Transformed and Triumphant by Victoria Bassette

Victoria, who joined JNT before the Craftsbury Eastern Cup, is in the process of writing a memoir (yes, we were impressed too). She’s written the following excerpt as a reflection on her decision to join Ford Sayre and get back into Nordic training and racing. Thanks for sharing, Victoria!

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Part VI: Transformed and Triumphant

         I decided immediately upon arriving home. I was going to join Ford Sayre. I was going to commit myself to my talents with Christ as my foundation. No longer was I controlled by fear. No longer did depression rob me of my joy and passions. No longer did I feel ashamed of myself but accepted myself for the athlete and the person that I was at present. No longer was I enslaved to devilish lies and thoughts of suicide. God had freed me from the darkness and broke the chains of bondage that had held me back for so long. According to the words of David Powlison, “It’s not the distance you’ve covered. It’s not the speed you’re going. It’s the direction you’re heading.” My steps were on the right path, and for the first time in my life, I felt free to make mistakes along the way, knowing that no journey is perfect. Nothing but the living God is perfect, and on the cross, he freed me from the need to be. My perfectionism went down the drain, and I reacquired the motivation to improve both my body and my mind, this time in tribute to Him.

         Over the next two months, I remained patient with myself as I transitioned back into racing with very little training underneath me. Each race tested my character, physical ability, and especially my humility, but with each effort, my ranking slowly climbed its way up the result sheets. Sport fostered an empowerment to improve within me, and not only was I improving, but I was also finding joy in the process. The group of Ford Sayre girls, who were once my competition, were now positive teammates, encouraging and teaching me through their example what fun really looked like in sport. Before each race, we would stand huddled together with our arms draped over one another’s shoulders and sway back and forth, offering support and laughter before expending ourselves in a challenging race. Dancing on van rides to and from race sites quickly became a race ritual, fueling us with joy and energy. 

         One weekend in February, I traveled up to Maine with the team to race in the third Eastern Cup series of the year, which New England athletes qualify for Junior National through. Despite subzero temperatures, I raced well on Saturday and felt energized going into the classic sprints on Sunday. Waking up the next morning, I slid from my hard bed in the rental house and slipped into my race suit, excited for the day. I always performed best in sprints, and I anxiously anticipated my first classic sprint since the disastrous one at Junior Nationals the previous year. As we drove into the large parking lot of the race venue, I peered up to the top of the downhill ski mountain that was blanketed with snow-covered treetops. The sun shone radiantly down upon them, causing the snow on their branches to sparkle like freshly applied race glitter. Not a cloud dampened the bright blue sky, and everything appeared so breathtakingly beautiful. As I warmed up in the serene heavenliness of my surroundings, my body felt strong and capable as I glided forward in freshly made classic tracks.

As I warmed up in the serene heavenliness of my surroundings, my body felt strong and capable  as I glided forward in the freshly made classic tracks.

Glancing down at my watch, the time read 10:10. Twenty minutes remained before my start for the qualifier, and I paused alongside the trail to estimate how much time I would need to get to the starting line. I thought it better to be safe than sorry, so I wrapped up my warmup, grabbed my race skis from the coaches, Hil and Luke, and made my way to the start. Walking into the start coral, I found my teammate, Catherine, already there, and she flashed me a big, friendly smile as she supported her weight on classic poles and swung her leg forwards and backwards in preparation for the race.

“Hey! You excited?” I asked.

“It’s going to be so much fun.” she responded, excitement clearly written all over her face. Seconds later, she began jumping up and down, dancing and singing Party in the USA to herself, a song that we’d listened to that morning on the van ride over.

Two other teammates spotted us from afar and joined the group. “Hey! Huddle before we start?” asked Ann and Hannah.

“Heck yeah.” I said, stepping closer to congregate into a circle with the girls. We placed our arms over one another and began to sway as usual.

“Ok girls.” Catherine began, “It doesn’t matter how any of us do as long as we give our best and have FUN. It’s a beautiful day. The snow is fast, and the course is awesome! Let’s kill it out there! Rock the fox on three! One! Two! Three!”

Placing our hands all together, we simultaneously yelled, “ROCK THE FOX,” in high spirits while athletes from other teams stared at us for our ridiculous enthusiasm. (To this day, I still don’t know what “rock the fox” means, but I suppose at some point I should ask.) Now fully hyped and excited for the race, we went separate ways to finish our sprint preparations. After taking off my ski pants to reveal my uniform underneath, I clipped my boots into my skis, strapped on my poles, smoothed out my race top, adjusted my race bib, and finally, lined up according to my race number, ready for the start. Each athlete was separated by fifteen second intervals, and about ten girls were lined up before me. Tightening my pole straps one last time, I turned to wish the girl behind me good luck with a cheerful smile.

