Ilka Stuhec

7 MIN

2017 was my best season so far, and I remember a special moment from that year, that I experienced in Cortina. My entire family had arrived to see me compete and I always feel different when I know they’re in the audience. My aunts and uncles are not particularly knowledgeable about the technicalities of skiing, so during the assignment of the bibs my mum was trying to explain to them which were the best numbers for the Super-G the day after.

Any number except 1

she repeated

Because number 1 is a bit like a guinea pig for all the others.

It’s not like downhill, where you can test the slope. If you are the first to start you can only count on your own skill and strength, without the benefit of the information that arrives via radio on those who already completed the race.

 

While mum was explaining all this, at that exact moment I got on stage and pointed my finger decisively at the bib I wanted.

The number 1, of course.

Not that I was crazy, but I had seen the track and I felt that I could do well, indeed very well, and I wanted to be the first to go.

I wanted the Olympia delle Tofane immaculate.

All for me.

Ilka Stuhec

I have a beautiful memory of that day, not only because starting with bib number 1, I came first, but also because my family still tells the story about how my aunts and uncles burst out laughing in the middle of the square when I made my bib choice, making fun of my mum in the loudest and funniest way possible.

Those little anecdotes and snippets from real life are what keep any skier, at whatever level, grounded in the world, and they are worth as much as, if not more, than the big achievements.

Because it is the human aspect that makes everyone’s story special.

You can reap success or see your dreams come crashing down on the wall of exhaustion, or talent, or injury, but nothing can ever change what sport has done for you.

What sport has done for me.

My mum was happy that she had two little girls, me and my sister Dora.

Too bad we quickly became two real tomboys.

We always started out playing, then the game became a fight, and it always ended in tears.

Every single day.

Then in the evening we made peace and the next day we started all over again.

My mum was often away from home and worked hard to allow me and Dora to practice sport.

Skiing is expensive, and without her sacrifices we would never have been able to do it.

Even more so because she had to make those sacrifices alone.

Ilka Stuhec

Living with your parents’ divorce is like having a mountain to climb in front of you, and many children in the world are forced to face this mountain.

You cannot go around it and you cannot ignore it. You have to climb it.

And it is easy to get lost on the way up, or forget the reason for the journey. Or lose your lightness, which at that age should be a duty rather than a right.

It hasn’t always been easy for Dora and me, but when I look back, I can say with absolute certainty that I had a beautiful childhood and for that I must also thank skiing.

 

Yes, because everyone understands sport.

Complicated in its mechanisms, but very simple in its reasons.

It is the good that generates good, the hard work that brings people together.

It allows you to be yourself, even before you know who you really are.

Life is not always a walk in the park, and it’s as if skiing held the pieces of my life together at times when they were about to shatter completely.

Like glue.

Like a beautiful story, because there is always need for a beautiful story.

 

My mum was the first to believe in it, even before I did.

Then my friends believed it, my old friends, the ones that will never change but will remain friends forever, and when someone at the bar asks my autograph, they burst out laughing and ask:

an autograph? From you? And Why?

Ilka Stuhec

The beauty of this long journey also brought the rest of my family closer together, who now share a great story, and travels, and above all memories.

And this is precisely what makes this journey so important, nothing can remind you better than sport that the only thing that matters is that you are a human being.

Nothing less.

 

Sometimes I think back to when I was 17 and facing the World Cup.

I almost felt like a super-hero, immune to the tumbles of life and its tight switchbacks.

When you are young you believe that other people’s problems are statistics, while your own are just cosmic bad luck.

 

But skiers fall into two groups, those who have yet to get injured and those who already got injured, and when you move from the first group to the second group you realize there is no difference between bad luck and statistics.

That year, I too made the leap from one group to another, and in so doing learning an important lesson.

 

Today, to that girl so full of hope and desire to win, injured for the first time, I wouldn’t say anything.

I wouldn’t give her any advice.

Because in a little while she’ll return to being a great skier, and then she’ll get injured again, and yet again she’ll come back. And so it goes for as long as she wants to do it.

But the beauty of discovering her own motives, little by little, deserves not to be spoilt.

And the surprise of understanding that what makes her special is her not being special, but human, is a joy that must be savoured in the moment, while watching her family laughing heartily below the stage where the bibs are chosen.

Ilka Stuhec / Contributor

Ilka Stuhec

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