about five to seven tricks usually.

What kind of mental prep are you doing ahead of that?

I visualize my run every time before a drop-in. Even now, when I'm coming back from an injury and really keeping things mellow until my body feels like it's 100 percent, I'm visualizing my straight airs. I visualize every aspect. Even if you're doing a basic run and not throwing your hardest tricks, you can still do that to the best of your ability. I feel like visualizing everything as you would want it to be really takes you from good to great.

And as an old woman these days at 26, I’m competing against 19 year olds that can go and hammer themselves into the ground everyday and repeat, physically, the actions they want to be doing. I can't do that anymore. Not only because I'm 26 but because I'm coming back from a huge knee injury so visualization becomes even more key for me.

What does an hour walk into an event look like for you?

In the morning, before we go ski, I always do a warm-up. Again, some of the younger kids don't and can head straight up to the hill. I usually spin on the bike for 10-15 minutes and do a bit of a neural warm-up, some mobility warm-up.

I notice a huge difference now if I don't warm up before I go skiing. It's not good - the knee doesn't like it. So I always warm up before I go skiing.

But for the time before competition it really, honestly, depends on the day and the schedule of the event. For the Sochi event, I even wrote a little thing on Facebook about what my day looked like. (Click here to see Jen’s Facebook post.)

But when it's the first time I'm in a pipe for training - usually the first day I'll do straight airs the whole day. Tricks aren't the issue, knowing the pipe is the issue.

Really? Throwing tricks isn’t the issue at a new venue?

Photo Jen took at the Olympic venue in Rosa Khutor, Russia

Oh yeah! A lot of people look at halfpipe and think that it's the same thing everywhere we go. It's half of a pipe.

But the way the transitions comes together, the (vertical) at the end of the pipe, the pitch of the pipe - all of those subtleties change the way the halfpipe rides. It can be better or worse for people depending on their riding style. So for me, I have no shame in spending an entire day doing straight airs. I like to be comfortable first.

Very cool, I had no idea.

Another thing that interests me within the mind of high-performing athletes is the concept of focus. Towards the end of my career, I sometimes had a hard time focusing on the World Cup races as I would sometimes just see them as training for the Olympics.

As the grisly ole’ veteran, do you have any mental tricks that help you focus?

For me, focusing on the hill is rarely an issue. When I'm out there, I definitely have a task that I want to achieve.

A few years ago though, I wasn't having as much as fun. I was frustrated with the whole process. I was frustrated with being judged and other people doing better than me that I didn't agree with it.

There's so many dynamics to our sport because of the judging aspect that can really wear you out. And now I just love my sport. After doing it for a long time, I've set a big goal for myself and I'm close to achieving it.

Every day is part of the process; every day is just the next step for me. And I think that's really what keeps me focused.

I used to look at other people and would get stressed out watching them. Now, I watch other people and think, ‘That's cool, they're just doing what they're doing.’ Then I'm straight back into what I need to do.

I think that's the biggest thing - never look externally. The only things that are in our control are what's within us. And even then, there's still the things that can go wrong. Accidents happen but for me it's all part of the process everyday.

That’s such a great way to look at it, Jen.

So now you’re going to get the two questions that I’ll be asking all of our Olympic hopefuls for the rest of the year. You ready?

Let’s go!

One - What does success look like for you?

That's actually a tough question. I will say that has probably evolved over the last few years with me. If you would have asked me in 2010, ‘What does success look like for my career,’ in terms of achievements, I would have said that becoming an Olympic gold medalist would mean that I was successful. My story would be written and we could close the book.

That was back when I lived in this illusion that standing on top of a podium and achieving all of these things was the most important aspect of what we do. I also thought that it was entirely in my control.

In recent years, I've realized that all of our success is fleeting and all of our failures are fleeting. So, getting too wrapped up in a title - it's not really gonna work out.

Would I still love to be an Olympic gold medalist? Yeah. Is that still the ultimate goal that I'm working on? Absolutely.

But it's no longer going to be what defines me as a success. What will define me as a success will be being brave enough to put everything into it; to try my hardest and to help others along the way;  to help others try to follow their dreams and have the courage to do it as well.

GOOD ANSWER!

The second question is, for you, what are the three most important factors for an athlete to reach the success that you just talked about?

Commitment, perseverance ...and...gosh, is there a third one?

Commitment and perseverance. You have to be able to commit to your goal in order to start, then you have to be able to persevere to accomplish it.

Nothing comes easy. I think it's so easy for people to look at others achieving things and think, ‘Oh, how easy their journey has been.’ I find myself even doing it sometimes – looking at other athletes and thinking they've had such an easier path than me.

Nobody has an easy go at it. Nobody has it easy. Maybe they do right now but they're not going to forever. If you want to achieve greatness, we’re all going to go through lots of ups and downs. Being able to know just because you're going through a rough patch doesn't mean you need to back away.

It's not someone telling you that you need to quit. It's someone telling you that you have to find another way. It's someone telling you that you have to grow from this experience and persevere.

I believe it’s commitment and perseverance...and luck! That’s the third one, luck!

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