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Being Thankful After Loss

I suppose I’m a few days late on my post, but Thanksgiving (the being grateful part, not necessarily the eat-til-you-pop part) is a way of being that I aspire toward as much as possible, so consider this the start of a movement.

The last few years have been particularly brutal for me. I’ve experienced more consecutive loss than I ever imagined possible, I’ve felt less control in my life, more confusion, and less hope. Losing my father was by far the worst experience of my life. It did, however,  help to put the other “losses” of my life into perspective. Honestly, sometimes, the greatest loss is the quickest way to make you realize what you do have. As someone wise once said, if you can’t learn to be happy with what you have, you will never be happy once you get what you want.

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This is a photo of my family from November 2010. Little did we know it would be the last Thanksgiving that all four of us would spend together.

The Depression

Early in the fall I found myself in a deep depression. For weeks I had inescapable feelings of worthlessness and self-doubt. Feelings of missing my father and needing him more than ever completely overwhelmed me. In hard times like this I am so grateful for sports, not just for the endorphin and adrenaline-releasing aspects, but for the lessons I’ve learned through competing, from setting goals and failing (not succeeding) to reach the desired outcome.

Everyone talks about how valuable participation in sports is, and there are many tangible reasons that partaking in physical activity is beneficial to one’s health. I don’t think “experiencing failure” is one of the reasons mentioned often, but of all the things sport gave me, resilience was by far the greatest gift. If we aren’t exposed to failure, we cannot prepare for it, we cannot become comfortable with it, and we cannot let it move us forward.

A competitive halfpipe run takes somewhere between 30-45 seconds to complete. and in that time I probably make a million decisions. If I make a mistake, there is no time to dwell on it, if something happens that is out of my control, I cannot sit back and feel bad for myself, I need to recover and move forward, adjust my plan along the way. It was one of my strengths as an athlete, I never gave up on a run, I always finished if I was physically able, attempting to get the highest score I could, even in the face of a mistake that I knew would cost me the win. After years of this practice, I would so seamlessly adjust in the face of adversity that many people didn’t even notice that I had made a mistake.

The Loss

After losing my dad, my attention had been shifted to all that I had lost, not just in losing him, but all of the disappointment in my ski career and its impending end. This put me in a downward spiral, spinning out of control. I was forgetting to just continue moving forward, even if I would need to change course again, even if it was a mistake that would need to be corrected later. Instead I just let the thoughts of what I didn’t have and of what I had lost and what I would lose in the future pull me into the darkness.

In life, we are tortured by time. We have so much TIME to think about what we should be doing with our time, that we drive ourselves crazy. I think that’s the nicest part about sports: they’re time-bound. Your win or loss is in a finite moment and then you move on. Adapting this into my daily life has been much harder than applying it to sports, but lucky for me I have some pretty amazing people in my life who help get me navigate these murky waters.

What I Have

Once I shifted my mindset from what I no longer had to making the most of the scraps in front of me, my scraps started turning into something substantial. Soon enough, I was guided in a new direction. I was able to see how I wanted to be living my life, and I was much happier because I was now focused on all that I did have: my health, a supportive fiancee, an incredible family held together through love that deepened when we had to say goodbye to my father in April, I had a roof over my head, I was in school, I was still finding ways to pay my bills and I was alive.  I remember thinking in the final days of my dad’s life, that the only positive about the discomfort he was in was that it meant he was still here, his heart was still beating, I could still hold him in my arms. I’m glad that he is finally at peace now, but when life gets hard, try to remind yourselves that the pain you are experiencing simply means you still have a fighting chance to create the life you’ve always wanted.

This holiday season I am so thankful for all I have, for this community built around the written word, for skiing, for my family, my dogs, the mountains, bicycles, fresh air, hot chocolate and love. It keeps the world goin’ around.

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UA ColdGear Infrared Vailer Jacket | UA Storm Queen Pant | Hestra Fall Line Mitten | RAMP Sports Shebang | Salomon X Pro 120 Boot

 


8 responses to “Being Thankful After Loss”

  1. As always, another inspirational story written right from the heart and put in words that no one else can do any better!

  2. Susan R Sosna says:

    Jenny, as an athlete, your ability to articulate your thoughts and feelings is unique and priceless. Keep writing.

  3. Chris Bolduc says:

    It is so easy, especially after such a difficult loss as losing a father, to fall into a trap of self-loathing and pain. I'm so glad that you've decided to count your blessings and use this experience to grow even more. Thanks for your candid words.

  4. Nicole Burnett says:

    Jen,
    I have very fond memories of your Dad, as Steph’s soccer coach and I still have the photo he took of her playing when she was little. He was a wonderfully kind coach with a great smile. We send you our sincerest condolences. Keep skiing! It’s great therapy!

    • jenhudak says:

      Thank you Nicole! It’s always nice to hear from people whose lives he’s positively affected. I hope all is well with you and say hi to Steph!

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