A New Year
As many of you know I had a rough junior nationals last year. And as I was sitting at the bottom of the 2021 junior national course with tears in my eyes, I vowed I that I would work so hard to never be in this position again. (You can read about last years experience here)
You should know something about me. When I make a vow to myself I will do everything in my power to live up to it. I believe that the promises you make to yourself, are the promises that you can not break. As I made that vow to myself I knew it would not be broken. This past season I worked my tail off. I did not see my parents for basically all of June so that I could go off to Whistler and ski. That camp was then followed by 12 days at Mnt. Hood, in Oregon and then two weeks after that, I went half way across the world in Chile to get some extra skiing before the season started. I skied every month of the year besides August. I was dead serious about this vow. This past summer I felt like a snow plow that could not be stopped. And it was the best feeling ever.
When the season started back up again I was on a high. I had great finishes and I was feeling very confident about my performance. It was towards the end of the season where I had some very mediocre finishes to say the least. I was utterly disappointed as I felt like I had hit a plateau. My confidence was extremely low and I thought that all of my countless hours of work was for nothing. This was until my dad pointed something out to me. After the last event before Junior Nationals, he showed me how much higher my scores were compare to last year, in spite of my finishes, and that my work was paying off. This gave me a sudden jolt of confidence I so desperately needed.
The Big Change at Juniors
This year Junior Nationals made a BIG change. They split everyone up into age groups. This move upset a lot of people. This means that I could only compete against f15 and f13 girls. I was enraged because this also meant that we had a way smaller course as well. I really wanted to see how I compared to the older girls. I eventually had to get over it, and look at it as a way to take some pressure off.
We were rolling into the competition venue and my spirits were high. All of my friends were there, and the course looked very easy. As I was on the lift I had completely forgot about the competition. I was having so much fun the comp did not seem to matter. Even if I had finished last, I knew that I would have had a great time. I was not going in there to lose though. I really wanted to win. I knew that this was not going to be an easy task, as there were some very fierce competitors. I wanted to win, but having fun took the pressure off.
"Ava there is no need to stress. You have done top to bottoms all day perfectly and you are a consistent skier. Now you just go out there and crush it" - My Coach
The first training run was interesting. The course was so easy my flaws were being shown like crazy. I was hunched, my skis were going so far across the hill for speed control I had lost all tip direction. I was a mess.The moguls were tiny but the jumps were like aerial jumps. They were massive and any time I would land my legs would shake. After the first few runs I was mentally struggling and physically struggling. My knees were hurting so bad from the jumps I started to cry. I was crying for a lot of reasons. I eventually pulled myself together and I started watching. I noticed that every girl that would hit that jump would come down with discomfort or even tears in their eyes. This was my way to weed myself out from every other girl. I was gonna stomp that landing after going huge and I would not hold back. I gathered myself and I went up for my last run of the day. I was smoking down this course and I was coming up to the jump and I wasn't slowing down. I hit the jump, and i hit a huge back x and I absorbed the landing like never before. Guess what I had no pain. I had stopped focusing on the pain and I had made a change to stop the pain and it worked. This is when I knew I had what it takes to win this thing. I just needed to do it.
Day 1: Qualies (Qualifications)
I woke up on the qualification day feeling rested and confident. To qualify for finals, I had to finish in the top 20. I knew I could do it. I had a great breakfast and an even better warmup. I strolled up to the hill with a smile on my face, and high hopes.
Throughout the training day morning I had a few good runs and a few bad runs. Overall I felt ready to go. I basically went last so I sat around to watch my friend Mahlia. She absolutely crushed it. She sent the jumps huge, and she flew down that course. I was super proud of her but also very intimidated. I went up to the top of the course scared. I kept reminding myself that I did not have to win I just had to get top 20. This calmed me down. I stepped into the starting gate, heart pounding, and hopes high. As I heard over the radio "Judges ready" I turned on Number One Spot by Ludacris and I tuned everything else out. I shot out of the gate guns blazing. I hit the first jump and I floated a great 360. I landed mock 10 and I just kept going faster and faster. It felt amazing. But I could tell I was coming into the bottom jump a little too hot. I took the jump and it pushed my into the back seat and I completely over rotated my back X. I landed on my butt and I slid down the rest of the course in fashion. When I re grouped over the finish line, I expected tears to start streaming down my face. But, they never came. For the first time in my life I was actually proud of a run where I fell. This was one of my favorite parts all weekend.
The Come Back!
Having fallen in my first qualie run, I knew I had just one run left to qualify or I'd have to.go home without even skiing in the finals. Understanding this and knowing if I could ski a modest run and NOT fall I could qualify. Therefore, after talking with my friends, family, and my coaches, I had made the strategic decision to pull back on my next run. On the top air I did a twister spread. On the bottom I did a Kosak. Much easier tricks I knew I could nail! I skied way slower and finished on my feet. My score was good enough for 7th . Qualification achieved!