No matter what the result,” I said inside my head, “you can be grateful for having the opportunity to be here and for a second chance at life.”

The two minutes and thirty seconds that I stood in line passed quickly, and soon, I found myself behind the starting gate, awaiting the countdown to start my race. “It’s only 1.4 kilometers, and the pain will pass quickly. Do not give up.” I reminded myself, like I did before every race since competing again.

Beep, beep, beep, beep, BEEP. The timer signaled me to start, and off I went, striding quickly from the gate and transitioning into a powerful double pole. I fixed my eyes on the girl ahead of me and raced in pursuit of her. Spectators hollered and cheered, and I fed off of the energy of the atmosphere and pushed harder. “God gave you a talent, so don’t waste your gifts and your potential because of an unwillingness to suffer.” I told myself, now skiing with even more aggression. The gap between me and the girl ahead had decreased significantly, and I could hear her heavy breathing and the tails of her skis slapping the snow with every transfer of weight. Charging up the last hill, I gasped for air, now feeling the lactic acid in my legs beginning to build, but I heard coach Zoey from the sidelines, encouraging me to catch the girl ahead. Less than ten meters remained between me and her now. Pushing over the top of the hill and down the other side, I squatted low into a tuck, relieved to have a short rest. Slowly, as I coasted down the stadium hill, my skis glided closer and closer to my competitor, and rounding a gradual corned, I prepared to sprint past her to the finish. However, before I had fully rounded the corner, my right ski flew out of a shallow track, and I strained to keep my balance, but my tired legs were incapable of keeping me upright. I fell with a crash at the bottom of the hill, losing all my momentum one hundred meters before the finish. A swear instinctively popped from my mouth, but I gave myself no time to feel bad about the word. Unentangling myself as quickly as possible, I jumped back up to my feet, and refocusing my attention on the finish, I double poled ferociously towards the line with all the energy I had left, gritting my teeth all the way. I was determined to not let the fall discourage me into accepting defeat. Moments later, I lunged across the line and collapsed into an exhausted heap, frustrated but also content with my effort. I’d given my very best effort, and I’d faced an obstacle without allowing it to overpower me. What more could I ask of myself? After recovering on the ground from the painful sprint, I dragged myself to my feet and walked out of the finish chute after taking off my skis and poles. I handed my bib to a race official on the way out and rejoined Catherine, who’d finished a couple minutes earlier. 

“Hey! How’d it go!?” she asked, bubbly in mood as usual.

“I fell, but I gave my very best, so I guess it went well.” I responded, shrugging my shoulders and wiping the drool from my face.

“Oh no! I’m sorry. That stinks.”

“Eh. Oh well.” I replied, trying not to linger on the disappointment.  

In the distance, I could see two blue and green uniforms bobbing up and down, and I quickly recognized the figures. “There’s Ann and Hannah!” yelled Catherine. Immediately, we raced to the rails by the finish, cheering loudly for our two teammates as they labored to the finish. The moment they both crossed the line, we rushed over to greet them with hugs and smiles. Even after having a frustrating race, I found it easy to celebrate with the others’ successes and enjoy their presence. We’d all accomplished our goal in one way or another—to have fun and to work hard, and for me, to never give up. That was something worth celebrating. Strangely, I found myself thankful for the fall. Although frustrating at first, it had challenged me to apply my goal of never quitting in a new way, and I felt proud of accomplishing that. 

After taking a quick glance at the live results, I felt even more appreciative of my effort to finish strong despite the fall. Somehow, I’d squeaked into the junior heats as the last qualifier, even after losing many valuable seconds. 

Nothing remarkable happened in the next round as I finished fifth in the heat, but that day taught me a valuable lesson—no matter what curveballs are thrown at you, you’re always capable of overcoming them, as long as you don’t let them overcome you.  If I’d accepted defeat the moment I fell, I would have been defeated, but instead, I ignored the setback and charged to the finish with even more tenacity than before.

Driving home to Vermont from Maine, I sat happily beside my teammates and reflected upon the valuable lessons that I’d learned over the weekend. I could only imagine the effect of applying those lessons in the future. Surely, they’d make me unstoppable.  

