Easing the Downhill Ride

Today, the blogosphere is chock-full of words about tomorrow’s election and the East Coast’s unfathomable woes. Instead of adding my two cents, this Permission Slips post will simply reiterate one of our core messages: give yourself a break.

I found inspiration Sunday morning listening to former Olympic skier Libby Ludlow speak of the challenges she faced, the lessons she learned and her mission to empower middle-school girls.

ImageLudlow’s main message—have compassion for yourself—clearly resounded with the mothers and daughters who gathered for The Lake Washington Chapter of the National Charity League (NCL) annual members’ tea.

Nationwide, mothers and their seventh- to twelfth-grade daughters join NCL to engage in volunteer work together. Last year, some 40,000 NCL members nationwide contributed 1.1 million hours of philanthropic work to their communities.

But on Sunday, local NCL members took a break and learned they should be easier on and kinder to themselves.

Ludlow wishes she had learned that lesson much earlier.

Ludlow, who grew up in the Seattle area, spent a decade on the U.S. Ski team as a downhill, SuperG and GS racer, and was part of the 2006 Olympic Ski Team.

She earned a degree from Dartmouth College, currently is a third-year law student at the University of Washington and recently founded ZGirls, a for-profit organization dedicated to empowering young girls, primarily competitive athletes, with confidence, courage and community.

ZGirls offers mentoring, workshops and camps for 11- to 14-year-old female athletes. Its mission is to help girls with goal-setting, positive self-talk, positive body image, self-confidence and recognizing the importance of support networks.

Ludlow would have appreciated a resource such as ZGirls when she was competing. Despite her extraordinary success on the World Cup circuit and in making the Olympic team, Ludlow faced a fair amount of adversity along the way. First and foremost is her diminutive size; she is on the shorter and lighter side, while the laws of physics dictate that a larger and heavier object will move more quickly down a slope.

“I was outweighed by up to 60 pounds by some competitors, and didn’t have the weight on some of the long flats to carry me across [quickly enough],” she explained.

A related challenge was that ski racing’s governing body sets a minimum length for downhill skis, and super-long skis can be difficult for someone of Ludlow’s stature to manage.

Perhaps more significantly, Ludlow suffered four major knee injuries during her 10 years on the national team, two of which were within months of Olympics games. The second ACL tear kept her off the 2002 Olympic squad; a later injury, which hinted at a degenerative problem with her knee, came 10 months before the 2006 Games.

She fought back in 2005 and, against all odds, was in prime form for the Olympics in Turin, Italy.  “What matters most is not the hand you are dealt, but how you deal with it,” she said.

She didn’t place as well as she had hoped in the Games – she was ranked tenth in the world, but came in 28th. The photographs in her power-point slide show demonstrate the disappointment Ludlow felt. However, looking back, she feels more positive about having attained her goal of competing in the Olympics, overcoming adversity to get there and learning important life lessons through the experience.

Ludlow recalled that at the starting gate atop race courses, she would often tell herself, “I don’t know what to expect, so I’ll have to react to whatever the mountain throws at me.”

Once she began speeding down slopes at 85 miles per hour, though, her intense focus allowed her to tune out the cheers of the crowd, the sting of the wind against her face and the chatter of her skis on the packed powder; she would then “feel an amazing sense of focus and calm.”

“My coaches [often] told me I was trying too hard,” she recalls, adding that she didn’t understand why anyone would instruct her not to do her best.

She now recognizes that “I was [always] too hard on myself.”

It wasn’t until after she retired from racing and became a yoga instructor that she realized that calm is really the key to success in sports — and in life.  “Balancing effort and ease will make for a smoother run,” she explained.

Clearly, Ludlow hoped the room of middle- and high school girls – and their mothers – would understand her allegory about life.  In all you do, she continued, “you need to cultivate a sense of ease and compassion and patience for yourself.”

Instead of being too self-critical, she stresses that “when you achieve a goal, enjoy the accomplishment. Honor your little victories.”

Ludlow’s words rang loud and clear for the local NCL members – both daughters and mothers: whatever you are attempting, no matter how difficult it seems at the beginning, “just take a deep breath, push yourself out of the starting gate and take the plunge. Figure out a way to muster the courage, and just go.”

Perhaps those out campaigning, mopping up basements or wondering how they can help East Coasters could heed that advice, as well.

-Linda Williams Rorem, 5 November 2012
To subscribe, email PermissionSlips1@gmail.com


  1. Becca LeProwse says:

    Loved this post! I am going to share with my daughter!


  1. […] check out an awesome recap of Libby’s speech, written by Linda Williams Rorem.  Her blog is called, Permission Slips, and we are so honored to […]

  2. […] Easing the Downhill Ride – Permission to grow through adversity/ Olympian Libby Ludlow (Linda) […]

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