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Skiing

⛷️ Dara Howell

March 17, 2020
Dara Howell

Two-time Olympian Dara Howell is truly amazing. At the ripe age of 19, Dara won a gold medal at the debut of slopestyle skiing at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. No big deal! Dara competed in the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics before being sidelined in late 2018 with a season-ending knee injury. Now she’s back with a fresh perspective, a fresh podium finish at the most recent World Cup and...Dara wants to become the best freestyle skier in the world. 

Lexie at The GIST (TG): Okay slopestyle skiing. You’re essentially tossing yourself off of cliffs and doing jumps while on sticks. How did you get into it? Were you a daredevil as a kid?

DH: I was always a daredevil! *Dara chuckles* My mom always thought I would go to the Olympics in something, but she never knew which sport because I was always doing different things. 

Growing up, my family owned a small family resort in Huntsville, ON (Pow Wow Point Lodge). My parents had it for 27 years, and my grandparents owned it for 25 years, so skiing was very much a part of my family. My granddad is actually still a skier, and he just turned 96. He still skis at 96! 

It was always in my nature to be adventurous. My older brother and I were always outside and active, plus we basically grew up on the water living in Huntsville.

I think my parents just kind of threw me on skis around 18 months old because my brother was already into it *Dara chuckles*.

c/o Dara Howell

c/o Dara Howell

LH: That’s so amazing. How did you get into slopestyle, especially given it was a new Olympic sport for Sochi 2014?

DH: I grew up ski racing and figure skating from an early age, those were my two biggest sports. I eventually quit those. I thought ski racing was too disciplined. And, it was cold! *Dara laughs* And figure skating I enjoyed, but I really just loved the jumps, and I wasn’t as good at the dance component. So when I decided to stop around the age of 15, my dad told me I had to get a job, so I became a Level 1 ski instructor at Hidden Valley in Huntsville and taught little kids. Then, on my off time I would hang out with my ski friends in the park (Editor’s note: the “park” is where all the jumps, half-pipes, etc. are), and got connected to doing tricks there.

Slopestyle skiing is basically downhill racing combined with the jumping aspect of figure skating, so it’s weird how it’s all come full circle and led me to this wild path.

TG: It was meant to be! In 2014, you won Gold at the inaugural Olympic slopestyle skiing event in Sochi, Russia, which is just unreal — what were your feelings going in?

DH: Going into Sochi 2014, I was hungry. I was fighting so hard because I believed in myself so much and just wanted to do the best that I could do...and I knew anything was possible. I was definitely the underdog. I wasn’t really on the radar as someone who would win and it wasn’t supposed to be my time.

So there was no real pressure, no one really knew who I was, and I was just set on what I was doing. 

I wasn’t going to let anything stop me from achieving what I knew I was capable of. 

And, my family just bought in 100%. They have always supported me and told me I can achieve whatever I put my mind to. So I came in with no expectations, other than just wanting to do my best.

I look back on it now as a blessing. At the time, it was frustrating and hard. Luckily my family was amazing and supported me.

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TG: That’s unreal, but I know it wasn’t easy for you and your feelings towards winning have been complicated. Can you talk about your relationship with winning the Gold medal, and where you’re at now? 

DH: It’s definitely better. I’ve really put in the work in myself, and my skiing. And I have a bit more perspective as I get older. I now appreciate my medal more, and what my family and community did to help me get that medal. I definitely was not bitter towards it, but I had some feelings after the Olympics. I think as you get older, you learn more about yourself, and to appreciate things more. I would never take my medal for granted, it’s taught me so much about myself, both good and bad, and it’s given me so many opportunities.

TG: How important is working on, and prioritizing, the mental aspect of being an athlete? What does your physical and mental workout regime look like?

DH: The mental side is huge! I think for any athlete it is. For me personally, I’m throwing myself off of massive jumps. So, the mental side is massive because of what you’re putting your body through. And I think that’s what really makes a good athlete ⁠— having that strong mental game. I really work at allowing myself to process and properly think things through. I try to be a very smart athlete. I listen to my gut a lot and learning to trust yourself is a really important thing. The stronger you are mentally, the better athlete you are. And the more prepared you are for success.

I work with a sports psychologist and I love it. She helps me become more aware of my thought process and what I need to do to bring the tension down. Just being more aware of what’s going through your brain and making changes as you go so that you are in a healthy mindset, that will really help you be successful. 

