Friday, May 30, 2014

My season in 1000 words or more



Some things just don’t work out the way you planned. For me, last season should have been the best one of my life, the one I was training 4 years for. Instead, it was my worst year ever. It has taken me a long time to deal with this fact and I apologize for not posting regular updates as I planned to do leading up to and during the Olympics.
I had other issues to deal with. If I back-track a year to last spring, I was feeling really good and strong after the first training camps. Exactly how you want to feel leading up to an Olympic year. Then, in July it was decided that I should go for knee surgery. This was due to a problem I’ve dealt with for about 5 years. The arthroscopic surgery was supposed to improve my comfort level and I was supposed to be ready to train with the team after about 2- 4 weeks, 6 max. Five months later, I was still rehabbing the knee, still feeling pain and starting to feel frustrated and still not able to train.  My knee was much worse than before surgery. I couldn’t do all the regular workouts with the team. In October I started to introduce some roller skiing into my training and just over a week later my knee swelled up once again and I was back to square one… It seems like the orthopedic surgeon was more aggressive on my knee than I, or the coaches, expected.
It was decided that I should go to Europe for the first World Cups in November, however my knee did not hold up to the training and racing. 

I had a meeting with the coaches in Europe and I suggested to them that I go back to Canmore to work with the strength coach, physio therapist, and osteopath; to try to salvage my Olympic year.  I felt like this was my only chance to try and revive my winter. The coaches agreed and back I went, to Canmore, borrowed a truck from my massage therapist and found a place to stay. Time was running out. One month and counting.
Everyday I would drive in to Calgary (100km each way) to get treatments (strength, physio, osteo, you name it). Then I would drive back to ski at the Nordic centre, under the lights at night. I was training alone but I was determined to do whatever it took to get my fitness back. My parents came to visit me one weekend for a little moral support. It was nice to spend some time with them and have some ski buddies for my slower workouts.






February. Time’s up. I had to get back to Europe. My leg was much better than a month ago, but it was not as good as before surgery.  Two days after landing in Europe, I raced a WC sprint in Toblach, didn’t qualify. The next event was the Big Show.
Our team arrived in Sochi and were happy to see that so many hotels and tourist areas were completed since we were there last January. The mountain athletes’ village was way up at altitude and it was amazing. They really took care of us and made our Olympic experience very enjoyable. We felt safe and we had amazing venues to compete at. Everything was great, until I started feeling sick. Not now, and not again!! Four days before my sprint race, I ended up in bed with a bad cold. I had to be isolated from the team. I had to stay at lower altitude at another hotel, could not have any physio or massage treatments in case I contaminated the therapists. So, I was alone again trying to stay positive. I was able to meet with my family in Krasnaya Polyana where I was quarantined. They tried to cheer me up but I could see the concern in their eyes.
On the day of the sprints, I got up and did my warm-up and headed to the start line. In the warm-up area, one of the race officials asked me if I should be racing. He saw what I was coughing up and gave me a tissue for my nosebleed. I was trying so hard to clear out my nose before the start that it eventually started bleeding. It was my Olympic debut. The Olympic sprint course is what I was dreaming of for a long time. It suited my style of skiing.




My first Olympic event: I went out there and gave it all I had that day. I ended up 36th , 2nd Canadian, and missed qualifying by 2 seconds. I was really happy with my effort, I can honestly say I skied to my potential considering everything I have to deal with and the body I was given on that day.
Three days later, It was decided that I would not race the 15km classic, one of my favourite races, due to my cold and let another athlete have their chance.
Five days after the sprint was the 4x10km. This was the one event that I really looked forward to racing. Alex and Devon decided to save themselves for other races because I wasn’t 100%.  That left Ivan, Graeme and Jesse. I wasn’t even sure that I would be racing at 11pm the night before. If I didn’t race, there would be no Canadian team entered. If I raced a hard 10km classic leg, I could end up hurting my lungs. The decision would have to wait until the morning.
In the morning, I couldn’t believe it. It was like a miracle. I felt the best I had felt in days. Not 100%, but a lot better. It was game on. I skied the first leg, Ivan skied the second classic leg and Graeme and Jesse skied the skate legs. We came in a respectable 12th. The same result we had at 2013 World Champs with the full WC team.
Three days later was the Team Sprint.  Alex and Devon won this event at World Champs in 2011. They were looking for a repeat performance in Sochi. As luck would have it, it was Devon’s turn to get sick. He was quarantined at lower altitude and couldn’t train on snow before the event. I was the alternate for this event and I was excited, recovered, and ready to race if needed. The day before the race Devon said he felt better it was decided that he would get the start.
Our team’s results at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games were not what we were expecting. Early on, we had some issues with ski selection and tricky wax days. Our tech guys managed to fix those problems and we had some of the best skis. Other problems, like illness cannot always be avoided and you just have to deal with it the best you can.



