Season 01 : Episode 07
Anik Wild is a former X Games Champion in skicross, businesswoman, and proud mom. She competed for over 30 years in downhill ski racing and 10 months before the 2010 Olympics, she was forced to retire from her sport due to the cumulative effects of her multiple concussions. Anik sat down with Erin and Kristin in Truckee, CA, where she currently lives with her husband and son to talk about the love of competing, the heartache of having to leave her dream of an Olympic medal on the table, and the joy of being a mom and lifelong athlete. Anik is pursuing life after sport with just as much intensity as she did her career as a skicross racer, but the process of leaving active competition has been a long emotional journey and is the first to admit that she's not completely over it.
[2:20] Anik started ski racing when she was 7 years old in Canada. Her parents were athletic, but not competitive. They did ski patrol, climbing, water ski jumping, and other athletic activities. Anik started cross country skiing when she started walking, and was competitive right away. She says she was a sore loser when she was a child, and would throw fits and make up stories when things didn’t go her way.
[5:30] Anik was a competitor right from the start, and her parents were incredibly supportive when she was young, and they allowed her to pave her own path on her athletic journey. When she was making the decision whether she should train with an older group of skiers or not, she wanted her parents’ advice, but they wanted her to make the decision on her own. She is incredibly thankful for how they raised her to take her career into her own hands.
[7:30] Anik talks about the progression to the X Games, and how her development through the Canadian National Team progression was fraught with health problems, which held her back multiple times. Anik had mono, overtraining syndrome, a knee injury, bad nutrition, and multiple concussions.
[10:00] Erin and Anik talk about fear sports versus suffer sports, and how ski cross is more of a fear sport, where the demons are at the beginning of the race rather than towards the end. Anik talks about how earlier in her career when she was racing alpine - the races were more predictable, and only against the clock. She also skied slalom and GS.
[12:40] Anik talks about fear going down the mountain was never a big problem for her. Her greatest fear was of not winning. During her alpine racing career, she emphasized helping others, even her competitors.
[14:45] Anik talks about the concept and role of fear in her approach to her ski career. She talks about how fear fuels her, and she can identify the steps that will get her through it. She relates fear in sport to her role as a businesswoman now, just a different realm. Anik talks about how her son Jaxi, who is seven, has already developed a system to evaluate fear and then tackle challenges, and how she admires this trait. Anik’s approach to fear is completely internal, and she isn’t quite sure how she does it. People think she is fearless, but she disagrees- she just has mechanisms to overcome it.
[17:40] Anik talks about how she misses scaring herself. She misses the physical challenges that fill her with butterflies. She wants a scary challenge that is more measurable physically than a scary business situation.
[19:20] Anik talks about how she is missing the physical component of being a competitor in her life now (where most of her time is taken up being a businesswoman and a mom). She thinks the reason she is very into CrossFit right now is because she is trying to make up for what she feels she is missing. She thinks everyone needs a little push and a little fear in life.
[22:00] How Anik managed fear and used it as an evaluation tool for her own safety during her racing career. There were times in Anik’s ski cross career where she evaluated the ski course before a race and decided it was too dangerous, and she decided not to race.
[24:30] Anik talks about how she had to figure out when to listen to the little voice in her head telling her to push through or stop. She didn’t always get it right, but she often did. She learned from these experiences, though, and allowed her to make better and smarter decisions later on.
[27:00] Anik is incredibly grateful for the way she was raised to take ownership of her own choices, and thinks that has translated to how she handles adversity now as an adult.
[28:00] Anik made choices throughout adolescence and her 20’s that prioritized her ski racing over social gatherings with friends. She was not distracted and saw a lot of success. She was picked for a scholarship to go to the US after all of her hard work. Up until that point, Anik’s dad had been paying her way for ski racing in Canada, but when she got the scholarship offer in the US when she was 24, her dad told her it was time for her to go. She ended up spending five years in college, started ski cross in her final year of college, and qualified for the X Games the next year. (Oh by the way, she won the X Games on her first try…)
[32:00] Anik’s X Games history.
[33:00] Early on in her professional career, ski cross courses were notoriously dangerous, and Anik and her competitors had to be very smart about which races to enter. She would always scope out the course beforehand and decide if she was willing to risk it. There were certain builders within the circuit who were good, and she knew they were solid, and was more likely to do their events if the chances of her walking away from the event uninjured were better. Prize money was also a factor.