***

The week following the Eastern Cups in Maine, the final Junior National qualifiers took place locally. Two days prior to the races, I started feeling more tired than usual and the day before the first race, I caught a cold. Although it was just a common virus, nothing too severe, it sapped the energy from my body and drowned my excitement for race day in negativity. Arriving at the race venue on Saturday morning, instead of feeling excited to race, I dreaded the entire day, unenthusiastic about expending any energy. The cold weather added to my dampened mood. All the same, I carried on with my preparations per usual and reminded myself to do my best and to try to enjoy the experience along the way. On this particular day, I’d have to race in two races instead of just one, yet their combined distance was still shorter than the usual five kilometers. After completing the normal pre-race rituals with the other girls, I stood at the starting gate for the seventh time that season.

“You’ve done this before. You’ve just got to do it again. Take it a climb at a time and don’t get too far ahead of yourself.” I thought to myself, inhaling one last big breath before racing out of the gate. Two of my teammates had started directly ahead of me, and I focused my attention on their backs, intending to catch up and ski behind them as my first step. Together, we could ski as a pack and pull one another along. Despite feeling heavy and breathing cold air through a sore throat, my teammates provided me with the motivation to go hard. As I passed my teammate Sarah, we glanced over to one another and simultaneously said, “Good job!” She tucked in right behind me as we now chased after Hannah, who was struggling up ahead. Unfortunately, after a few weeks of sickness, Hannah’s body had taken a toll, so after eventually catching up to her, it was apparent that Sarah and I would have to work together without her. Towards the end of the last climb, Sarah passed me again, and I settled in behind, matching her fast tempo. Her impressive uphill abilities and my gutsy downhill skiing provided one another with the perfect package to ski a strong race. In the last straightaway, I pulled ahead, and together, we charged to the finish. After toeing the finish line, I hung limply over my poles, catching my breath. Within thirty seconds, I regained my strength and wandered over to Sarah who was also drooping over her poles.

“Thanks for pulling me up those hills, you speed demon! It helped a lot.” I said, greeting her with a fist pump.

“Yeah! It was fun, especially because results don’t matter for me yet.” she responded.

“Totally. Results will matter as much as you make them matter. Even as a U18 skier, racing can still be lots of fun, whether you focus on results or not.”

Together, we walked from the finish coral to the live timing screen, relieved to have finished and grateful for my teammates’ help in pulling me through the race. Glancing towards the middle of the screen, I searched for my name in the rankings, but I couldn’t find it. A large group of coaches, parents, and athletes crowded in front of the screen, making it difficult to see the results, especially with the glare from the sun. Towards the top of the page, the letter “V” caught my attention, and I gasped as I read the name. “Thirteenth!? How!?” I thought. I’d felt horrible while warming up and heavy in the race. I double checked the name to make sure it was really mine. It really was.

“Well, I guess I’ve got more in me today than I thought. Good thing I’ve got another chance to redeem my effort.” I said, half laughing and now slightly frustrated that I hadn’t gone harder. I thought back to all of the times when I’d doubted myself and to all of the results that could’ve turned out differently if I hadn’t given up hope so easily. Here I was, learning another valuable lesson through ski racing.

In the next race, my mentality experienced a tremendous shift from the last one. Instead of showing up to the line with intense dread, I exploded from the start with determination and enthusiasm. Although I still felt physically weak, my mind was fueled to the brim, fully prepared to suffer and excited for the challenge. Charging across the snowy trail, I chased after my teammate with powerful aggression, like a lion in pursuit of a deer. Bounding to the top of the first hill, I hop skated my way past Sarah and charged onward, fueled on the determination to conquer my doubts. My legs burned, begging to slow down, but in response, I hop skated the next hill even harder. Now my legs were screaming, demanding their way, and as I skied along a gradual stretch, I felt myself giving in to their commands. A few moments later, I snapped out of it and refocused my attention to the last hill. “It’s the last climb. Hop skate it with as much strength as you’ve got.” I told myself, putting my head down and clenching my teeth. Strangely, I felt as if my skis had both wings and cement blocks attached to them at the same time, but I continued charging forwards with aggression, picturing the wings in my mind instead of the cement blocks. After reaching the top and power skating down the other side, I could see the finish line now, and I held nothing back. Side to side I glided with graceful power, and one meter before the line, I lunged my foot as far forwards as I could. Immediately, I tumbled onto the snow, spreading my skis and poles to my sides. I felt completely satisfied. Even without seeing the results, I felt proud. I’d ignored the doubts and the temptation of giving into my pain, and I’d skied with aggression. Sarah crossed the line moments after me and also collapsed onto the snow in exhaustion. I eventually shuffled over to help her to her feet. Smiling, we leaned in for a quick hug, clearly content with our efforts and thankful for the help that we’d provided one another throughout each race.