OK, with the OWG and illness behind me I was really pumped to race the final sprint race, in Drammen. This is one of the most (if not the most) prestigious sprint courses in the world. I love this course and I have good memories of my first WC podium (2nd place) here in 2012. Time to redeem the season. Technically, I put down one of my best classic races ever. I finished in 34th place, .37 sec out of qualifying. However I was told to keep warming up because 15 of the racers were recorded on video skating up the hill in a classic race with skate skis. Technically this is illegal. I did not skate, I was one of the few to use classic skis in this classic race, and I was still only 0.37 seconds from qualifying despite others cheating, knee surgery, sickness, and many other disappointments to overcome. The officials took 45 minutes deciding what to do. They decided that there were “too many infractions. It would affect the outcome of the race.”.
So that’s my season: I had too much surgery at the wrong time, I had a 10 month rehab, I raced when I was sick, I didn’t get to race when I was well and then I was bumped out of qualifying because I chose to ski by the rules.
This was the hardest year of my life so far. I received a lot of media attention and so much fan support before the Olympics. When things were going south, I felt like I was letting a lot of people down. I’m not discouraged after all of the disappointments. In fact, the opposite is true. I am more determined than ever to train smart (I learned a lot about myself through all this), and race hard.  With everything that was against me, I still wasn’t that far off the best in the world.
I want to thank the people that stuck with me and believed in me even when the odds were stacked up against me, you know who you are.
I felt the good vibes from all my fans during the hard times. I appreciate everyone who has joined Team Lenny. You guys inspire me to keep on going! Thank you!
I’m back to training since the beginning of May. I took a few weeks off in April to surf, windsurf and snorkel in Maui. I kept up my knee rehab in Maui and that mixed with long hours in the water I returned to Canmore in really good shape (much better than the winter).  Even though I didn’t rest too much, it was a great change of activities and exactly what I needed to recharge mentally and strengthen that little leg of mine. 




I am excited to train and race this year with my knee feeling better and building muscle. I am coming back stronger mentally and physically than ever before. I know what I need to do and I know how tough I can be in tough situations, especially with all the support of the people behind me.

Looking forward to working with our new WC coach, Tor-Arne Hetland. A few years ago, I had the pleasure of alpine skiing in chest deep powder with T.A, in Davos on a day off. T.A has been a good friend of mine over the past few years and has always been there to give me pre race pointers that have helped me win medals. So I am excited to work with him all year and get even stronger.

Gearing up for World Champs in Falun 2015, I’m now back training and doing intensities with my teammates and I know I will be back fighting for the podium this season.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Return

Before I get into my blog, I have to tell you that the response to my upcoming fundraiser on Nov. 2 has been fantastic! Check out my Team Lenny event page on Facebook.
www.facebook.com/teamlennyvaljas  We have sold half the tickets in about a week!!! If you're in Toronto, hope to see you there!



