I’m driving to Crested Butte, Colorado, to check out Wendy Fisher’s training regiment. And I’m intimidated. Partially because I’ve admired Wendy—an Olympian and an extreme-skiing world champion—since I started skiing, and partially because I’m recovering from a knee injury that makes one of my legs look more like an aspen tree than the sturdy oak I’d prefer.
When I enter the Three Seasons Building in Mt. Crested Butte, where Wendy meets with her trainer, Wendy looks exactly as I expect: fit, with a super hero six-pack, strong skier legs, and arms that look like they were made for competitive rowing. She had warned me that her motivation as an athlete had dropped slightly since she’d had her two children, implying she wasn’t in top physical shape. But I can’t imagine her looking more healthy and toned.
The room we meet in is small and modest, and the walls are brimming with posters of Olympic athletes, many of them products of Wendy’s trainer, Trent Sanderson of the Crested Butte Academy and Team Prep USA. Certainly no newbie to intense physical training, at 19 years old Wendy worked out with the Sacramento Kings summer training program while preparing for the Winter Olympics in downhill skiing and has had a coach since age 12 instructing her at the gym. In her ski career, she went on to earn first place in the U.S. Extreme Freeskiing Championships in Crested Butte, spots in Matchstick Productions and Warren Miller Films, appearances in nearly every ski magazine in existence, and she founded her own women’s ski camps. But when she had kids, she took a break from all that. “Before I had kids, working out was a top priority, now I have to try so hard just to get myself back on track,” Wendy says as I am observing the room. Trent interjects our chitchat. “I am here to help Wendy get back in the mindset of being an athlete again,” he says. Trent initiates the workout; Wendy on the treadmill for 20 minutes and me on the stationary bike. As Wendy begins her run she explains how she feels about being in the initial stages of getting fit again after motherhood. “The old me would have never gone on just a 20-minute run or a one-hour mountain bike ride,” she says. “It wouldn’t be worth it. When I was on the U.S. Ski Team I was set in my ways; the harder, longer, and the more it hurt, the better.”
She keeps talking, while running a near sprint on the treadmill. “After taking time off, I started noticing that I was out of breath just walking around in places that before I would have never felt winded,” she says. “I want to be strong for my sons and need to get back to being a confident skier again.” In the intense world of Olympic training it’s not unusual for an athlete to spend five hours a day, seven days a week lifting weights and doing aerobic work. The pressure of competition drives a lot of athletes into extreme diet and exercise. Wendy seems relieved to have freedom from her former expectations. “On the Ski Team, competitiveness is at the forefront of your life,” she says. “While I was racing many of the girls went off the deep-end. So much pressure to be strong, but also pressure to stay thin and lean affected many of the women I trained with, including myself.”
After her run, Trent instructs her to do plank core exercises, sit-ups, push-ups, and bench presses. Wendy asks me about my knee injury, and how I’m handling a slower pace. I confess that at times I have felt depressed. “I wish I had injured myself when I was younger,” Wendy says. “Since I didn’t know how to take time off I might have benefited from being forced to take a break.”
Wendy’s wisdom makes an impression on me. She’s accomplished so much—she has almost superhuman skills—and yet, she’s now learned the value of rest. At some point, everyone needs a break. I have no doubt that she’ll bounce back to the top form she was once in. As for me, I’m working on turning my aspen-size leg back into an oak.