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TG: So, you’re coming off of a HUGE bronze medal at your first World Cup appearance since your season-ending knee injury in October 2018. What was that like?

DH: Honestly it was pretty wild! I tore my ACL last year in my first contest of the year, and that kind of put things on a different path for me. So coming back a couple of weeks ago with a podium finish was pretty special to me.

I think before I left for it, my dad was telling me, “expectations, not too high!” Obviously my expectations were still going to be high, but it actually went better than even I was planning. I surprised myself a little bit. Now it’s go time, and I have to find a way to keep building off of that. 

TG: That’s awesome. Now, what’s next for you? What are you working toward?

DH: I’m just focused on coming back strong. I want to be the best athlete that I can be. I don’t want to let the injury take over. Going through last year, I had to think about whether or not I was going to come back, and why I was going to come back. 

I love skiing, love pushing myself, and now...I want to be the best. And I know that’s a pretty bold statement, but I really feel if I continue to work hard and be smart, that’s a real possibility for me.

So going into this season I want to be smart with my expectations, but push myself to get on the podium. I really want to push myself in Big Air, that’s really where I see a lot of potential for me (Editor’s note: Big Air is generally one large jump versus slopestyle which is a series of jumps and tricks on a short course). I love to jump, and it’s a new discipline. It’s got this fun, intense vibe about it. Do those words even go together? *Dara laughs*  But that’s where I’m at. I want to go to X-Games. I’m going to China for a competition soon. I just want to have fun, and set myself up for success. And it’s really important to have fun, because good things happen when you do.

TG: Absolutely. That’s what sports are really all about! You’ve also launched Dara’s Women Into Sports Fund. Can you tell us more about it and why it’s important to you?

DH: Yes! My family and I started “Dara’s Fund” a few years ago. I grew up in a small community where I had a lot of support. But in a small community, it’s especially hard to find the right facilities to excel in sports. You often have to travel for the sport, and there are a lot of extra costs versus in a larger city where the resources are more accessible. So, it was important for us to give back to the Muskoka community and encourage more girls to get into sport, and help them know they can succeed and excel. Coming from a small community shouldn’t hinder young athletes, especially young girls, in any way and actually with the right support, you should be even more setup for success.

It’s really cool to see the amount of girls that apply to the fund, and all of the different sports they play ⁠— it’s really inspiring. There is a fencer that has the potential to go to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and it’s so amazing to see. If we can help support them in any way possible, even in the smallest way, that’s amazing.

It’s important for me to give back when so many people have helped, and continue to help, me along my journey. So this fund really stems from that, and now I want to be able to pay it forward and help other female athletes.

TG: That is incredible, Dara! So awesome you’re doing that. 

TG: Okay, let’s end on some rapid-fire questions.

TG:  If you could be an athlete at Summer Olympics, what sport would you want to compete in?

DH: Trampoline!

TG: So on brand for you! What are you binge watching right now?

DH: Oh my gosh I watch everything on Netflix. I just watched Supergirl — it was good!

TG: Who is your favourite athlete?

DH: Lindsey Vonn

TG: Do you believe in aliens?

DH: No!

TG: Ooh controversial! What stereotypical millennial item do you splurge on the most?

DH: Almond milk cappuccino

TG: What’s your all-time favourite concert?

DH: Dierks Bentley. I’m a country girl!

TG: Looking at your Instagram, when can we expect your pro career in golf to start?

DH: Hopefully tomorrow! *Dara laughs* I’m going for the longest drive after I’m done skiing. I’m going to get my ski coach to be my golf coach, he actually does both!

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That's #thegistofit

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🏅⛷️ Georgia Simmerling

March 13, 2020
Georgia Simmerling

International Women’s Day is Friday March 8th. To celebrate, we’re featuring one bad @$$ female athlete for each of the four newsletters leading up to the special day. Why? Because female athletes only receive 4% of sports media coverage which we think (and we’re sure you do too) is absolutely ridiculous. So, as a women-led sports company, we want to help change that stat.  

On top of their respective interview features, each athlete will be taking over our Instagram story (@thegistnews.ca) on the day their interview is released. So be sure to toss us a follow to get behind the scenes footage of the day-to-day lives of these amazing athletes.

We are SO excited to start things off with Georgia Simmerling. Simmerling is the first Canadian to compete in three different sports across three different Olympic Games - alpine skiing, ski cross and track cycling. No big deal right? Let’s get into it with Georgia.