Okay, Blog time:

Sometimes things just work out better than expected.
My recovery from knee surgery has taken much longer than anyone anticipated. Since July, I've had to do tons of physio for my knee and I've had to miss out on a lot of adventures this summer. not to mention cardio training. It was hard but I committed to do exactly what the therapists and doctors recommended and not rush the healing process. My amazing friends in Canmore have been very supportive and have helped me to remain positive.
Now, 12 weeks deep into recovery I am more ready than ever to get back training because I've done almost no cardio this entire time. In all honesty, this knee surgery and the time I had to take off to recover, could have been the best thing for my skiing! We will have to wait and see. I had a really fatiguing World Cup season last year and I could feel it's toll on me during our two early season camps, although my fitness was good I just felt exhausted and it's tough to have fun when you feel like that. I needed a break from training to let my body completely reset and start fresh and rested. The only way to do that is with forced rest, like an injury or surgery. As athletes it's very hard to rest, most athletes feel guilty taking extended periods of time off because they think their "competition" is training hard all the time. This is not the case, trust me. Without the proper rest you will not ski fast, period. I have always forced myself to rest both mentally and physically, but with this being an Olympic year I probably wouldn't have given myself the rest I needed after last season. That's why I'm so positive right now. I feel completely rested and ready to go. There is nothing wrong with taking a week off, completely, from training and doing whatever you feel like. I would ask your coach for permission first, they don't love it when athletes just go off the grid for a week unexpectedly, trust me haha. Anyways, this is getting too heavy... 

I started roller skiing this week, knee feels good and I am really looking forward to getting back to normal training with my teammates. 
We have our next training camp starting tomorrow, in California!! I cant wait to get reunited with the whole team again. 


First intensity session since surgery


I was going a little crazy doing the same physio routine in Canmore, I needed a change. I decided to head home for almost two weeks to see the entire family for the first time since November. 
My cottage is my happy place, when the whole family is together, there is no place I would rather be. 
bro, and sis... the best!
Austin making sure stina is ready for her next FIVB World Tour stop

stina kicked our butts... fairly expected 

2 please 

Austin on the boat, our cottage in the background. 

Lastly, I miss my truck. Had to sell "Betty" a few days ago since I'm off to Europe soon. 
She was the best, always getting me to physio on time. Also, commuting on a bike around town is tougher than it looks. I miss her more and more with every pedal stroke ;) 


Isn't she pretty?







Thursday, August 8, 2013

Knee Recovery and Oregon

After our second training camp of the summer in Bend, OR I rushed back to Canmore to have my knee surgery the next day. I have been dealing with a bad knee for almost 5 years now, but lately it was bothering me more and more. The surgery went well but it's too early to tell if it's made a difference. Recovery so far has been a slow and boring process, the first week was for sure the toughest. I am so used to being active and always on the move, keeping myself busy, so to be stuck lying down icing almost all day was pretty much the worst kind of torture for me.  After getting through the first week, I was given the green light to start physio and walking. The team set me up with a really amazing physio in Calgary to help me get better. I am making sure that I am doing everything I can since this is a pretty serious setback. I have been working with Kevin Wagner at the Calgary Olympic Park, this guy is the real deal, he is so knowledgeable and I have no doubt he will leave me stronger than I have ever been.  The first day of physio made me feel a bit discouraged…I was barely able to do a half squat with 25 lbs total… It’s a demoralizing feeling when your brain is telling the muscle to fire but nothing happens. I have been working hard and my knee is slowly improving. I am now able to do some uphill walking, spinning on a bike and half-squats on a wall with body weight.
This past week I travelled down to Pacific City, Oregon for a surf trip with my little brother.

I wasn’t doing much surfing, I was more there for moral support for Austin in the water. I had so much fun teaching him how to surf and watching how fast he picked it up.




One of the days I rented a kayak to do some paddling intensity to try and save some of my fitness. After intensity I took the kayak into the surf and caught some really fun waves. It's crazy how big the waves feel when you are sitting in a kayak. It was intimidating looking up at the waves and realizing that I don’t really know what I’m doing in a kayak. I had a few close calls in the kayak...I'm sure a few kids had their life flash before them when my kayak was careening towards them. Somehow I managed to keep stay upright and not injure any kids all day.
One of the days when the surf was small I had a the idea to build a 100ft waterski rope and tie it to the back of my car and attempt to tow Austin on his surfboard. After a few tries we finally were able to get him going!
Pacific City is such an amazing little surf town, if you can get over the freezing water it is one of the most beautiful places that I have ever surfed.

