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Episode #99

Climbing to the Top

with Rosie Brennan

20 Dec, 2022 · Cross Country Skiing

2-time Olympian and pro cross country skier, Rosie Brennan, shares how she overcame major obstacles including a car and a bike crash, to make it to two Olympic Games and come back even stronger!

Voice In Sport
Episode 99. Rosie Brennan
00:00 | 00:00


[0:00] Stef: Today we are talking with professional skier and viz mentor Rosie Brennan. Rosie competed at and graduated from Dartmouth College. She is a two-time Olympian and had multiple top 15 finishes in the 2022 Olympics. Rosie has had many successes in her career, but also lots of challenges that she explores with us on The Voice and Sport Podcast.

Rosie is an amazing part of the voice and sport community as a viz mentor, where she leads sessions about challenges with mind when it comes to racing and fueling as an athlete. Today, Rosie speaks with us about how she first found scheme, 

[00:38] Rosie: For whatever reason, that mix of endurance and strength and power that cross country skiing requires just really suited me. 

[00:46] Stef: Her journey with making and being cut from the national team twice 

[00:50] Rosie: And so I was dropped at the end

[00:51] Stef: Before we get started, if you love this podcast, please leave us a rating and review on Apple Podcast and Spotify and join our Rosie, welcome to the Voice and Sport Podcast.

[01:05] Rosie: Thanks for having me. I'm really excited to do a podcast. I've listened to quite a few now, so I'm glad to have my turn. 

[01:10] Stef: Well, you are an incredible part of our voice and support platform. You've been one of the first mentors of the VIS league for quite a while. So we're so thankful to have you and you have such an amazing experience and also journey to share with all of our young girls. So we're gonna start with where you grew up.

I'd like to say that we can claim you as an Alaskan, but unfortunately we can't. And you were , you grew up in Park City, but you know, just for the sake of everybody else out there, she does live in Alaska now. So I'd like to say you're an Alaska athlete,

[01:43] Rosie: For sure, yeah. I grew up in Park City, Utah for my whole childhood. But I left when I graduated high school and went to college in Dartmouth College and then have been in Alaska ever since. So that's been, gosh, I think 11 years now. So yeah. I'm Alaskan too.

[01:58] Stef: So you're Alaskan, so we'll just skip over that whole, you know park City part. But, it is a big part of your journey. So we wanted to start way back and just kind of how you got into the sport of skiing and the influence of your family and friends. So let's go back to when you attended the Winter Olympics in 2002.

Was that the moment in which you saw ski racers and thought, oh, this is something that I wanna do.

[02:24] Rosie: Kind of I mean, growing up in Park City, you know, it's of course a ski town and a resort town. And also has always attracted high level athletes from a variety of sports. So I feel very fortunate to have lived in a community where athletics was just kind of a part of everyone's normal day life, and particularly winter sports and skiing and snow sports. I remember we had America's opening, which was an Alpine World Cup, that was like the first race of the season that was in Park City for many years. And I remember going to that and getting my alpine helmets signed by the racers and all that kind of fun stuff. We had mountain bike world Cups and stuff too. So  there was definitely a lot of events going on. Made, athletics seem pretty normal to me. so  I'm really thankful for that. And then, when the 2002 Olympics came to Salt Lake, I was in seventh grade, which was a great age.

We had three weeks off school, which I think is every kid's dream And then, you know, it's the Olympics. While my parents both had to work, so I have a twin brother, and so together we could kind of navigate things together. So we would wake up and figure out what events were going on in town.

So we'd jump on the city bus and go into Main Street, see what pins we could collect and whose autographs we could get. And then we were lucky enough to go to a bunch of events with our parents and then also with the school. So it was like a really incredible three weeks and you got to experience so many different sports and see this huge celebration of just sport and people coming together. And that was definitely very impactful on me and. And one of the coolest parts was like after the Olympics, there's the Legacy Foundation, but it's basically money that was there to promote youth sports.

And so at that point, I had the opportunity to try a bunch of different sports too, because there were new programs for all the sports. So my brother and I both did the skeleton camp which is something probably very few people have done. So like I, I've done skeleton, which if you know how much I like downhills, you're probably like, why did she do that? But yeah, so I got to try all these cool things like that. And eventually I realized that the speed was not for me and that cross country skiing was a little more up my alley. My family always alpine skied growing up. So I had been skiing since I was probably three years old, but I didn't cross country ski until I was 14. It was definitely more of like an alpine centric town, and so cross country was a little bit of a niche sport then.

It was a little bit of a late starter there, but it was really a perfect fit for me. And so my life kind of changed at that point

[04:44] Stef: Well, it's really cool because I think even earlier for a lot of young athletes in the US particularly their parents pushed them really hard to get into sports and then try to get them to specialize really early. And there's a ton of pressure for a lot of young kids out there in sports in the us. And it sounds like your mom did suggest a few times that maybe you should try skiing and you should get out there, but you didn't really start seriously getting into skiing, like you said, until around eighth grade.

So did you immediately approach it from a competitive perspective or did you start sort of just with this idea that it's fun and I kind of just wanna do it casually? Like when did that Olympic dream really start to hit you?

[05:26] Rosie: Yeah, that's actually really interesting because I'm definitely a competitive person, but I'm also pretty shy. And so I don't know if it was just that combination that made it hard to express it as a kid. But it was watching the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. I remember really clearly being at my grandmother's house watching the gymnastics team and they won Golden.

Carrie Strug broke her ankle and had to do a second vault after that, and she landed it somehow and won the gold. It was just like the most insane thing I had ever seen. And that was actually when I was like, okay, I have to find a weight to get to the Olympics. Like, I didn't know what sport then, but I was like, I think this is for me, like, I'm gonna find a way there.

So I always kind of had that in the back of my head, from a pretty young age. And my parents completely offered for me to join the Alpine ski team. I played soccer, I did gymnastics, I played tennis. I did a ton of sports. I don't know what it was, but I really didn't wanna Alpine race.

