The Essay: Skier Alex Ferreira on the Beauty and Pain of Competition

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Art by Andrew Wetmore

By Alex Ferreira

They say you die twice when you’re an athlete. You die first after your career ends and then you die when your body and brain no longer function and you’re buried six feet deep. Your soul might live on through your community, but we’re taught to believe that’s only if you achieved things or made people feel good. I think about a time when I will just be average, a time when I won’t be known, a time where I won’t be remembered. It’s a scary thought when you really wrestle with it, regardless of who you are, where you’ve come from, or what you’ve done. It is all going to come to an end.

If everything is going to come to an end and everyone that you know and love is going to die, then what’s the point of this whole experience called life? The point, I believe, is to make incremental steps toward becoming a better version of yourself – shoot for the stars as fast as a snail. Work on your mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual state – constantly shifting and changing the channels between these four areas. Figuring out what you like, why you like it, and how to continue doing it for the rest of your life, or until the excitement fades. For me, that is skiing. It’s my release, it's my focus, it’s my stress, and, in many ways, it’s my life.

My life is scary. It’s not every day that a person has to strap into ski boots when it's negative 20 degrees outside and launch themselves 15-20 feet out of two massive, bulletproof icy walls with razor-sharp edges attached to their feet at night. If you ask me – and you should be asking me because I’m one of the few people in the world who actually does this crazy shit – I’d say I’m in need of a shrink. The mental capacity to push yourself past the most scared you’ve ever been is a daunting place, a place not many people want to be, trust me. Everyone says to me when I tell them I’m a professional skier, “Oh my god you get to travel the world and ski, you’re so lucky.” I just shake my head and laugh.

First of all, luck’s got nothing to do with it. Secondly, I think, let’s see how lucky and happy you’d feel in my shoes. Their answer would be an unequivocal “not at all” if they experienced ten seconds of how crazy my life is. Their nerves would cave in on them, their anxiety would be through the roof, their heart would beat 10X faster than they thought was ever possible.

Having said all that, when I do land a run and when I do win a competition, it is one of the most glorious feelings in the world. A feeling that can’t be bought, a feeling of pure jubilation, pure ecstasy, the ultimate high, and for 24-48 hours, I finally feel like I’m right where I’m supposed to be. I feel normal, I feel happy, I feel like a little kid again – but then it’s gone. Then this beautiful and vicious cycle repeats itself the next week, or a month later. When you realize that this is how winning feels to me, imagine what losing feels like. It’s a harrowing tunnel of destruction, a place where I won’t answer some of my best friends' calls for months on end, a place where not even my girlfriend or family members can get through to me, a place where nothing really matters… and that’s the scariest place I’ll ever know. 

This is all really scary right? I know, I’m worried too. The good news is that there are people who can help. Licensed and trusted therapists can help. It doesn’t totally solve all the problems, but it sure beats the eternal end. Reading also helps a lot. When we read, we expand our minds, and, as Tony Robbins says, “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.” Don’t die, start reading. This essay is a good start, ha.  Go to the gym on a 4 to 5-day-a-week basis, it helps release endorphins and you get the benefit of looking great after a few weeks. Lastly, I’d say go to the sauna or steam room 5 days a week if you can. It’s one of the few places left where you can’t bring your phone and it feels great to sweat out all the toxins and feel refreshed when you get out. 

Good luck to you and good luck to me – don’t give up, keep pushing, even if it’s only a little bit each day. 

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