Inspired by Anna Willcox, Olympic skier.
Written by CHIA blogger, Anna Watson.
I immediately like the sound of Anna, and its not just because we share the same name. Born and raised on the sands of Auckland’s North Shore beaches, Anna didn’t start freeskiing until she was 19. An unlikely candidate to become a professional freeskier, that is exactly what Anna has achieved. Anna was never one of those tiny six year olds throwing it down the mountain, but she wouldn’t change a thing. Anna thinks that her childhood was valuable for the life and friends she still retains outside of skiing, something which she believes “keeps you grounded”.
The focus of a freeskier
Although Anna hasn’t had a typical upbringing of a professional freeskier, she definitely has the focus. As a freeskier, she will often pick herself up again and again until she lands a particular trick. However, it’s all worth it for “that amazing rush that you get when you do something for the first time that you have been working your butt off for.” Focus is also crucial in the face of competition. Before starting a run, Anna will take her mind off the pressure in those final moments by listening to her favourite tunes and breathing deeply to get the oxygen pumping.
As I learn more about Anna’s lifestyle, it becomes clear that this girl is made of the tough stuff. As a competitive athlete, “everything is always so up in the air that it’s hard to prepare a week ahead, let alone two days ahead”. Sports such as swimming carry the benefit of predictability in conditions and a lower risk of injury. By contrast, success in snow sports can be foiled in an instant by a turn in weather, sudden injury or just the wrong headspace. With so many factors to think about, Anna has been forced to learn how to manage a lifestyle where everything is often up in the air and out of her hands.
A second family
Even though it’s a solo sport, Anna says there is definitely a sense of team amongst the female freeskiers. “It’s almost like being a part of a small family; there are so few of us that it’s hard not to make some good friends from all over the world.” Because freeskiing can be so intense and dangerous, the girls become more connected knowing the risk that they each take by clipping into their skis. As Anna says, “we all look out for each other”.
Picking out a silver lining
Traumatic physical injury is an experience to which Anna can personally attest. Just as Anna was gearing up for the 2014 / 2015 Northern Hemisphere season, she suffered a knee injury that took her out for the rest of the year. The thought of a summer of rehab left Anna devastated. But as she started to work through her recovery, Anna learned more about herself than ever before. She discovered her passion for inspiring others to be bold and chase their dreams. “We can so easily be distracted, but I’m more about doing what your heart tells you to do.”
How to carve up on the slopes
So what is Anna’s secret to successfully chasing her dreams? “For me, it comes down to confidence and commitment. If you are going to do something in life then jump in with two feet and no doubts.” It is Anna’s inner confidence that makes all the difference when she is striving for a goal. “One way I build up that inner confidence is going back to gratitude. Focus on everything you have going for you and stop focusing on what you don’t.” Something that Anna is especially grateful for is what all New Zealanders have in common; a beautiful country with countless opportunities in education, in sports and in adventure.
The ‘f’ in life stands for Fun
Anna’s confidence has led her to seize the opportunities that have come her way. She has teamed this with an attitude that lends itself to fun, as “I am a big believer in fun leading to success”. It therefore comes as little surprise that Richard Branson is one of Anna’s role models -“he is productive and enjoys being bold and challenging himself, but at the same time he understands how important it is to have fun”.
For Anna, it is by focusing on having fun as well as working hard that she achieves the most rewarding outcomes. “Looking back, I have had times where I am so focused and putting in my all but in the end I have a crap time and often don’t get what I want. When I focus on having fun as well as working hard the outcome is so much better.”
The end goal
So what goals does Anna currently have in mind for the future? A podium finish at the 2018 Winter Olympics and competing in the X Games are two specific goals that Anna is excited to tackle head on. But ultimately Anna wants to “go and ski my absolute best” – and I’m left with no doubt that Anna will do exactly that.