I was terrified of it. I had trouble expressing my competitiveness when I was young. And so I always kind of like, was a little bit shy, I think I like to go for these competitive teams. But I do think for whatever reason, that mix of endurance and strength and power that cross country skiing requires just really suited me. and so I think I did turn to wanting to be competitive pretty quickly.  Finally things clicked and it fit my personality, and what I enjoyed to do. Enough that it was like, okay, I can see how to express my competitiveness now. So then I kind of accelerated from there.

[06:51] Stef: I love that. It sounds like you accelerated really fast though, because you made the US ski team pretty quickly. So do you wanna talk about what that journey was from like when you started to, when you made the ski team?

[07:04] Rosie: Yeah I had a really steep improvement curve so maybe it was accelerated, but I do think I still went through all the steps. They were maybe just a little shorter than some people. So like my first year, I was literally just learning how to ski. I didn't make any championships.

I think I was probably close to last in most of my races, but I really loved it. And my motivation was honestly just to keep up with the other kids on my team.  I did a lot of extra training just because I wanted to be able to ski with my friends and keep up and be part of the team because  it was a really neat atmosphere and a fun group of people to be with.

And then once I started to get the hang of that, then you know, I started to see my results improve and I was encouraged by that. And so then I started doing well in our regional races and. For skiing we have junior nationals. So once I made that and that like introduced me to this whole nationwide community of skiers. And I started to make friends with people from other places. And so that was a really cool experience and I was really encouraged by that and wanted to do well there. And so then I moved on to the step of winning at junior national level. And then that opened up the world to international racing.

So at that point I qualified for my first international trip, which is a really cool experience cuz then you realize like this whole worldwide community of cross country skiers and you meet people from other countries and, and we got to travel to Europe and also you got to know your American teammates a lot closer cuz you're stuck in another country with them. And you know, back then this made me sound really old, but getting the internet was honestly challenging and we didn't have  iPhones that could connect anywhere in the world so you were definitely kind of figuring things out a little bit with your teammates.

More so maybe than you are now, which was a really cool experience to make friends and all that. And so I had some good success at the World Junior Championships and that's what ultimately led to me getting named to the national team my senior year of high school. And so It was kind of a whirlwind, like I picked up the sport and then before I knew it, it was all I cared about and all I was doing and just so important in my life.

And then I found myself on the national team and then but you know improvement doesn't go like that forever.  I think a lot of people will have these kinds of steep curves and then you plateau for a long time and sometimes even dip and then you have to come back up. And so  I was fortunate to have the first part of my career move that quickly, but the whole part hasn't been like that.

[09:24] Stef: Well, and that's exactly what we're here to talk about today, right? Because it's part of your story. You had this incredible, steep acceleration right at the beginning, right? Starting in eighth grade and then going to your senior year in high school and making the US team and going to worlds.

That's pretty incredible. And then, now fast forward to, you're 33 years old and you have been to two Olympics, but between that first start and the two Olympics, there were some ups and downs. You were on the team, you were off the team. Like there were some pretty big injuries.

And so we're gonna unpack that today and really learn from you about how you stuck with it and what was your mindset throughout this whole journey. Because skiing is also one of those sports that's very male dominated. And so there's not a lot of women coaches involved. I was there not at your level, but I got to that junior Olympic level in alpine skiing, and I never once had a woman coach. And I felt really, really lonely as a woman skier racing internationally. And that was actually one of the reasons why I quit the sport. And it's also one of the reasons why we're building voice in sport is so that other young athletes like yourself, well, you know, the earlier version of you,

Can have access to incredible role models like you. So I wanna kind of talk about those earlier years because I think it's 2018 stats, 60% of skiers were male, 40% were women. And that's, according to the Snow Sport industry's America studies, so pretty male dominated. Can you just talk about that journey as a woman athlete in a male dominated sport, in those early years for you, was it challenging?

Did you feel alone or what really kept you motivated through that?

[11:06] Rosie: Yeah, that's a good question. I would say I was very lucky growing up in Park City. There were tons of female athlete role models around me. And so I definitely never questioned it as a young girl, which I'm so thankful for. My mom is and gets out every day and skis and hikes and runs and does all that stuff and she's very strong. So I had that, everyday role model. And then, we also had a lot of  alpine skiers in our community. There was like Peekaboo Street Holly Flanders, I actually became friends with a good friend with one of her daughters.

And then I was also really lucky that Kee and Randall were kind of coming up at the same time. And Wendy Wagner, she's from Park City, so I actually kind of knew her. And so I did have some good examples.

But I will say there were girls on our Nordic team. I didn't have any girls the same age as me. When I first joined the team, there was a girl that I became very, very close with who was about like three or four years older than me. And so, you know, she graduated and then I was left there.

And then there was another girl that came along that was a few years younger than me later. So we did a little bit of training, but for a lot of it I was more or less the only girl on the team. And I guess that's where I'm lucky that I had strong female role models. Cause I just never questioned like, well of course I'm just gonna go train with the boys then.

And it was never an issue. I was friends with them. We got along and I think that's probably the biggest reason my career accelerated the way it did, is because I was chasing the boys the whole time. I think cross country skiing in particular is a community that is accepting in that way.  And I had coaches that facilitated that. They weren't separating me out because I was a girl or, anything like that. But it was hard to be the only girl on the team. there were times when that was challenging it wasn't always fun. And that's why I loved making these bigger events, junior nationals and world Juniors and stuff because , I would meet other girls then and would make arrangements in the summer, like Sun Valley had a ton of girls, so I would drive up there for a week or something to train with girls.

And I made really good friends with Sadie Bjornsen, and later in life then reconnected up here in Alaska. And so we would train together quite a lot in the summer. Cuz she was also from a small town that didn't have a ton of people training. And so, I made it work, and I feel really lucky that I did have those role models. And I think it is important to have those. So you don't ever question, like, if all you have is boys Oh, well, like, you just make it work. They can deal with it, you know.

