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Episode #61

What Makes a Champion?

with Breezy Johnson

22 Dec, 2021 · Skiing

Breezy is fast and fierce on the hill, landing her on the world cup podium seven times. How does she do it?

Transcript

Breezy

The reality of elite sport is that you don't always win just because you work hard, unfortunately. But to me, I realized that that courage to go out there and try your best and work really hard despite the fact that you might still fail on it, that's like, that's real winning to me. And, that's just how I had to look at it in order to get through, you know, the tough realities of the sport, which is that it's brutal.

(background music starts)

Stef

Today's guest is Breezy Johnson. An eight year member of the U.S. Alpine ski team. Breezy has competed in the 2018 Olympics, snagging 14th place in the super-G and seventh in the downhill. She has also been on seven world cup podiums and has won two national titles. Breezy is fast and fierce on the hill, and she carries this tenacity into all aspects of her life.

In this episode, Breezy takes us through her journey in sport. Dedicated to skiing at a young age, Breezy received pushback for the intensity she showed around the sport. She stuck to her goals and surrounded herself with people that believed in her and her goals, but that did not come without difficulty or challenges.

She dealt with controlling and emotionally abusive coaches and heartbreaking injuries. Her tenacity and belief in herself has helped her become a leader in the U.S. skiing community nominated by her teammates to be the U.S. ski team's athlete liaison. And as a member of the Alpine sport committee, Breezy is also a leader in the sport.

She discusses how she has stepped up into the position in order to help shape the future of skiing in the U.S. In this episode, she encourages us to set ambitious goals and have the courage to go after them without fear. This is why I'm so excited to sit down today with U.S. ski team member Breezy Johnson. Breezy, welcome to the Voice in Sport™ Podcast.

Breezy

Thanks for having me.

(background music stops)

Stef

Skiing is one of my favorite sports, and the women who race are so incredible. So, I'm excited to kind of dive into your, your history and your journey all the way to the top, to the U.S. ski team. So, let's start with. You know, Breezy as a very, very, very young athlete while you were in your mom's tummy and you were coming to the world, how did you end up with the name Breezy? Where did that come from?

Breezy

Yeah. So my mom was going to call me Bree and my grandma had a neighbor named Breezy. And, my grandma came out when I was born and talked my mom into naming me Breezy. I think that there was some crazy story of like, all the roads were shut from some like massive snowstorms. So she was like, she had to drive like some crazy, like extra 500 miles or something to get there. So then I was named Breezy. It's not really a fun name as far as like something that I did or whatever, but I always like to think that I had to live up to my name as Breezy.

Stef

It's a pretty cool, like ski racing name, I have to say. So, it's almost like you were destined to be a skier. So, tell me a little bit about your family background, were they skiers? And, did you always know you wanted to get into ski racing? How did that start?

Breezy

Yeah, so my dad raced when he was a kid and then my mom grew up in Washington, D.C. She didn't learn to ski until she was about 20, but loved the sport, moved out to the mountains and never wanted to move back. And, she was watching ski racing. She was a big fan of ski racing. And so, both my parents were like, they're definitely gonna be ski racers.

And, we used to watch all the races and my dad videotaped them all and used to like put them together into like, you know, editing clips like back when that was way more complicated on VHS tapes and stuff. 

And so, yeah, I mean, it's kinda funny cause I've wanted to be a ski racer for as long as I can remember when everyone was like going around and kindergarten and like somebody wanted to be a firefighter and somebody wanted to be president. I was like, I want to be a ski racer. And, it was like, weird, okay.

Stef

That's amazing. So you grew up in Jackson Hole. I mean, so then you're also in an incredible environment to be a world-class skier. Did you, did you start out racing really young and were you doing other sports as well? At what point were you like, oh, I'm all in like all in, on just skiing?

Breezy

Yeah, I learned to ski really young. My dad taught my brother and myself in our driveway and then, which is like a little bit slope. So it's actually like a good place to teach kids how to ski. Everyone's surprised by that. And then, I think I raced my first race when I was about four, which I don't remember.

I know that early on I used a stuffy. I had this like stuffed Fox named Foxy, you know, as one does when they're four. And so, I'd stuff it in my bibs snow pants and then race in that when I was really little and so started racing really young and just loved the sport. 

I did some other sports. I played hockey for a little bit. I swam a lot. I was, I think I got like eighth place at the state championship one time. So my highlight of my swimming career and then in like aroundabout high school, I really focused on skiing and I was always like more into skiing than any of the other sports that I did. Although, like now, there's certain sports that we didn't even do that I wish I had done more of like, just cause I think that they're so fun, like tennis, which was really hard for my family to afford on top of ski racing and volleyball, which I love the sport.

So then in high school, I wasn't doing any sports specifically, but I, like, I learned to slackline and I slacklined a ton. I just like went to gymnastics classes cause I wanted to get like better at gymnastics and stuff like that. So there was always a lot of kind of activities that I was doing and I've always been very active.

Stef

I love that. I mean, I think it's so important to try different sports. It's like, I know that a lot of young girls get like pressured to like pick one and go for it. And, if you want to make it to the top, you have to choose a sport so early, but it sounds like you were like, you were doing a lot of different things. Do you think that helped you become the athlete that you are today?

