LAKE PLACID - Andrew Weibrecht, of Lake Placid, has podiumed twice on the international circuit, both times during an Olympics.
The first was four years ago winning the bronze in Vancouver and the second a silver following a dramatic run at Sochi, where he started in started in 29th position. In between, he struggled with injuries, sickness, equipment challenges, and other setbacks that sent his World Cup tour ranking tumbling from 28th to 165th and required him to raise funding to help support his racing travel expenses.
Quit he did not. He challenged himself to come back mentally and physically stronger, and buoyed with family and community support, returned to the Olympics and then home as the first native son to win back-to-back Olympic medals.
Olympian Andrew Weibrecht (Photo — Naj Wikoff)
I had a chance to speak with Weibrecht in his family's hotel, the Mirror Lake Inn, Sunday evening before the start of a parade in honor of him and his fellow Olympians who represented the village.
NW: What do you feel is your most important accomplishment, and why?
AW: The comeback is the biggest accomplishment for me, basically it was a series of three or four comebacks. After the first shoulder surgery, I came back and pretty quickly injured my other shoulder, and three days after I came back from that I blew out my ankle. It has been one thing after another, so to keep pressing on after all that stuff, to me, that's the most important thing I have done, to keep the faith and persevere through all that.
NW: What helped you do that?
AW: A lot of things. Most important was the support system that I have, support from my family, the community and my wife. I think that you need people there that can keep you driving and keep you focused and going in the tough times. I give everybody around me a lot of credit because that's a big part of what drove me to continue.
NW: Clearly your coaches and the U.S. Ski Team saw something in you and decided we are going to invest in this guy.
AW: I have always had a lot of support from the ski team. They definitely recognized what I was going through and really gave me the time to recover from that and come back fully. It's a great vote of confidence that they stuck with me. I am glad that I could prove that it was worth their investment.
NW: Who have been some mentors in your life that have meant a lot to you?
AW: I have had a couple coaches that really have done a lot for me at different stages of my career. Two guys from here are Jimbo Johnston, always a huge supporter of mine, and David Smith, who took over where Jimbo left off. A couple guys out in Utah guided me through some of the more interesting times of my life. When I was on the cusp of being serious and being not so serious, they helped me figure everything out. Tim "Swampy" Lamarche taught me a lot and got me into speed skiing and out of the more technical side. I give him a lot of credit. He definitely kept me on the straight and narrow a little bit, helped keep me honest when I was going in the wrong directions, things like that.
NW: What are some of the fundamental things you learned from these mentors?
AW: The one thing I learned from all of them is to find the joy in what I am doing and that through hard work, perseverance, and ultimately some sacrifices, there is a lot of joy to be found in those sacrifices. It is really worth it in the end. I think that's a huge, huge thing that all the best coaches, the best mentors have shown me and kept in the forefront of whatever we are doing.
NW: What about this village, Lake Placid. Where is it in your heart and in your pursuit of your dreams?
AW: I think Lake Placid is one of the most special places in the world to me. It is definitely home. I travel a lot, and I go to all sorts of special places, but I don't feel I am home anywhere else. I think a lot of that is obviously the natural beauty of the whole area but more so the community that's here and the type of people that generally seem to live here and how supportive they are of all our athletes and really anybody who is striving to do anything. The level of support in the town is just amazing. I don't see that anywhere else.
My buddies who come from Park City and places like that don't have the same type of support system that this town has. I think Lake Placid is a very, very special place in that respect. Obviously, with all of the Olympic history here, I think that's where a lot of that comes from. Lake Placid is a very dear and special place to me. I was fortunate to have grown up here and even more fortunate to continue to live here.
NW: One of the first ski hills was right out your side door, Dream Hill.
AW: Yes, exactly.
NW: Please talk to me about your parents and their role in supporting you, and of course from your whole family as well.
AW: It's been quite an incredible journey and especially with their role in it, my bothers, my sisters, and my parents. It was definitely an interesting upbringing as I was pretty much out of the house pretty young and I was away in home living in Utah for a couple years and then just generally on the road with the ski team, but I have always had a level of support from my family that's unconditional, especially my parents. They never pushed me into anything They never told me that there is a certain direction I need to go in. They have always let me make my decisions and then done whatever they can to help facilitate and make those decisions and goals into a reality.
I see so many other people where they are doing things for their family or they are being pushed into things because their parents like it. I think a large part of my success is because my parents never pushed me into anything; it has always come from within me. The reasons that I race and continue to race have always been about the joy I had doing it and not because of something fantasy they had. And at the same time, the moment I made that decision to stay on the ski team or even start skiing on the ski team or whatever it might have been, they were 100 percent behind me. They gave me the tools I needed and the emotional support to make that happen.
NW: Winning is a mental game. I think that was obvious in your silver medal-winning run. You were not placed in the top five. You were back a bit, but clearly there were a lot of people capable of winning, but winning is not only a physical game, and a game of technique, but also a mental game. Please talk to me a little about the mental part of racing.
AW: The mental side is pretty significant in ski racing. I can't say that it is more than in other sports because it isn't, but it is very different in the sense that you have a very small opportunity to make everything work whereas in a sport like tennis you have three hours to pull yourself back into the game if you slip.
I have always found ski racing really tough because you have one opportunity. You have to get everything right and get into the right mental space right from the beginning. It's got to work from the point that you kick out of the gate to a minute or a minute and a half later. That stream of focus has to be perfect for that whole time. There are a lot of components of the mental side of it that not only require having confidence in yourself but also having confidence in your plan really and truly believing what you are doing is the correct way to do it and then do that without any sort of hesitation. I think that's one thing that is very difficult for a lot of guys especially. Post injury, I think a lot of people start to build up just a slight bit of hesitation, and in a sport where the whole duration of the event is a minute-and-a-half, there is absolutely no time to hesitate at all. At that point, it's over.