[13:21] Stef: Love it. Well, being selected to the US ski team in your senior year, must have been pretty surreal. So did you feel any added pressure by being on the team this young? And if so, how would you recommend to other younger athletes out there who might be dealing with an extreme amount of pressure, how do you deal with that pressure at the moment?

[13:39] Rosie: Yeah, that is really hard. I definitely felt a lot of pressure and at that point I just wanted to do what made everyone happy, I was trying to please everybody. And that made it really hard to balance my personal needs with everything that needed to get done.

And then also try to meet everyone else's needs too. And I think that's what I struggled with the most was trying to be perfect in everybody's eyes. I felt a lot of pressure then to not go to college. I ultimately decided to go. And so then when I showed up in college, you know, you're a freshman, I mean, I moved from Utah to New Hampshire, so I moved across the country. I knew nobody. I had a new team, I was living on my own for the first time. And then I had my high school coach who was still trying to support me and advise me. I had a new college coach who was trying to Write my training plan and get me out training.

And then I also had national team coaches who were trying to tell me what to do. And so I had like three different people trying to coach me all while I'm trying to figure out how to just live on my own for the first time. And so it was really, really overwhelming. And I am just someone that  did want to please everyone and do everything that everyone expected of me. And I think in the first few weeks I just crumbled. I tried to do all the training that everyone was asking me. I immediately got sick you know, had to hold up in my dorm room, couldn't do anything, it was just  too much. And so I was able to talk to all the coaches and figure out when I'm at school I need to just click into the program that's here because I chose to be here.

I decided to just jump two feet into my college program. And then I selected like one or two ski team camps that I could make, work with my professors and coaches. And then in the summer I would go back to my home club and work with my high school coach, but I had to kind of delineate it all for it to work together because it's just like really hard to try to meet so many people's standards all at once while like trying to take care of yourself. 

[15:23] Stef: What was the biggest lesson, I guess when you take a look back on that, cuz what you're describing is you were really trying to serve a lot of other people's needs. What do you feel like are the biggest lessons that you learned in that transition from high school to college?

[15:36] Rosie: Yeah, I think you have to meet your own needs first before you can even attempt to meet other people's. Because if you're not kind of full yourself, you don't have any part of you to give to someone else. so I think that was probably the first part.

And then I think the biggest actual practical strategy to get through it was having very, very clear communication. And I mean, I think that's something that I still struggle with today, but that was maybe my first lesson in it. Like, if you don't tell a coach what you need or are clear about like, okay, I'm overwhelmed by having this many people tell me what to do. We need to make a plan. If you're not very clear about those things, it's hard for that person to help you because in the end, all those people were trying to do what was best for me. And they just didn't know that that wasn't what was actually best for me at that time.

And so I'm the only one that has the ability to tell them that because I'm the only one that knows my feelings. And so  having that very clear communication with those around you on how you're feeling and how you're doing what you need, what's gonna actually help you improve and what  takes care of your wellbeing is super important.

[16:39] Stef: Well, your freshman year of college, you unfortunately suffered a back injury and you were later dropped from the US ski team after two years.

So how did this impact your motivation to continue skiing? Do you remember that moment? And, how did you feel? And then I guess more importantly, how did you really climb out of that?

[16:58] Rosie: Yeah, that was very hard. When I started in college at 18 and I was going to Dartmouth, which was a great school with a great ski team. I was on the national team.  I honestly felt like, wow, life can't get any better. I think I've made it like, check that box and then like, you know, that fall I suffered this severe back injury, you know, like. Has its rough spots. I really loved it, but freshman year was hard. and then eventually the ski team went in a different direction and decided not to support athletes that were in college. And so I was dropped at the end of my sophomore year of college and  it kind of felt like high on life, and then suddenly I just hit the floor.  I didn't really know that was coming. And I didn't really understand why. I think that was the hardest part. I felt like I had held up my end of the deal. And so I was kind of like, why am I here? And then when you don't know why, you start to question like, well, I guess they don't believe in me, maybe I'm not good enough.

Maybe I'm not supposed to be doing this. And so that was really challenging I guess just kind of by chance, but Dartmouth does like a sophomore summer, And so I was already set to be in school that summer and be training with my college team. And thank God, because it just kind of like I didn't really have much of a choice. That was required. Everyone had to do it. And so I just clipped into that group and realized how I just loved being part of a team and skiing and nothing was preventing me from ski training, from racing in college, from even doing nationals and all those things.

Like my college team is still gonna support me. I had a coach that really cared and wanted to help me. They were also confused why I got cut. So they were very supportive like, you know,  you can keep going.

We're gonna support you, like we're gonna push through this. And so  slowly, over the course of the summer, I think I just started to, a little bit of belief, you know, it wasn't like one day I woke up and was like, I could do this. But, you know, just being surrounded in like a good training group with really supportive coaches, I just slowly gained back that confidence and realized that I did want to race.

And I wanted to try to not only race in college, but to try to race on a national level as well. And that I still thought I could get back there. And so I was glad that I had joined a team that allowed that and that I could still compete. And so I think college is good for that reason.

[19:12] Stef: Yeah. Well, I mean, I think you touched on this topic of confidence, right? I think in those moments when you take a look at your journeys and there's a big dip in an injury for example, for you it was like two things at once you got injured and then just laughter that you got cut from the US ski team.

So how do you build your confidence back up and I know you talk about some of these topics also on the voice and sport platform with girls. So what advice do you have to other girls that might be in one of those valleys right now, and they're trying to build their confidence back up.

How do you do that?