Images c/o Georgia Simmerling’s Instagram @gsimmerling

Ellen from The GIST (TG): How the heck do you manage being an athlete in three different sports?! How does the training differ between them? That’s amazing!

Georgia Simmerling (GS): Well to start, I need to say I definitely do not compete in all three sports all at the same time. Right now I’m competing in track cycling (Editor's Note: Her team is actually in Poland right now getting ready to kick @$$ and take names at the Track Cycling World Championships).

How I compete at an elite level I think goes back to my personality. I grew up alpine skiing, but then I got to a point in my career as a young alpine skier where I didn’t see myself progressing to where I wanted to for the next couple years. Then, I heard of ski cross and that looked like a HELLUVA lot of fun so I wanted to give it a shot. I’m a pretty dedicated athlete with a crazy willpower to continue to succeed and find success. Really, it comes down to doing what you love and that’s exactly what I’m doing. I have an overpowering sense of pursuing my passion and that has always trumped the hardships and the struggles.

In terms of training for skiing vs. cycling, my body just kind of changes itself. In skicross you need to have a really strong upper and lower body, and agility is also super important. On the other hand, cycling is very linear. I end up biking away some of the weight in my upper body and lose my butt… which I’m never happy about. *cue laughter* The weight change altogether is about 10 ish pounds.

The big difference with skiing vs. track cycling is the team aspect. It’s very different training and competing as an individual vs. as part of a team. Crossing the finish line in Rio with my team was one of the best moments in my life. One month later I was in Switzerland back on my skis training. And after a training run I had a completely different sense of accomplishment. I could go on forever about the differences, but I truly do love them both.

TG: With these sports come a lot of injuries and you’ve had your fair share of serious ones (in January 2018 she broke BOTH of her legs and had six tunnels drilled through her leg to repair every ligament in her knee at the last Ski Cross World Cup before the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games). How do you keep yourself motivated and your head in the game?

GS: Being an athlete, you have to love what you do every day. It’s not just about stepping on the podium. Last year was one of the most challenging years of my life. Injuries really gave me perspective on what I do, and why I do it. They test you as an athlete and as a human being, but also help to highlight why you do what you love.  

TG: We just learned that you and Stephanie Labbe (the goalkeeper from the Canadian Women’s Soccer team) are dating through Steph’s Canadian Olympic Committee article written for #BellLetsTalk. First, you guys are a power couple and we’re big fans of both of you. Second, on the topic of #BellLetsTalk day, we wanted to dive into mental health more. What do you do to keep yourself mentally fit?

GS: First, thank you! On mental health, yoga has been a very big part of my life for well over a decade. Since I was 13 years old my mom would drag me to yoga and at that age I was always like “I don’t get a workout in, I don’t sweat enough” (Editor’s Note: also guilty). But now, my relationship with yoga has evolved into so much more than a workout. As you can probably tell, I have a very go-go personality, so it’s very important for me to take an hour and do yoga daily. I find it truly meditative and that it helps keep my mind healthy. It also helps me stay away from distractions like my phone and computer. After I do yoga, I feel a profound sense of revitalization and recharge.

TG: Although you’ve been competing for a while, you’re still young at only 29 years old. How do you handle the weight/pressure of representing your country? Or how, conversely, does it motivate you?

GS: I don’t see it as pressure; I see it as an honour. I’m extremely grateful to have worn the Canadian flag on my back multiple times. As an Olympian I feel like I have a duty to give back and share my story to help inspire others.  At one point in my career, I realized that not everyone is an Olympian and started to see the positive impact of sharing my story. I think that all Olympians - stars or not - should be diligently giving back to their communities. Whether I am speaking to a group of CEOs or speaking to a group of children, if I can inspire two people in the groups I’m talking to, I feel like I’ve got a gold medal around my neck.

TG: Alright Georgia. Now it’s time to have some fun with some rapid-fire questions.

What’s something that you can’t live without? Phone

What’s your go-to work out? A super intense 45-minute circuit

Who’s your favourite athlete? Clara Hughes

Oprah or Ellen? Ellen obviously

Peanut Butter or Jam? Peanut Butter - but actually I prefer almond butter.

What is your favourite between alpine skiing, ski cross and track cycling? Ugh. I hate that question. I don’t have a favourite - they all are so different and opposite to each other.

Words/mantra you live by: Give it your all

That's #thegistofit

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