I think it is something that is really difficult and that I never really worked on before. I started working with two guys over in Europe this winter starting in January. I made huge strides. I think a lot of my success has to do with getting the right mental coaching and getting the right mental training.
I was skiing fast before that, but I was all over the place. I come and do a day. Some days I would be up here, and some days I was down there. I had no way of recognizing that or being able to bring all that stuff into center and make it work. It was just a crapshoot. I was going into races just hoping everything would be OK. I would be there to perform. I had no control over that stuff. So it has been nice to take that step and get the type of guidance that I needed when it comes to that. I now actually have more control over that end of the sport and I now know what works for me.
NW: What do you do to relax?
AW: I do a lot of breathing stuff. I do some yoga. It is mostly really trying to stay present with what I am doing and a lot of breathing exercises.
NW: What did you think of Sochi, the Russians, and that whole experience?
AW: It wasn't my favorite. Sochi itself was very not finished. It had a very interesting vibe around it because it was just a giant facade.
NW: It was just thrown together?
AW: Yeah. It was like building a really fake version of Disneyland. It was buildings that were just facades that you could tell the insides were still gutted. They put it up and made it look nice, and then there were all these fences everywhere blocking the street view of all the industrial rubble. Everything was just so poorly thrown together in term of how they built everything. In our hotel, I tripped probably twice a day walking up the stairs because all the steps were different heights. Some would be 6 inches, some would be 8 inches, and some would be 4 inches.
NW: That is quite a difference from this place (the Mirror Lake Inn).
AW: It's amazing how poorly the attention to detail was with pretty much everything except for the preparation of the venues and the way they ran the races. They did a phenomenal job getting the races off and making sure the hills were in great shape. Outside of that, I can't give them a whole lot of credit for much. It was kind of a depressing place for me because there was this beautiful wilderness area very much similar to this, and they decided overnight that they were going to basically destroy it and put this resort in for the purpose of the Olympics. It really wasn't even done for the Olympics. It wasn't even complete.
NW: It was a different experience because here you come from a town with a huge tradition in winter sports, and that just doesn't exist in Sochi at all.
AW: If you disregard the winter sports thing, there is no organic development. Everything was just built. Someone would say, "OK, let's put a hotel here." There is no growth, no plan. They just built it. It's very blocky, and it's very institutional. There is nothing cool about it. They said, we need X amount of rooms, so we are putting hotels up and down this and whatever happens from there, well who cares?
NW: I understand. Well let's shift gears. What's it like to lose, and what's it like to win? You have done both.
AW: It is a lot worse to lose. It feels much worse to lose than it feels good to win, that's the sad reality of it. It is not so much about the result or anything else, it's just that I was really, really happy to ski well. The result is an outcome of that. With the race, I thought I was kind of out of it because of my start position. I told myself to just focus on skiing well, that the course was going to be slower then, so the result might not be what I am hoping for but one thing I can control is how well or not well I ski it.
And I did. I skied it well. I got to the finish, and I was genuinely happy for the way I skied, and that's it. I didn't look at my time right away. I didn't do anything. I was just fired up with the performance I had. Then I heard that the people were making a lot of noise, so I looked at the time.
You know it's amazing to have that kind of verification of what I have been doing, and all the tough times and all that, and to come and have the result I did makes all that worth it and, even more simply, and the nicest part, and this is something that has been building over the last month-and-a-half, is to ski well and think that I skied well and to actually have it be fast too because there are so many times, especially when coming back from injury, I just didn't have the confidence in myself and I would go and race, and think that was great and it wasn't. So to have all those moving parts in the same place, that's the real beauty of winning.
Losing's tough. You can have a bad performance or not your best performance and do well, have a good result and it kind of saves the day. But losing, it's tough and it wears on you. I did a lot of it this year. Downhill was kind of a struggle for me. It's a whole other kind of mental challenge to keep picking yourself up after losing, after not doing so well.
NW: What are your plans for the future?
AW: I am looking forward to continuing skiing. I have found a rhythm with it. I want to enjoy that. The first thing is the World Championships this coming season are at home and that's a big deal. That's a once-in-a-career opportunity for me, so that's my big focus. We will see after that, see how I feel about everything.
NW: Andrew, I really want to thank you. I suspect these questions might have been a bit different than most you get, but I have raced a lot, I have won and lost. We are both from the same town. I grew up in the same building more or less. I had the pre-burn version, and you had the post-burn version.
AW: Yes, we do share that. It was my pleasure. You are most welcome.
NW: How are you feeling now, Andrew. Great parade, huh?
AW: I am feeing great. There was a lot of energy and a lot of excitement, so I am feeling good. It was a really cool event. It was really amazing to see everybody out here. I am very fortunate to have everyone here, my family, and my wife as my support system. It's been a huge team effort. I am very fortunate to be from a community like this. I am glad that I was able to do something to make everybody a bit proud.
Mom: "I feel good. I am feeling really good right now," said Andrew's mom, Lisa Weibrecht after watching the parade and fireworks. "I think Andrew had a couple big challenges. The injuries, obviously, that was tough, and last year he was sick for most of the season and had really difficult equipment issues. He is just tough. Ed and I talk about it all the time. He is one of the toughest persons we have ever met. He gets a little down once in a while and then he gives himself a kick and he hops right back up and keeps moving forward. He reasons with himself, and he gets through things. He is really in tune with himself."
Dad: "I feel just wonderful I feel great," said Andrew's dad, Ed Weibrecht. "I am so excited, I am so proud of Andrew. He worked very, very hard."