[33:40] Anik’s worst injury was at a training camp in Canada, far away from Calgary, when she was 35. On the last day of the camp, she had a disagreement with her coach and raced down the mountain in unsafe conditions. She ended up breaking several bones, including her hips, hand, separated her shoulder and dislocated her thumb. Apart from that injury, she only hurt her knees a few times, but she counts herself as pretty lucky.
[36:20] How Anik knew she was ready to retire? She wishes she wasn’t retired. She stopped because of too many head injuries. At her final X Games in 2009 she got her ninth concussion. She was hoping the Vancouver Olympics 1 year later would be her final race, and definitely didn’t think she would retire before that. However, at the X Games she had trouble clearing and landing the final jump. Even though she landed the jump, she landed so hard that she received a concussion just from a hard landing. On the chair lift back up the mountain after the race, her sister noticed that Anik was repeating herself and not making much sense. Ski patrol saw that she was not behaving properly, had uneven pupils, and pulled her. She ended up having such bad lasting effects from that final concussion that she couldn’t go to the Worlds that year either. After being unable to even mountain bike because of the effects of the concussion, she realized her career was likely over.
[40:10] Anik remembers not wanting to watch the Vancouver Olympics. She ended up watching because she wanted to support the women she had been racing with and against for years. She remembers making excuses for herself while she was watching to explain to herself why she wasn’t there, which frustrates her now. The team was really good, and she wonders if she even would have made the team if she had been healthy.
[42:15] Throughout the first year after retiring, Anik was in a bit of denial. In the back of her mind she thought she would go back and compete. After 30 years of competition, she wasn’t ready to let go. Even now, it’s been 9 years since she retired, but she still doesn’t feel 100% complete. Even though she has a child, a great marriage, an amazing business, she still thinks she will not feel like she is totally complete without her athletic career.
[45:10] On sport being irreplaceable in her life: Anik thinks she will be a lifelong athlete, and she has tried to replace skiing with other sports, such as becoming an all-around water athlete.
[46:30] Anik and her husband founded the Tahoe Waterman in 2010, and their vision was getting kids to have access to water sports. In 2011, Anik and her husband found the perfect location for their water sport mecca and coffee shop. Anik was pregnant with her son at the same time. The next 7 years were brutally difficult - she got very little sleep, worked incredibly hard, and she got very ill. She took a step back to address her health issues and stopped working out so much, stopped racing events, and started evaluating her health and learning about some strategies to help.
[51:30] Anik is working on strategies to help herself deal with her incredibly aggressive and competitive instincts. She has started practicing yoga, eating mindfully, and learning to do less. She is trying to be okay with not always pushing herself to the absolute max.
[54:00] How Anik supported herself during her ski career: When she raced for Canada she was given a non-taxable stipend by the government. She went to college at Sierra Nevada College, a Division 2 school that gave her a full ride for the full four years of school. She had to have a 4.0 GPA in order to keep the scholarship, and the school was so small that her class sizes were tiny and she had a great experience. After she graduated college she did her first ski cross race and won some money. There weren’t many women racing ski cross at the time, so sometimes her races were cancelled, or the athletes didn’t win as much money as the men. Even though she didn’t make a lot of money, she made enough to support herself while she was racing professionally.
[58:15] When Anik decided to retire, she wrote a letter to her sponsors, to her team, and to her family. She and her husband took a photo of her at sunrise with a ski and a paddle to symbolize her transition from skiing to her next sport: paddling. Anik didn’t really let herself truly believe she was retired from skiing until she was pregnant.
[1:00:10] Did Anik ever have any other plans while she was racing, other than to be a competitor: In 2006, while Anik was still ski racing, she and her husband Jay had a small business in Lake Tahoe. She would come home from racing, do the books, and then go back to racing. She was always very entrepreneurial, and opportunities have just presented themselves to her throughout her life. (However, after college she wanted to be an engineer and design courses!) But really, she was always looking for the next opportunity to ski.
[1:02:40] The first day after deciding to retire: she felt relief. She was very sad, but ultimately just felt great relief. Her life as a ski racer was getting very stressful. She was relieved to stop fighting so hard, and not having to travel so much. She felt hope that she would be able to start a family, unpack her suitcases, and have a real life. She didn’t have much of a social life, worried that she wouldn’t get married, wouldn’t have a family, and retiring finally gave her hope that she would be able to have all of those things.
[1:05] Anik fills in the sentence “if you really knew me…you would know that I’m not as tough as I look… you would know that I really thought I was going to spend the rest of my life alone… you would know that I do have this really caring side of myself… I have a deep passion for the holistic side of health and the self.”