We found this shark on our morning beach bike ride! It was really cool to see this beautiful animal up close. I glad we didn’t get this close in the water!
Now I am back to physio here in Canmore until I am cleared to start doing my regular ski training again. It has been a nice break from normal training. I worked really hard all summer and I know I can get my fitness back in no time when my knee feels stronger. The main priority right now is just making sure my knee is completely healed so I don’t prolong my recovery. 

Breaking News: I was given the Ok to go stand up paddling this morning, felt awesome to be back on the water!!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Nationals-Maui-Surgery


 Well, it's been a little while since my last update… I don’t even know where to start.

Let's see, after a disappointing World Championships, and the final World Cup races of the season, I had to regroup and focus for one last event: Canadian Nationals. Looking back, I still remember how physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted I was. I had never felt like this before. The only race I could manage to do, was the Sprint. My warmup that morning felt brutal and I tried hard to stay focused on the race when all I felt like doing was putting my skis away and calling it a season.  Another thing I remember from that day is how ridiculously hot it got. After each heat, I would go to the ski chalet, find some scissors and cut a little more material off my race suit. For the final heat I had shorts and short sleeves.


The A final was delayed 15 minutes to deal with a protest, and during that delay, the sun must have gone behind some clouds because all of a sudden I was frozen. I guess I was a little too scissor happy. Once the race did get under way I was struggling to find kick. I had to dig deep on the 2010 Olympic course just to stay with Graham, Phil, and Jess on the long climbs. Once I made it to the top of the course just ahead of those guys I knew my skis were fast enough and the race was mine to lose. I held on through the slop and slush to claim my third National Sprint Championship! 

After hanging up the skinny skis for the season, I was really enjoying Whistler. It was great to be at Nationals to see all my friends and family. I especially think it's important for National Team members to ski and chat with young aspiring athletes whenever possible. This year our team met with fans a few times during World Cup stops in Quebec, Canmore, as well as at Nationals in Callaghan Valley. It was fun to hang out with some of the young fans!


I couldn't be in Whistler and not go alpine skiing. I was able to unleash my new downhill boards and rip some turns on my favorite mountain. 
Austin dared me to hit the big one


This season felt like a very, very long one. Looking back I probably raced a little too much for a sprinter (30 races). As far as I know, I am the only man or woman this year that raced at every stop on the World Cup circuit, including every stage in the Tour de Ski. Haha, maybe next year I'll take a little more rest, so I don’t completely fall apart at the end of the season.
Post-Nationals everyone knows where to find me. Maui. I love that place. This year I spent 6 amazing weeks there and had visits from my family and so many good friends! Lots of great memories.
Rugged West Maui


This is why I'm getting good at repairing boards, party wave anyone?!!
Never turn down an invitation to a party wave
When on the side of a huge cliff, maintain as many points of contact as possible




Jaws... Yeah, I snorkeled that


The best! stina came to visit me!
                                  
Ho'okipa Beach park. My happy place. 
this can barely be considered camping...
Queen air mattress that the truck fills up, sheets, and duvet..




Training has been going great so far this summer. We have had 2 training camps in Bend, and lots of quality training in Canmore. Soon we'll be heading to New Zealand for on-snow training and some racing. My mom just reminded me that I have a new record this year. I've been living out of a suitcase since Nov. 5. That is a long time, and I don't think I could have done it if I didn't have the best teammates, coaches and support staff as friends. 
Bend camp 1, snuck out for a day of surfing in Pacific City


Last week I had a scope surgery done on my knee. Everything should be fine, it's just been a tough week recovering. I don't think I've ever sat still for this long in my life. My stand paddle board is just teasing me sitting in the garage. It will be a few more weeks before I am back doing real training, but until then I will be rehabbing my knee as much as possible.



BTW Keep the date: Nov. 2, 2013 There will be a special event in Toronto to support my Olympic quest. More details to come.


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