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This Is My Comeback (9/18/13)

BY KATIE UHLAENDER


After I won my first world championship medal in '07, my dad went
sledding with me down a 5k slope in St. Mortiz, Switzerland

Dad's baseball card

Touring Prague in '08 after I won silver at the world championships.
It was the last time my dad saw me compete.

I've had some random occurrences in my life recently that have motivated me and reassured me that I am on the right path. Recently a good friend of mine lost her mother, and she reached out to me asking for advice. I was a bit surprised because I couldn't have seen myself doing the same thing when I lost my father, but wish I had. My father's death was the hardest thing I have had to deal with. I have written other blogs about dealing with the death of my father. This particular conversation conjured up thoughts, which I think could help others. You literally are on your own, and it's actually like starting your life over. My father was THE person I turned to. I would try to talk to him before as many races as I could because he put me in the right state of mind to conquer the world. No one else could make me as much of a psychotic warrior as he could. I didn't care about what anyone else thought. To lose that huge piece of myself was like beginning again. Relearning how to live life without that is not easy, and for my friend it is the same. She couldn't figure out why she felt so out of control, careless, and angry. These are all normal things, and for me it was probably worse.

I was so angry at skeleton, my coaches and the world. I was racing instead of being at my father's side while he was sick. During that phase I was extra sensitive to everything while I was on tour. If the coaches were late, they miscommunicated, or wasted my time I was infuriated because that was time I could have been spending with my father. I asked to leave the world cup circuit three times during the ’08–’09 season, but I was told that the team needed me and they couldn't let me go. Plus my father told me he didn't want me to come home; it was my responsibility to compete. Five years later I'm willing to admit he was right, and I should have whole-heartedly submitted to his dying wishes.

However, I was in a spiral death spin, a straight panic, because I didn't know what I would do without him. I didn't want to listen to him or anyone else. All I knew was that I needed my father. I may have easily been diagnosed as crazy in the time leading up to his death. I didn't know which way was up, and almost didn't care because I was so angry.

He died Feb. 12, 2009, exactly one year from the Opening Ceremony of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games. His funeral was Feb. 18, 2009, and my first day of competition in Vancouver was February 18th one year later. I shattered my kneecap six weeks after his death, and then shattered it a second time in August. This turned into a septic experience, and a total of four surgeries between April 9th and Aug. 11, 2009. I was not crutch-free till late September (less than 20 weeks before the Olympics).

Part of me thinks that spiral was the cause of my snowmobile accident, like I was testing the world to see if my dad was really gone. It was as if I didn't care because without him I was without purpose. I can wholeheartedly say that I went to the Olympics that year purposeless. I wanted to respect and represent my father best I could. I wanted to keep his legacy alive, but I still hadn't had a chance to work out how to do that without him. I was mean, emotional, angry and lost. I was trying to figure out how to live life alone. It was my first Christmas without him, first world championships without him, first Olympics without him, first everything without him. It seems every day for that first year is a new day of pain. Life is normal when you sleep, but when you wake up reality hits you again. It's not a dream. Death is real.

Eventually you accept it. You learn to start living on your own with the memory of them strong, and it's exciting. It’s just like that moment when you get older and you realize how right your parents actually were. He was right. It is my duty to compete. It is my chance to keep his legacy alive and do all I can to chase my dreams. Just like I did as a kid, I make mistakes. I fall down, but what my father always taught me was it's about not giving up. I can hear Rocky now, "Nobody will hit you as hard as life, but it's not about how hard you can hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward." My father raised me to accept responsibility for my mistakes, then learn and move on. Never doubt what you believe you can do, and never give up. He taught me to be a psychotic warrior. So Vancouver may not have been what he wanted for me, but it's time for me to accept my mistakes, move on, and take my second chance. It's my comeback and I'm working hard every day with him and all of my support team in mind. My father left me with the right tools. It just took me some time to find the toolbox without him. Pain is temporary, fear is temporary, but quitting is forever. I'm not afraid to fail because I know it's about putting all I have out there on the line, like he taught me.