[19:44] Rosie: Yeah, I mean unfortunately it's not something you can go out and pick off a tree or something, you know, like I wish it was but it's not. And so I think what I found for myself is that I get a lot of confidence from the work. And so when I'm in those lows, I have to sit down and really think about what I want to do and then make a plan for how to get there. And then when I have this plan, it's like something that I can chip away at every day.  It's something I can do every day to move forward wherever I'm trying to get to. And then, when I'm going out and training every day, I have a log, so I like to write down what I did that day.

And then when you get to some point where you're. You know, have I improved?  Is this working?  You can literally go back in your training log and be like, wow, look at all this work I did. Of course if you train that much, you're gonna get better. And so I think , I gain a lot of confidence from putting in the work and the work is something that I very much have control over.

I decide if I go and train every day, that's nobody else's decision. And I decide how focused I am during that training session and how much I do that day and to some extent even what type of workout, depending on the environment you're in and so  that's something that I feel I have control over.

And when I go and do it every day, then  that confidence just slowly starts to come back when I line up to a race. If I'm questioning, I can go back and actually physically look and see all the training that I logged and know that I've put in the work. I should have the fitness to do this race or the skills to do the event or whatever it is. And so that's, that's been very helpful for me.

[21:11] Stef: Well, you also had to persevere like multiple injuries throughout your college career. I think you were gaining back your confidence, you were getting back into things, and then you had a freak accident, a little bit, a crash. You crashed a mountain bike in Moab, which caused you to tear your pcl.

So then again, you're back on this injury train again and trying to recover. So in those moments, how important was it for you to have a support system around you, of coaches and teammates to keep you motivated and what did they say to you in those moments that really convinced you to continue to go for your dreams?

Or did you ever doubt and did you say to yourself, maybe I'm done

[21:45] Rosie: Yeah, I mean, I actually quit well not then, so I crashed my mountain bike. And I tore my pcl. And at that point I was still like, okay, I'm gonna make it through this. Like, I'm just gonna go on. And the doctor said I could keep racing with it. And so I just pushed through and I raced the whole season with it torn. But I just never felt like I could race like I wanted to. I just wasn't skiing like myself. And so I ultimately decided to have surgery in the spring and it's a pretty significant surgery. And I had never had a surgery, to that extent before. And so the recovery was lot more demanding and longer than I anticipated which was challenging. And then just as I was starting to get my feet back under me I crashed my car in a snowstorm. I slid off the road and it ended up totally my car and I got a concussion. and I. Race at that point. And so it was right before Christmas. And so I flew home for Christmas. And our nationals for skiing are in January.

So I can't ski and nationals are like two weeks away. And at that point I was just like, I think the world is telling me this isn't for me. So I decided I was quitting skiing and I wasn't gonna raise nationals and like I was just kind of done. So I started researching grad school because I was a senior that year, and so I needed to figure out what I was gonna do after college. so I started looking into different graduate programs. And I was headed that direction. And then when I flew back to school, to start the winter semester, the coach called me in and was like I don't care if you keep skiing after college, but this team needs you.

Like you owe this to the team and to your teammates to race this year. And I was like, Okay, that's fair. like this team has been so important to me. I still really wanna be a part of it and so I agreed that I would start training again and do my best to be there for the team. Having those kinds of people in your court I think is really important. And also why it's important to be part of a team. Because even though skiing's an individual sport, we were in it together and we wanted to support one another and I wanted our team to do well in college.

It's a little more of a team sport cause you get a team score and everything and so, I wanted to contribute to that as well. And so, I pulled it together and decided I would at least race out the college season. And I started improving more than I thought. And so by the end of the year I was in an okay place.

And I realized that I still really loved skiing and these kinds of freak accidents had really taken the wind outta my sails, but they hadn't allowed me to reach what I thought was my potential. And I just always had this question of like, what is my potential?

And I wanted to find out. So I couldn't just stop there. So here I am.

[24:29] Stef: Well, it's so interesting, right? Cuz you had this moment where you quit, you were like, no, I'm done. and that was before you had gone to the two Olympics that you have now been to. And so I just think it's so interesting that you have these moments, and I'm sure a lot of young girls have the same thing.

Might not be at the same level, but where they just decide one day they're done. But having people around you. It cares for you. And thinking about the bigger picture of what sport can do for you or do for your wellbeing is also really key. Like, it's not all about going to the Olympics and winning a gold.

Did you feel that in your senior year that it was more than about competing for you? It was more about the team and has that carried you to kind of your professional career or has it kind of shifted again once, you got up to Alaska, you decided to get your postgraduate program up there in Alaska and join Alaska Pacific University program and really get into your training again.

So I'm really curious to see what happened, I think from your perspective between that college time and then when you transitioned up to Alaska, did something switch for you? And if so, was it that motivation to keep you going?

[25:37] Rosie: I don't really think it switched, when my coach called me into her office and was like the team needs you. It did make me realize how important being part of a team was. I still was like, Not where I wanted to be and like getting through that senior spring without those people around me would've been hard.

And I think my coach saw that this is gonna be better for her as a person if she's part of this team and in this community, in this support system. and then also hopefully we can get her to like skiing fast enough that she contributes to our team being good. But I think it was definitely a twofold thing.

And those were all my best friends. At school. And so I think it was really important to like being in that environment and that was the first time I had a female coach in college and that was my first time being coached by a female. At Dartmouth, the men's and women's teams are quite separate.

So I was on a women's ski team with a women coach and coming from a high school team that I was more or less the only girl on with a male coach. It was like a total of 180. And it was like such a cool experience and I absolutely loved it. It was amazing to be by a group of strong women every day, pushing each other.

And it was amazing to have a female guide who had been there, had understood it, had skied at a very high level herself and really wanted us to be not only fast gears, but just very strong women in life. And so after that I decided that if I'm gonna keep skiing, I need an environment like this.

