“Ride the wave.”
That’s what my older brother told himself when he felt out of control. So, as I scraped down ice and bumps between bright lights and patches of black at Brighton on one of my first days skiing, I chanted that in my head. “Just ride the wave, Clare, ride the wave. Ride the wave.” When the hill flattened out and the wind on my cheeks felt like triumph and not terror, I giggled. I did it – I rode the wave and actually had fun while I was doing it. I could do this, I could ski.
It’s been six years since this night at Brighton; I’ve gone from an out-of-control newbie flying down Alta’s beginner terrain, to an Alta and Sego athlete. I’ve had the opportunity to produce ski content as an athlete and encourage growth within the ski community for female athletes. No longer was I fan-girl, ogling over dreamy lines and aggressive cliff drops as I watched my favorite skiers rip on screen from the comforts of my dorm room. I was that girl, making my own lists of lines to conquer and tricks to stomp. Since learning to ride the wave that night at Brighton, I have transformed athletically, and mentally, in more ways than one.
My brothers and I grew up in Pittsburgh. Our mom was eternally positive, intelligent, and successful in her career. My dad was equally intelligent and career-driven, yet not painted with the same positivity that my mom projected. He battled cancer and illness multiple times in his youth, and has since lived with depression and anxiety. Although he was very open about his depression and use of therapy, it’s not a topic that was widely discussed in life outside of our home. And as a young woman in the LDS church living in a mental health-stigmatic society, gratitude was the only accepted attitude. So I never gave my emotions– their meanings, and their consequences–a second thought. I instead chose, as lots of people do, to ignore my internal struggles.
In the Fall of 2019, my parents moved to Australia. A few weeks later, the long-term relationship I was in, ended. I had just begun a new career, had two dogs, and wasn’t sure where I was going to live. The weight of change and uncertainty began to drag me down. No matter how desperately I tried to ignore my loneliness, and maintain that gracious, go-lucky demeanor I wore to mask my feelings, my hopelessness could not be ignored. I started therapy, sharing only the pieces of my mind that carried no shame. My eating became restricted as I placed a lot of value on physical “perfection” to avoid my insecurities.
Now, with the help of my therapist, I’m beginning to realize that these insecurities have weighed on my conscience my entire life; I just never recognized them as valid enough to address. Jumping into a serious relationship at 19 without fully knowing myself and my values caused me to lose my self-worth. I allowed my significant other to define who I was through the simple act of choosing me.
My anxiety manifests as tightness in my chest and quickly-triggered panic attacks; lethargy that restrains me from leaving the safety of my bed; disdain I feel when I partake in an appropriately-sized diet, or look into the mirror at a changing body. I’ve come to learn that navigating my mental health is similar to learning how to ski; I have to start by riding the wave. Looking back at the last year and a half, I feel immensely grateful for my small wins. I still have days or weeks where I feel ashamed of myself and my constant return to unhealthy habits or self-destructive thought loops. Those days happen more often than I wish to admit. However, I am learning to recognize these thoughts as dysmorphic, habitual, and addictive. My thoughts and emotions do not define me, just as a boy could never define me.
Most of my life, my insecurities have kept me from forming close relationships with other girls; I felt competitive rather than supportive. As a skier at one of the top resorts in the country, it’s easy to feel inferior, to make comparisons to other people on social media, to struggle to find where you “fit in” among the clique-culture. When I place my energy into my ski persona or the aesthetic of my Instagram I feel the same emptiness that overwhelms me when I evaluate my worthiness based on my looks or my body. A search for unattainable perfection and approval in the eyes of others is unfulfilling. I see and feel these negative possibilities. There are women in the ski industry pushing for more empowerment and less comparison, more focus on the process of progress rather than perfection. So, I know there is a better path.
Covid upended the Alta community I had just begun to feel comfortable in, and in the initial weeks of lockdown I craved the sense of belonging I had begun to grow accustomed to. My solitude sparked an idea to recreate this community virtually. I reached out to my fellow lady shredders, compiling clips of beer drinking, jumping, falling, and skiing to create a video that to me, felt like a little slice of the Alta vibes I had been missing. The energy that this video incited within my small community and on Newschoolers lit another fire in me. During the Spring, I did a couple ski jump sessions with new ladies and learned how to skateboard. It felt so rewarding to be challenging myself alongside like-minded women, and these experiences of trying, failing, and succeeding led to strong female connection. Inspired by my new experiences and female ski groups such as Womb Tang Clan, I began The Salt Lake Sisterhood with the goal of showcasing and connecting like-minded women. In the short time that The Sisterhood has existed, we’ve connected through writing groups, dryland training, ski meetups, and new-formed friendships on and off social media.
Alta has so many incredible qualities including its snow and terrain. But, what makes Alta really special is the people. I’ve been lucky to be able to carve a place for myself in this community and feel welcomed by it most of the time. But like other women, I have also felt excluded and inferior. I believe that as a collective, we have the power to change this dynamic. We have the power to show young girls they can do a backflip like the edits they see on their feed; to show a mom who has lost her interest in skiing that there are other women that want to meet and rip together; to show that 19-year old girl that is falling in love with the sport and the magic of Alta, that she too can ski those lines, learn those tricks and be a part of that community – just like I did.
It’s easy to wish I’d never gone through my personal struggles, to wish that I’d carried on wearing masks of happiness and ease to disguise my anxiety and fragility from the world and myself. The journey has been difficult but rewarding. Through therapy I’ve learned to recognize the toxic habits and thoughts that stem from my eating disorder are my mind and body’s way of grasping for control among chaos. I’ve come to understand that my lack of trust is a major source of my worry, and that a search for safety and control is my way of combating fear. Without my vulnerability, I would not have made these discoveries. I would not have started the process of learning how to deal with my anxiety. I would not have thought that loving my body could be possible. I need to stick it out through the valleys to reach the peaks, and I’ll continue on this path of growth that is only just beginning.
In the long-run, therapy, my use of antidepressant medication, and continued self-discovery through my personal journey are the keys to my evolution toward finding my authentic self. The effort I put in every day to feel accepting of myself will morph into a much more fulfilling life. And most of all, right now, I feel beyond appreciative for the things in my life that I’ve discovered during these difficulties. I have found so much support from unexpected people in the mountain community, especially from women that I’ve met and skied with. I feel more capable, driven, and excited to be a member of the Alta community than I ever have before. A huge part of that was in allowing myself to feel uncomfortable. Rather than let my fear of not being good enough overtake my life, I trusted that the people around me would embrace me and be there for me. And my trust has been rewarded tenfold.
I will never control the way that my body physically reacts to tough situations or the depressive episodes I fall into. I will continue to ride the wave. I will never control the way my body looks or the way that other people perceive me. I do have the power to trust others and my own strength. I love skiing because I love falling and trying again. I love connecting women through The Salt Lake Sisterhood, and seeing myself progress as an athlete. I love knowing that there is more to me than just a pretty face. I am more than just a skier. I am a woman with curves and corners, anger and empathy, strength and insecurity, and I am learning to love all these things about myself.
Photos by Mackenzie Moran: https://www.mackmoran.com/
Clare rides for Sego and Alta Ski Area. For more about Clare check her Athlete Page