(Ed’s note: This is part II of a two-part series by Colby James West; read part I here.)
After my visualization, I went to the starting gate. I could barely tighten my ski boots, my hands were so cramped up. My tongue was tingling and the right half of my face was numb. The starter announced that I had three minutes until the cameras and judges were ready then I could drop in. I stamped my feet and wiped the snow from the tops of my skis just to keep moving. After the three longest minutes of maybe my life, the starter turned to me again and said, ”Commercial break. Four more minutes.”
“What?! Ugh! Ok, well I’ll be here waiting, when you need me.” I said, sarcastically with a nervous chuckle. She smiled, warmly. It was my third X Games appearance and she had been there every year that I had, with her daughter as a secondary starter. It was definitely somewhat comforting having her there now. Seeing her reminded me that I had been standing at the top of an X Games contest run before and ended up fairing rather well on those occasions.
Three more eternal minutes went by and by then I felt quite ready to take my run. It was the very last event of the X Games weekend. The park crew that took care of the jumps was standing next to the first feature of the course, looking almost as anxious as I was to get out of there. The other people at the start, cameramen, and other production assistants, were clearly over the hubbub of the weekend as well. It seemed that I was the only one still thinking about the contest.
When the starter turned to me again and added another three minutes onto my waiting time, I nearly had a stroke again.
“What the hell!?” I said quite loudly. “This sucks!” I concluded, reacting verbally without even thinking. I immediately regretted it. In that instant, I changed the entire vibe of the small group at the starting gate from bored and tired to awkward and tense.
This caused my own nerves to get to me even more. I felt guilty. All eyes were on me and I was now clearly unhappy with waiting. I felt like I’d just punched a puppy in front of everyone, or something. I knew that I had to change it all around. I definitely wasn’t going to be able to ski well if I was in a negative mood and feeling like an enemy. I took a deep breath and tried to remain calm, closing my eyes behind my goggles. My brain started working to find a way to fix the situation, which brought me back to the song I had been humming in the staging tent. It was a perfect way to get everyone’s spirits back up.
I started out just speaking the words softly.
“At first I was afraid, I was petrified. Kept thinking, I could never live without you by my side.”
The starters picked up on my tune and smiled. I continued a little louder so that everyone could hear me. “But then I spent so many nights, just thinking how you did me wrong, and I grew strong. I learned how to get along!”
Then I was singing loud and full, to the best of my ability, which doesn’t say much, but it didn’t matter. The starters joined me softly as I worked my way to the chorus. The park crew were staring, seemingly in shock, but smiling nonetheless. I was pretty sure that no other athletes had sung a song before taking their run, besides maybe Jossi Wells from New Zealand. He doesn’t exactly sing, but prefers to spit inspirational rap lines from his favorite artist, Lil Wayne, before dropping into his contest run.
Right as I was midway through the chorus, the starter said I was to drop in thirty seconds. Cameras where ready. Judges were ready. My relaxed mind was also ready. I stopped singing and went through my run in my head again, then thanked the starters and yelled to the park crew that they had done a great job on the course. They nodded their appreciation.
In one instant, I had changed everyone’s mood to negative, and in the next, they were all rooting for me to do my best. That’s how it felt anyway. Nothing could stop me then. The starter gave me the go ahead and I dropped in, gliding through the course, spinning flipping and grabbing my skis just as I had envisioned. It turned out to be my best run of the day.
I didn’t win, but ended up in third place. Good enough for me. I skied as well as I could and was rewarded with the extreme joy and satisfaction that can only be gotten from standing on a podium on a world stage such as the X Games.