This is really important to me. And like you said, there's not many female coaches, so it actually was not an option for me to have a female coach after that, but I could join a team that had a lot of really strong female racers. And so that was why I came to Alaska. Sadie Bjornsen had come up here for college. And she was one of my best friends, through racing as juniors. And so, you know, I called her up to be like, what's the deal up here? And she's like, it's incredible. You gotta come up here, we're gonna get better here. And so I'm like, okay, well I have one friend anyway, so I guess that's good enough.

And then Kegan was up here training and then Holly Brooks. And there was a whole group of very strong women here. And so I was like, okay, if I'm gonna. See what my potential is. I need to be surrounded by the best that I can. And that was really important to me. And so that was ultimately why I came up here. I guess I am probably rare in that I have had a female coach, but I also feel fortunate that all of the male coaches I have had have been supportive. I fortunately have not felt discriminated against as a female athlete by any of my coaches. And so the environment that I moved up to here in Alaska with was just very incredible.

It was so powerful to just be immersed in this group. And I was so far behind from all my injuries and stuff that had happened in the last two years. But I had never been so motivated, like I just so badly wanted to be a contributing member of this group. and so it made it easy.

I had great role models with me every day, and that bar was out there and it was motivating. And I had a coach that was willing to support me through it, even though it was gonna be a long path to get back to the fitness that I needed. And it was hard , it's not like every day was fun.

Like, it was super hard. I think my first year here,  I slept in, ate on the ski, and that was literally it because I was so tired all the time. like, I wanted to do it. And so that made it easier and I think being part of  a group like that made that motivation easy to find in yourself.

Being surrounded by strong women is very empowering I find. I hope everyone has an experience to be in a group like that because it really does make a big difference.

[29:00] Stef: I totally agree. I think it's so important to have women role models and just have more powerful women around you. It's a big reason why we built VIS to bring powerful women together to help other young women. Right. And I wanna dive a little bit into this coaching thing because there is this really incredible organization out there called the Women's Ski Coaches Association and they are really trying to develop and bring more women coaches into the skiing environment. But why is it that there are not very many women as coaches today?

Like why do you think that is?

[29:32] Rosie: Yeah, it's a great question. I think one of the challenges in cross country skiing in particular is the importance of ski waxing the ski technician side of things. And I think for whatever reason, whether it's cultural or just actually some difference between males and females, there are a lot of females that aren't interested in that aspect, I think.

And so I think that is like a particular barrier in skiing. Although I also think,

[30:01] Stef: The waxing, like the fact that you have to be in charge of waxing, is that what.

[30:06] Rosie: junior team, there's not really junior teams that have a budget to hire a head coach and like a head wax deck. Like that's kind of a lot. And so like you end up doing both and there's no reason why a woman can't, and there probably are women that are interested.

I just think traditionally it's been very, you know, it's kind of being like a construction worker. Like it's very. Male dominated oriented fields for whatever reason. And so I think that's been a particular barrier for skiing. you know, I think this is probably a countrywide, probably worldwide phenomenon of being a more male dominated space.

So that's obviously not the only reason. But I do think it's super great that this group has gotten together and tried to push some of these boundaries. We have been able to have some fellowships and apprenticeships for young women to come to the World's Cup with us and experience coaching and wax teaching on that level and introduce them.

And we've started hiring female coaches on the national team level. So I do hope things are shifting, but it's definitely a challenge because  I think there's people that want to hire female coaches, and then there's just not very many to choose from. So we had to start from the bottom and then come up and so it's a balancing act right now.

And I do really hope that we can get there because it was a really cool experience to have a female coach

[31:24] Stef: Absolutely. Well, we're here to support that and I'm looking forward to working with that organization and other incredible women like you, who maybe they're not saying that you wanna do this, but maybe some professional athletes that want to transition and when they transition outta sport, transition into coaching and showing that they're like essentially removing some of the barriers.

Because even if you just look at the athletic side of ski racing between men and women, recently in 2021, professional women's skiers were. 30 cents to every dollar a professional male skier was paid. So obviously a barrier can be pay, it can be what you earn. And I'm assuming that even though that's a stat that's specifically for athletes within skiing, it probably translates to coaches.

We see it at the collegiate level that women coaches are paid less than male coaches. And so I think this is one of the areas, the inequities that we need to fix. And it's frustrating to see that. I'm wondering as a professional athlete, like do you feel those inequities along the way in the ski industry?

Because we're kind of talking about your story here where you're finishing college, you decide to go to Alaska, you're going to be starting your professional career. Has it improved, over the last like three or four years, you have been a professional and do you feel and see those inequalities today?

[32:45] Rosie: Yeah. In our country I would say it has improved. I wanna say it was 2006. I was a junior in high school that year, and the team cut the entire women's ski team, so there was no cross country women's ski team. And so, as you're sitting as a junior in high school and you're like, huh, I really love skiing. I'd love to be professional. Oh wait, there's no national team. You're kinda like, well, the future's not looking so bright. I think that was one of the reasons I decided to go to college and not seek professional skiing out right away, because it was like, what is professional skiing?

Like, is it even a thing? Does it exist? You know? And fortunately the college ski circuit is robust enough that I didn't really give it too much thought. I just kind of wrapped myself into that world. I mean, Kegan was just an absolute trail blazer and even though they weren't gonna support her on the national team, she just kept pushing and pushing and pushing and had so much belief.

And finally got the national team to support her again. And then not only support her, but bring other girls because she was so adamant that she needed people to train with and travel and race with. And the team has been so important to her. And so she's always brought other women into the fold with her.

And so that Changed my life forever too. And kind of made that such an important part of the women's cross country ski team that we were a team, that we did it together, that we looked out for one another and that we would never be successful if we didn't figure out how to do that. And so that's definitely been her legacy, and that's something that we have been able to carry on with, as we've moved through generations now. And so the women's cross country team really took off after that. And we've had massive success in the last decade, from starting with Keke and then it just has accelerated from there.