After putting my race skis in the team rack, I slipped on my coat and ski pants, lingering in the pleasant feeling of being done with racing for the day. Before I’d been able to see the results, Catherine attacked me from behind, giving me a big bear hug and nearly knocking me off my feet. Elsa and Ann approached from the front, looking excited. “Did you just hear the announcer!? He just said you skied into second place for U18s!”

Charging across the snowy trail, I chased after my teammate with powerful aggression, like a lion in pursuit of a deer.

I stared unbelievingly at her. “No way.” I responded, now making my way over to the results. By the time I made it over to the live timing, I was third for U18s and eighth overall. “I guess this is why you should never listen to your doubts.” I thought to myself, surprised that of all the days, today’s races were my best performances of the season.

That day, I went home, having learned another valuable lesson—you’re always capable of more than you think you are. Never let your doubts destroy your confidence.

After racing one last time on Sunday, I finished the Eastern Cup series proud of my journey. Somehow, one slow step at a time, I started the season nearly last in the rankings and worked my way to twentieth by the end, just five spots out of qualifying for team New England. Through the strength that God provided me with and applying the lessons that I’d learned, I accomplished results that I hadn’t thought capable after so many months away from athletics. To my surprise, Justice, who’d been such a good sport watching me travel to Nationals the previous year, qualified on the boy’s side, and now, I would get to watch him race just as he’d done for me. Trading places with my big brother and stepping into his shoes from last year was the perfect end to my racing season, even though I hadn’t qualified myself.    

I would’ve been perfectly happy if my racing season had ended there, but at the last minute, Justice and I entered the Vermont State Nordic Championship as the only Woodstock High School athletes competing. Instead of riding a school bus like in past years, my dad drove me and my brother to the race venue and acted as our coach for the day. The temperatures were quickly rising, and the snow felt slushy and wet underneath my shoes, but luckily the race was skate, which meant no kick wax. Leaning over, I clipped my boots into my race skis. I then slipped off my jacket and revealed my t-shirt, exposing my slightly scarred arms. It was far too hot for a long-sleeved uniform. Skating over to the start with my poles in one hand, I positioned myself in line behind number six, calmer than a summer evening. All the other athletes ran around the start coral, looking wide eyed and panicked. They all had team titles on the line, but I was free to just enjoy the experience with zero pressure upon my shoulders. After a brief wait in line, I cruised from the start, smiling and full of joy. The feeling of the warm air ruffling my loose hairs and the sun beaming warmly onto my face encouraged me onwards. Beauty surrounded me, inspiring me to make the most of the experience and push hard. Putting all my training and lessons into practice, I chased after the girls who’d started before me, face beaming up each hill. This didn’t feel like a race, but like a fun game! Seeing a sharp, right turn ahead, I prepared to ski around it without slowing my pace, but as I reached it, the snow turned to ice, shooting me wide around the corner. “No. No. No. Stay up.” I thought, clenching my teeth as I struggled to stay on my feet. One ski glided on the very edge of the trail, while my left ski hung off the side of a steep embankment, but my ski continued its course, gliding right off the trail and taking me down into a ditch. I struggled helplessly in a pile below the trail as my competitors flew past me, continuing their race. Precious seconds were ticking away. Instinctively, I pulled myself up from the wet snow, arms stinging with fresh scrapes, and hopped back up onto the trail. “Now, you have to go even harder.” I told myself, building my momentum back up. Again, I chased after the girls who I’d passed before the fall. One by one, I picked them off again, finishing the race in just over fourteen minutes. “That was fun and exciting” was my first thought after crossing the line, totally unconcerned with the result. A TV camera stuck itself in my face as I caught my breath, but I took off my skis and walked out of the finish area quickly, feeling uncomfortable with the attention. Not even bothering to check the live timing, I hopped onto my cooldown skis and enjoyed another half hour of exercise in the sunshine. It wasn’t until after the boys’ race had started when I finally glanced at the results. I stared unbelievingly at the screen. Only two skiers had beaten me, one of which had been a girl that I’d passed before falling. Again, just through enjoying the experience, working hard, and ignoring my doubts after a fall, something beautiful had come to fruition, and I had enjoyed every moment.  

Over the course of three crazy months, I went from wasting my life on the couch to joining a new team and nearly qualifying for Nationals. Through every failure, I learned a valuable lesson, and within every victory, I’d applied that wisdom. To me, that was success, and I felt even more content and satisfied than all of the times that I’d stood proudly at the top of podiums in Alaska. Now, sport was far more than just personal glory—it was an opportunity of personal growth. Now, it possessed meaning. Now, it was pure joy.

*****


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