The next morning was the older kids competitions. I made sure to get up early enough to watch the other athletes. I did this to learn from my mistakes last year. I specifically watched the men perform. I love the turn shape of the men, and the aggressiveness and, the direction that they have. Overall I really just want to observe them as much as possible so that I can ski like them. After watching the comp I headed down and I watched more video. The next day was finals, so decided to go to bed early and get some rest.
Jr Nationals Finals Day
This was it. The morning of the finals was here and I was feeling amazing. I was one of the first to get on the lift so I got to the course dropped my bag off and I did some flats. After the flats I headed back over to the course to train. The training morning went great and I felt focused and calm. Even though I was calm I was terrified as we only had one run. So I went to talk to my coach.
He said, "Ava there is no need to stress. You have done top to bottoms all day perfectly and you are a consistent skier. Now you just go out there and crush it" This made me feel great.
The run order was reverse qualification, from 20th to 1st. So, qualifying in 7th, I was the 13th skier to go. I went to the top. I hung out for a little bit and then my coach said, "Ava let's go clip into your skis" my heart dropped. I was very scared but I kept calm cool and collected. I clipped into my skis and I turned on my music I was stretching a little bit and then they called me into the gate. I once again turned on Number One Spot, by Ludacris and got into my zone.
The starter began to count down and as soon as she said 3, I was gone. I came up to the first jump and I had an ok 360. I slightly over rotated. In the middle section I flew down with maybe one bobble. I went huge on my back X and I floated it around. I stomped the landing and I was ecstatic! I threw down a great run in the finals and I was waiting to see where I placed. Anxiously waiting for the judges scores and then BOOM! They came out. I was in first by 4.5 points. Thats a a big lead and their were only a few girls left to go. Each girl came down, and I was still in first place. Finally, it came down to the last girl and I still held the lead by a relatively large margin. The last girl went and threw down a great run. I got scared. The scores came out and she beat me. I was devastated but also happy for her. It was not a total loss as I got first place for my age group f13. The day ended with a first place in my age group and a second place overall and in the age group above me. It was a success. Redemption from last year. I couldn't have asked for a better result.
Bring on Duals
Duals day came and I felt so ready. Duals is a single elimination competition were both competitors ski side by side to be the first to the bottom. I wanted to win so bad but no matter what I knew it was still going to be a great week. I got on the hill I got a few runs in and I was ready to go. My first dual was against my fellow teammate Bella. Shout out to her as it was a great dual. The entire day was super fun. After each win, I found myself going against another friend and they were all great duals. As the day progressed, I found my self at the round of 4 and having to dual one of my best friends Mahlia. (You may have heard my talk about her before. She won our age group in Jrs last year.) Mahila had beaten my just a few weeks ago in regionals. She is the most fierce competitors I know. Even though she is amazing I was the most calm I was all day. Dualing a close friend does not put any stress on me because I will be happy regardless of the result. We dualed and I ended up winning due Mahlia's unlucky crash by. Mahlia went on to get third and she crushed all day. After my dual with Mahlia I realized that my next dual, the final dual for first place was against the singles day champion. Yes! A chance for redemption. I raced to the top and my coach was rushing me into the gate. I had no time to visualize or even change my music. All I did was look my competitor up and down. I thought because I was rushing something was gonna go wrong. I could here the starter, "Red course ready, blue course ready." I got the negative thoughts out of my head and I thought of positive things. Before I knew it the starter dropped the gate we both pushed hard, but she pushed out harder. I reached the top jump and I threw a huge Kosak. I landed and I got right back into it. We were both pushing it so hard down that course. I knew she was ahead because I saw her slightly ahead of me. I knew that this was my time to win so I pointed my tips straight into the moguls right before the jump and I gained a slight edge on speed. I went off of the jump relaxed and I smashed a huge back X. As I landed, I turned my head to look at her and realized she was slightly ahead of me. I knew I had to make go harder. I pointed them straight to the bottom absorbed the last few bumps and threw my pole across the finish line. I did it! I crossed the line first. Super excited, I smashed a huge claim. But finishing first doesn't mean you win. The judges decide that. We gave each other a hug and we waited. This was the longest wait of my life. I kept thinking, was my air good enough, were my turns better than hers? What if the judges like her turns better? The wait felt forever. Then, like a voice from above the announcer yells, "We have a red course winner, Ava Keenan is your f15 duals champion!" I was swarmed by friends and family before I even knew what had happened. It took me a solid 5 minutes to realize that I had actually won. After it sank in, it was the most satisfying feeling I had ever had. I did it I redeemed myself. I won. Jr Nationals. And I did it in the age group above me.
I Did It!
At the award ceremony I was awarded as the f13 singles champion the f15 second place singles champion and the f15 duals champion. I went home that night with the 2 medals and a hell of a lot of happiness. As I got home I hung up my medals right in front of my bed. Every morning I use them as motivation. Still to this day I am so proud of myself for sticking with my goals even when I had no motivation. I used this whole experience as a lesson that no matter what goal you set out for yourself if you put in the work it will happen.
Shout out to Mahlia and Bella for a great week. Also shout out to all of the other competitors. You all crushed it.