And so it is this interesting dynamic where the women cross country skiers have had so much success that I think we often overshadow the men, which is probably pretty unique for most sports. and so it is a really cool experience to be part of that. And we're also lucky, we do have equal prize money for our races for men and women. I'm very proud of that in cross country skiing. But like you said there still is this pay discrepancy and I think that's maybe one of the hardest things to juggle because obviously, if it's not coming from prize money, it's coming from endorsements, from sponsorship deals, from equipment sponsors, that sort of thing.

When we sign our contracts, we're not allowed to talk about how much we're getting. So it's like, I have no idea if I'm getting like 30 cents to a dollar from my mail compatriot that doesn't have the same results that I do.

That's not something I am privy to. And so that makes it kind of like you're living a little bit in a black hole, like you don't really know. and so I guess that's why this research and these stats are  so, so important because it's hard to Empower one another to go ask for more money when you have no idea what your actual worth is.

[35:33] Stef: Absolutely. And that's why it's actually so important to talk about it. Right? It's also funny because, you kind of get almost like taught that you shouldn't talk about money and then, this happened to me in the corporate environment too at Nike. I was there for 14 years and it's like, never talked about my salary, never talked about anybody.

Even my girlfriends, like how much I was making until, you know, probably the last like eight years there. And something really shifted in me and. As women, we started comparing what we were making and we just started telling each other. And obviously we're not like shouting it out to the world, Hey everybody, but in confidence sharing, because that knowledge is power.

And, then getting those male allies who are willing to share also what they're getting, again, in a private way, but in a way that will empower you to go out and ask for more money. And that's what we ended up doing at Nike in the corporate area. And I wish there was more transparency for athletes because some of these studies come out like the one I just mentioned, and you're just like 30 cents to the dollar, which is not fair.

And at the end of the day, it's great when leagues take the lead and say, we're gonna do equal prize money, but when most of your earnings as athletes come from sponsorship dollars and brands, and you take a look at that and that stuff's not public information unless you guys can, have some confident conversations, which you know, hopefully there's no lawyers listening here. I would say  you know, talking generalities, you know, like, that's okay. But that information will  be powerful, I think for you, for all of us as women who are continuing to get paid less. So I hope that it changes for skiing.

You guys are not alone. It's great to see the prize money being equal, but it's still not enough, you know? And I feel like we have work to do to make sure that women athletes in the sport of skiing are getting paid more.

[37:22] Rosie: You know, skiing in particular is such an, well, mostly based sport, honestly, and it's very international. And so I'm sure other sports, particularly Olympic sports, face a lot of problems, but a lot of my contracts are with companies from other countries and the cultural norms and where they stand on equality are different.

And so navigating that is a challenge and I think we have been pretty like Progressive in this world, in that way. And, I hope that we can continue to push other countries and push other female competitors from other countries to lift themselves up and empower them as well because , there's no reason why it can't be like an international movement

[38:03] Stef: Absolutely. Okay, so let's go back to your story, Rosie. So you've graduated Dartmouth, you have decided to continue your ski racing career. You're up here in Alaska. You're surrounded by these powerful women. I love Keegan. I went to high school with her. Go East High School, little shout out to East High School.

So you're in a great environment again and you're starting to thrive and you make it to the 2018 Olympics. Let's talk about that experience at the Olympics and then what happened thereafter.

So I finally had found my stride on the international circuit and it took a long time, longer than I was expecting. I moved to Alaska in 2011 and it was, the fall of 2017 that I got my first top 10 on the World Cup. And so I finally had broken through some barriers internationally in the World Cup and was feeling like I had found my place.

I was much more confident in my skiing. So I easily made the Olympic team. And that was my first Olympic team. So, you know, it was for sure a dream come true. And something I had been working on for a very long time. And everything seemed like smooth sailing. And then right around Christmas I started. Not like myself and feeling really bad and I never really got sick, but I didn't feel good ever. And particularly like I couldn't race it was a very strange experience that I had never had before. And I just felt awful every time I would try to race. But I was leading into my first Olympics, like, and I'm in Europe, I'm not at home like I'm racing the World Cup.

I just had to keep telling myself you're gonna be fine. It's gonna turn around. We don't know what's wrong, but you have to just believe that you're fine. And so I just kind of kept telling myself everything's gonna be good. Like, you're fine. and so I got to the Olympics and it wasn't fine. had literally the worst race of my life there. It was one of the strangest experiences I've ever had racing like I was having an out of body experience in this race. It was so bizarre and I thought in my head I was going so strong and skiing as best as I could, and I was just getting passed by people right and left.

It was such a strange experience to be thinking like your mind's in the right place, your body's in the right place, and yet you're going backwards. And barely made it to the finish line of the race.  Things were just like falling apart rapidly in this race. And I. Somehow made it cross the line and like clearly things were just like not well. And so I didn't get another start in those Olympics. I guess I'm lucky I got one start. 

[40:21] Stef: But you ended up 58th in that race. And that must have been a moment where you were like, huh, that didn't, well, clearly, like you said, it didn't feel good. You knew something was wrong, and after that you got cut. How did you handle that? And again this is another moment where it's like, You obviously have something going on with your body, which is hard, but the reality is that you get cut from the team and that's gotta be super hard.

What were the lessons that you learned in that moment that you can share with the other girls?

[40:51] Rosie: I mean, again, I think the hardest part for me was not understanding. Eventually I'd come home, I did all these tests, turns out I had mono  I told the coaches and they cut me anyway and I was just like, I don't understand, I was skiing as best as I ever have.

I easily qualified for this Olympic team, and then I caught this illness and  I mean, I didn't meet the objective standards, but I felt like, well, of course I didn't, I was sick, you know, like to me I had an answer and so I couldn't understand it. And I think that's one of the hardest parts is you have your own narrative in your head, and their coaches, they. Have a different narrative or

And making those two meet is often the most difficult part. I guess I learned a few lessons from the first time around. So in some ways I was kind of prepared, like, okay, I know this is gonna really sting, but I have to remember. The support system I do have around me. And it just kind of solidified the lesson I learned the first time around and, especially in elite athletics, and I think this probably even happens on like a varsity college or high school team where cuts are made and it's like coach under pressure to make decisions for like a whole lot of reasons that we can't understand.

