"I’m just a kid with a dream that I want to achieve"
says Lauren Koper, the 16-year-old competitive alpine skier who took home the Spirit of Youth award from Calgary's inaugural SuPEARLative Awards this year.
As the Womanition Alberta South photographer and sponsor of the SuPEARLative Awards, I had the pleasure of photographing all of the nominees this year, which of course included Lauren, a young woman in pursuit of excellence in the highest form. A young woman who excels in school and simultaneously has her sights (and her heart) set on the Winter Olympics for Alpine Skiing.
I wanted to learn more about Lauren, but she is a lot like me, soft-spoken and quiet. I learned through her mom, Chris, that Lauren is an excellent writer.
It was then that I realized the best way to learn more about the evolution of this young athlete was through her own written words. So, I sent her a few questions which she has gracefully answered for me in this blog.
"The earliest memory that I can remember is of me skiing with my parents at Nakiska.
For me, skiing has been an important part of my life since as far back as I can remember.
If you ask my parents, they would say that I’ve been skiing since I could walk. Even before I could walk, my dad once put me in a baby carrier facing forward while he slipped down a race course, which I've been told I was either screaming in fear or in joy by the time we got to the bottom; I personally think it was the latter."
"When I was nine years old, I went to a provincial race in Marmot Basin, Jasper.
Up to that point I’d been a little frustrated with the results I had been getting at races, even though I knew that the most important part was to make sure that I was having fun. I had been putting in a lot of work that season and my coaches were there to give me the extra push that I wanted in training.
I did not expect anything out of that race, I just wanted to ski and be able to enjoy the experience. I ended up getting second at this provincial race and it was the first instance that I realized how hard work can pay off.
I hadn't known before that if I put in the work, I could gain the capabilities to do really well at races and I also really liked how I felt when I was successful at a race.
The feeling that I’d had on that racecourse and then seeing how my work paid off afterward is when the idea came that this was what I wanted to do with my life.
I was a ski racer and I was proud of it.
On the car ride home, I made the decision in my head to continue to work hard because I was tired of losing all the time. That was the day I realized that I could achieve whatever I put my mind to and that I would continue to improve my results while doing what I love."
Tell me what it takes to compete at this level?
"Honestly, I can’t say at the moment.
Although I’ve had success in the past, it has definitely been a bit of a bumpy road getting back on my feet after injury.
I have to keep my eyes on what I’m aiming for instead of dwelling on the past if I want to reach the final destination.
It’s important to learn from success, but I feel that we gain a much deeper appreciation for how things work when we learn from our failures.
Ski racing is a very great sport because it requires a large base of a variety of activities to be ready to throw yourself down an icy racecourse, but it’s also quite demanding.
There are so many uncontrollable factors like weather or snow conditions, and you have to prepare yourself for just about anything the mountain throws at you.
It takes a lot of hard work, day in and day out of grinding and pushing your body to the limit to be at the top of this sport, and it also takes a mind of steel."
"This is one sport where mindset is a huge factor in determining how you perform; it is essential to have a good balance between physical strength as well as mental strength to push through tough conditions, failures, or other adversities that we encounter."
What challenges do you face in your Olympic dream?
"There are so many factors that come into play in getting a ski racer to the top of their sport, but for me the biggest obstacles would be my injury and financial support.
In ski racing, a big part of improving is trial and error and doing things over and over again until they’re muscle memory.
This means that getting the mileage and being on snow as much as possible is crucial; an area that I’ve been lacking in after tearing my ACL two years in a row.
It has not been easy going through two knee surgeries and working my way back up from the bottom, whether it be in results, or in getting my body to work the way I want it to again. The second factor is being able to afford being on snow as often as possible.
There are very fortunate kids out there that are able to chase the snow all year round, but for me, summers are dedicated to getting myself in as best shape as I can for the season to come.
I am very fortunate to have various sponsors that have stood by my side since the first injury, but it’s a little difficult to seek financial aid without the results to support it.
These are some of the obstacles I see in front of me, but I know that a mountain always seems biggest when standing at the bottom.
Once you have struggled and made your way to the top, the view you have and the feeling of achievement you get from the journey it took to get there is irreplaceable."
What's your favourite part of being a competitive athlete?
"I’m the kind of person that likes a lot of feedback when doing things.
I’ve learned from my parents that if I’m going to do something I should do it well and to the best of my ability.
Because of this, I always try to look for ways to improve what I am doing; being a competitive athlete gives me something to work towards.
One of the most rewarding feelings a person can get is working their butt off behind the scenes to have all of the hard work finally pay off when it matters most.
Not only that, in ski racing we have a very tightly knit community."
"It’s amazing to be able to transition from being tough competitors on the race course to being good friends and supporting each other once we cross the finish line."
You've won some awards recently. Tell me what type of person they were looking to award?
"I would say that this is one of the harder questions to answer.
I know that in the end, the decision to choose me for the Womanition Spirit of Youth award would have been based on the small part of my life that was presented to the judges.
I put a lot of effort into writing insightful and honest answers to the questions they initially gave me; I just tried to be myself."
"I’m just a kid with a dream that I want to achieve"
"and I learn things from the people around me that help me work towards it.
I was up against some really amazing girls for the award and I think that regardless of the result, we all deserved it.
Just because the judges could only choose one person to receive each award does not change the fact that the people they were choosing from are all incredible human beings who work hard to make a difference in the world around them."
How did it feel to win?
"It was exciting and a bit nerve-racking at the same time.
I’m more of a quiet introverted person, so I tend to turn to writing to convey my thoughts over speaking them out loud.
I didn't think that I would need to prepare a speech for the event, being up against the wonderful people also chosen for the award.
When I heard my name called and the event organizers came to hand me a microphone in a room full of people, I definitely felt a rock drop in my stomach.
I am not one for public speaking so the minute after that was a bit of a nervous blur.
Looking back at it though, it’s a rewarding feeling to have the hard work that I do behind the scenes acknowledged by others every once in a while."
"Receiving an award like that conveys to me that I’m on the right track in working towards achieving my goals while trying to help those around me."