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Thursday, September 1, 2011
Gretchen Bleiler learns the hard way

By Gretchen Bleiler

Right now I'm reading Dan Millman's "The Four Purposes of Life." If you don't know Millman, he's the author of one of my all-time favorite books, "Way of the Peaceful Warrior" -- and if you haven't read that one yet ... you should! His latest book is also a gem, almost a life manual that's good to always keep nearby.

Millman breaks the challenges we face in life into two categories: "voluntary adversity" and "involuntary adversity." This is a great concept for someone like me, who has obviously signed up for some voluntary adversity as a professional snowboarder. I am the first to admit that I am a very competitive person. What does a competitive person want to do? Yeah, I want to win! It's a fine balance knowing the rankings and results I want, but not letting them consume me and take away from the adventure of this totally awesome and bizarre life.

So when everything didn't come together for me at the recent New Zealand Open, and I finished fourth (a fine result, but not a good one), I became frustrated. For a moment, I felt as if all of the hard work and time I had put into training this past spring and summer was a waste. I knew that wasn't really the case, but I wanted instantaneous results, damn it!

You see, on and off these past five months I've been dedicating myself to learning a frontside corked 720. It began by trial and error, hucking myself around in the pipe at Buttermilk in Aspen then Breckenridge this April. I then took it to the air bag at Mammoth and flung myself over and over again into the bag until it started to feel like I knew what I was doing.

After Mammoth, I headed to Mount Hood, where all of the factors came together at Windells Snowboard Camp. I had an air bag and a really nicely shaped halfpipe, so I could practice into the bag a few times then go up and just do it, for real, on snow. So scary, but so much less scary with the air bag step.

At the end of my time at Mount Hood with coach Rick Bower, I had that corked 720 tail and I had it good! In fact, it wasn't just this new trick that was feeling different -- it was my overall riding and amplitude. I felt I was ready to unleash the new me at the event in NZed. But life had other plans. Involuntary adversity came into play and all of a sudden the trick that I "had," I no longer had. I spent way too much practice time trying to get it back, then ended up moving on from it entirely. During the competition, I had some serious moments of the best riding ever -- if I do say so myself -- but unfortunately, all of those moments didn't come together in one run.

But the adversity that day reminded me that it can't always be about instantaneous results -- what are you going to learn from that? Now I'm totally fired up and motivated and know that everything I've been putting into my riding this past year is coming together in a major way. Also, I've learned this lesson: With a slightly different approach to training on the mountain, those moments of "everything I want" will become full runs of "everything I want."