They're making budgetary decisions. They have pressures from their bosses, they're trying to keep their jobs. And, that was something that I had to realize I didn't have control of.

And it didn't have to define who I was; whether or not I was on the national team had no bearing on who I was as a person. And I think that was what I really had to take away from that moment. That it didn't reflect my potential. It didn't reflect who I was as a person. It didn't even reflect how I raced that year because it wasn't even a picture of that. and so I had to take that step back and remember who I was, what I stood for and that I couldn't be defined by some list that I was on. And I had to choose how to define myself. And I wanted to be known for someone that had the work ethic, that was willing to put in the work, that had the gumption to believe in myself and to try even when maybe the cards were stacked against you.

And so once I decided that, really embraced the challenge of trying to make it back to the national team and I saw it, I did see it as a challenge and I just loved that idea of to as something to challenge myself, it's no different than like trying to get a result or, trying to do a new technique or join a new team or whatever.

It's just any challenge and I wanted to see if I could rise to the occasion and just embrace this idea of taking on new challenges.

[43:20] Stef: Well, you certainly did, and you worked your way back to the national team. You also won an award that was the Inga Award renamed the Gold Rush Award as part of that process. And so you're obviously recovering me physically from mono but mentally, at any point did you start seeing a sports psychologist start thinking differently about how do you approach your mental side of the game given that you'd had like all these injuries throughout your journey cut back on, cut back on, at what point did you say, alright, like, I have also really gotta focus on  the mental side of my training.

[43:53] Rosie: Yeah, I did work a little bit with a sports psychologist. I actually had started that a few years prior when I was on the national team. And honestly, that is a massive barrier. When you are cut from the national team, you lose access to health insurance and you lose access to resources like that. And so that is like the biggest hurdle. And I think that's something that  isn't really known, you know, it's like, okay, they're not on the national team, like whatever. I could take that, but I'm like, okay, look, I'm like,  I need a little extra support. And so that was maybe the biggest challenge I took on. life happens, kind of, so to say. And like making things work. And that's where  having that support system that you know will be in place no matter what happens, is so important. That's maybe the biggest thing you can do to prepare for anything. You know, whether that's friends, a family, like I had a coach that was gonna coach me no matter what here in Alaska.

I had a team in Alaska. Mom is super supportive. My teammates were very supportive. I had friends, and so I had that support network that was there, regardless of whether I was on this national team or not, and could help me find the resources that I needed and get access to those things through various other methods. That is like a huge challenge.

[45:13] Stef: Yeah. Well, I'm glad you brought that up. I think that's a big reason why we've built VIS, right? Why do we have like 80 sports psychologists and nutritionists because not everybody has that access and even at these schools, right? Even the best colleges around the country only have one or two sports psychologists and one or two nutritionists.

And it is a really important part of succeeding in your career. So I love what you said about making sure that your support system and the things that you also prioritize aren't a hundred percent focused on the performance side of your sport, you know?

And I think that's a huge lesson to learn. So on that note, you're very involved in voice in sport as a mentor, what are some of the things that you do there as a mentor? Topics that you talk about with the girls that in return, maybe even help you become a better person.

[46:02] Rosie: One of my favorite sessions that I've done is some of the mind. Tricks, I guess I'll call them that I use in racing and training. And, you know, sports psychologists are a great way to like, get introduced to a lot of these things, but a lot of 'em, we also learn just through experience or talking to others mentors and stuff too.

I mean, a sports psychologist is really helpful for working through some really sticky points that you may have, but I think there's also a lot of things that you can try. Just on your own as well. And so I love sharing some of those. Cause I think that's one of the biggest questions that I get as an endurance athlete is like what do you do for the 30 minutes?

You're out there like, pushing so hard. What do you think about, and I love talking about those kinds of things. It's so different for different people. And so it's a really fun thing to discuss and figure out what do people think about, and, luckily I know  what some of my teammates do and stuff so I can share how I'm different from them and different ways that we work through some of those pain points in the race.  And then the other popular one is fueling for training and racing. And obviously as an endurance athlete, and particularly in cross country skiing, our energy demands are so high. So a lot of people have a lot of questions about that. And female athletes, I think that's just such a big topic in general.

It can be so challenging to the cultural demands that you see every day as well as the sport demands. And balancing those  is really challenging. So I think that's always a good topic too.

[47:31] Stef: Well, it's been really inspiring to see your progress and seeing you come back to the second Olympics in Beijing and have some incredible results. You can go through the list of your results and it is pretty impressive, right? 14th in the 7.5 km Scanlon, fourth in the sprint, freestyle 13th in the 10 kilometer, classic sixth in the four by five kilometer relay, and fifth in the Team Sprint Classic. Oh wait, one more sixth in 30 K mass. Start free. So I'm like, wait a minute. This is a pretty impressive result stack.

It's not just like one race, it's multiple races, in 15th and above. So do you walk away from that moment and you are super proud. How'd you feel? Because I'm sure looking back at all the ups and downs, it must have been pretty incredible to be in that moment and get that type of result.

[48:22] Rosie: It really was. 

And you know, this year in particular, like just getting to the Olympics was honestly maybe a hurdle like the last 15 years of my career. It challenged me in ways like, I'm not sure I'll ever be challenged again in my life. 

Just traveling to China with covid protocols and then a aro berry and surging at the same time, and then it being Christmas and, you know, family demands and it was just  so much to handle. And then I also had this really lofty goal of racing in every race. Something that I  have really challenged myself and in my career is to. Be able to race every event and not just be put in one box. I guess I'm not someone that likes that. I like to think that I can challenge myself to do everything.

And so that was one of my biggest goals, and results are not something we control. We can control. So I  really focused on the things that I could control. And of course being fourth is hard to say the least. Like it's a really challenging place and it was like when I crossed the line in that race, I don't think I've ever experienced so many emotions at once in my life. Like, there were huge parts of me that were just so proud and so happy and like couldn't believe that I had done that.

And then also this like, what if, you know, I was like a couple tens away from that medal and  I fell in the quarter final of that race. And so I was like if I hadn't done that, you know, like you play all these things in your mind and then you, of course have to like kind of process all through that.

And what I eventually walked away from was, I think, to be in a position where you can feel that many emotions at once, which made me feel so alive. And it made me realize that part of the joy of competing is to have that feeling of being so immersed in something that you can, that you can have that many emotions and so that was one of my biggest takeaways was how lucky I am to  have had this experience that allows me to feel that way. You know, have the good emotions and the bad emotions because it is  part of what makes us human and makes us  feel alive and  the goods come with the bads and that's  part of the journey and, it was overwhelming, but it was also just  a really cool experience.

[50:25] Rosie: I doubt it's an experience that many people will have in their life. and so I think that's  one of the joys of sport is  being able to have all those emotions and, let it be

[50:37] Stef: Absolutely. Well, I think your career has been incredible like that. You've made it through all these pieces of adversity. You're now 33, you're not done yet. And it's I think just time here to reflect as we wrap up the conversation is how do you give yourself grace, in journeys that maybe aren't like this, super linear path.

If you feel like you're a girl out there and you're in one of those lows or those valleys, what advice would you have to girls about giving yourself grace and going at your own pace? Cuz obviously like you're 33, it's not old, I'm older than you. You're not that old , but like you certainly peaked later, right?

In terms of getting to the Olympics and having some incredible results. So thinking about it now, what advice would you give to girls? To give grace to themselves in their journey if they're feeling like it's not going the way they thought it would.

[51:29] Rosie: I think one of the most challenging parts about sports. I mean, you're like a driven and competitive person and maybe a little more a type and like, you wanna check all those boxes. It's really hard. Give yourself that self compassion. And to hold that. And I think part of it is what makes me good.

That I am willing to go out there every day, even when maybe I don't feel as good as I want to. But then also at the same time, having that balance of being okay when things don't go well. And, I think it is really challenging. But I think to understand that no two people are the same and therefore no two journeys can be the same.

Is, is really powerful. And I always come back to remind myself I didn't win my first world cup until I was, I don't know, 30, 31 maybe. and I didn't start skiing until I was 14, so I'm like, well, in skiing years, I'm still pretty young. It's all like this perspective.

Some of my competitors started skiing when they were three. So they had been working on these skills way longer in reality than I had, you know, I'd only been working on them since I was 14. And so, I think always just remembering that there's all these different perspectives to come from and what your experience has been growing up are different than somebody else.

I mean, some may think it's a hurdle that I didn't start till I was 14, but maybe it's what's allowed me to ski as long as I have. These are things we'll never know. I just think keeping that kind of opened minded and flexible mind and Giving yourself the credit that you deserve and so I think accepting your own journey and  having a little bit faith in taking a different path can go a long ways

[53:03] Stef: I love that. Well, the next time somebody asks me how old I'm gonna tell them, I'll pick a sport and be like, well in, you know, in horseback riding years, I'm two.

I love that. I'm gonna use that. Well, I'm so excited just to see what you do next, Rosie. I think you're an incredible role model to so many young women with everything that you do, not just like how you've stuck with it and how you've continued to kind of grow, but also what you do outside of racing.

You help so many girls every day with the mentoring that you do and you're involved in your community and that also really matters at the end of the day. And it's why we're so proud to have you part of the voice and support community. You're just an incredible role model. So thank you for that.

And as we wrap, we have two questions we always ask everybody on The Voice in Sport podcast because we're all here about trying to help our younger selves  our younger versions for me, like way, way younger. But what would be one single piece of advice you would tell a younger girl in sport.

[54:05] Rosie: Basically that life doesn't always work out the way you wanna do, but that doesn't mean that you can't accomplish really big things.

[54:16] Stef: Love it. Okay. And lastly, I mean, I know it's hard to come up with one thing, but what is one thing that you would like to see change for the future of women's sports?

[54:24] Rosie: Love to put some pressure in media side of really take focus from how female athletes look and put it all they're capable of

[54:33] Stef: Totally agree. I love that. I think just watching what happened in the last Olympics with the commentating, that is something that definitely needs to improve. So thank you for calling that out. And Rosie, it was so amazing to have you on the Voice and Sport Podcast.

This week's episode was produced and edited by Viz creator Kate Tugman, a track and cross country athlete from ucla.  Rosie's journey teaches us that progress isn't linear, and what you initially picture for yourself in your career may not always come to fruition. However, this doesn't mean that you won't find success.

You may just need to refocus, build a different support network, continue to work hard, but also take care of yourself. We are so grateful to have Rosie as part of our VIS community as a VIS mentor. If you haven't already, go check out her amazing sessions on the Voice and Sport platform. 

If you liked our conversation with Rosie, please leave us a rating and review on Apple and Spotify. Also, please click on the share button in this episode and send it to another athlete in our community that you think might enjoy this conversation.  You can follow Rosie on Instagram at @rosiewbrennan

If you're logged in to Voice and Sport, head to the feed and check out our article about keeping tabs on mental health. Take a look at the sessions page and search for Rosie and sign up for one of her free or paid mentoring sessions with our 200 plus VIS mentors and our 80 plus vis experts. If you're interested in learning more about sexism in the world of sports and how you can prevent this check out.

Episode number 95 with Champion Race Car Driver, Julia Landauer. And see you next week on The Voice and Sport Podcast.

2-time Olympian and pro cross country skier, Rosie Brennan, shares how she overcame major obstacles including a car and a bike crash, to make it to two Olympic Games and come back even stronger!