Breezy

I mean, I think it's funny because at the time I definitely felt like I was like the kind of one track athlete, because I was always very serious about skiing. And I, in many ways almost wished that I had been less like singularly tracked. And like, like I said, like, I wish that I had tried like tennis and volleyball and things like that. Because, I think I could have like, gotten really into them in certain ways. But, I think like where I come from at Jackson, like people just do a lot of activities. They're always hiking and biking and stuff, and they almost don't look at them as like sports or like, you know, a facet or whatever, they just do them. So, I definitely think that that helped and in my skiing for sure. And just like being super athletic and definitely, I think that if you, like, for, for me personally, like, I don't think I would be the ski racer that I am, if I didn't just love to be active. 

I don't know how you go from like a place where you're, kinda like dragging yourself up in the morning to go to practice or like go do something and then want to be necessarily professional at it, because that's just my experience is that I'm just like, oh, you know, this is really hard and this is difficult. And, my body's going to hurt a lot, but also I have looked forward to it. So that's just me and my way of looking at it.

Stef

Well, let's talk about how you were like what you were like as a kid, you know, like when you were, how would you describe yourself? Like looking back at yourself as a young athlete? Like if you know, you're 25 now. So like, if you were to look back at yourself at like age, you know, 10, 11, 12, 13, how would you describe young Breezy?

Breezy

I guess young Breezy, honestly, she was very intense. It frightened a lot of people like how into sport. I was, I mean, at four years old, I was like, I'm going to be a ski racer. And, at eight years old, I was like, I'm really going to be a ski racer. And like, it just got like more and more intense.

And I had like, you know, even ski coaches and coaches, and like a lot of sports who were like, you just like Breezy needs to calm down and have fun, but that's just never really been my personality type. I'm just more of a like, go get things. And, I'm always motivated by like bettering myself and like seeing how far I can push myself and that frightened a lot of people.

And it still kind of amazes me in a lot of ways because, I am like at the time I was like, I'm just like doing my thing, but now I like look back and I'm like, that is very unusual. Like, and so I was just very driven to like better myself at whatever I did and I wanted to be really good at it. And, definitely it was like sometimes more like me having to like cajole coaches and stuff into being like, well, for me, like training really hard and like, frankly winning is fun for me.

Just cause I don't have like a giant like smile across my face. Doesn't mean I'm not enjoying myself. As I've grown up or whatever. I definitely felt at that time I was, I don't know, like maybe I don't love this sport and now I know that, I actually love it really deeply.

I just love it in a very different way than a lot of people do because to me, having fun is something that, you know, I love a lot, but I also think that having fun can mean different things for different people. And for me, there's this depth of, when I'm like working hard. And then, I look back afterwards and I'm like, look at what I accomplished.

Look at, you know, the things that I've done and improved on and like have gotten places. And, I have that kind of pride. I don't always call it fun necessarily, but it's almost more meaningful to me. And so that's, I guess how I would describe small Breezy is very anxious about potentially not being a good ski racer and very intensely dedicated to becoming that good ski race.

Stef

So, where do you think that like, drive and intensity came from, do you think you were born with it or do you think you developed it?

Breezy

I'm not totally sure. I mean, my parents have certain personality aspects that are definitely altered and enhanced in me that I am like, okay. I think some of this I was born with like my dad's a very hard worker and very much prides himself on working hard and not necessarily whether or not he's enjoying himself all the time. And my mom is like very kind of analytical and loves to kind of get into the nitty gritty, which I find myself, like when I'm like trying to figure out the process of something when I'm like, okay, I got to figure out like how to get good at this. I definitely find myself doing what, my mom does. I also had a brother we were really competitive. And I definitely dedicated myself early and found that drive very early and was kind of willing to risk it all for ski racing, which I think is not something that everyone always has.

Sometimes there's an astral, desire to kind of protect yourself from something that you might want, really badly. And then, you might still not get it, which is the reality of elite sport is that you don't always win just because you work hard. Unfortunately, but to me, I realized that that courage to go out there and try your best and work really hard despite the fact that you might still fail at it. That's like that's real winning to me. And, that's just how I had to look at it in order to get through, you know, the tough realities of the sport, which is that it's brutal.

Stef

I love that. It's super inspiring. So, at a certain point though, you're working really hard. You have the drive, the natural drive, you're working at it. You're living in a place pretty amazing, Jackson Hole, which does produce great ski racers. At age 13, you decide to go to an academy and the academy is pretty well-known Rowmark academy for skiing. And, that's in Utah. So how did you make that decision? You know, you're 13, you're pretty young. You'd have to leave and transition and move away from, you know, your friends. So, how'd you make that decision? Was it hard? And what was that?

Breezy

Well, some of it was that same, like, you know, I was, you know, still dealing with a lot of coaches who were telling me that I was taking the sport too seriously. And, that was a struggle for me. And, because I was like, I really want to be good at this and I don't want to be held back by people saying that I shouldn't be like aiming to be professional at it and that I should just go out there and have fun. And, almost sometimes I felt like they were like, you know, don't win because it's, you know, you, you brighten the other children and….

Stef

Like almost dismissing your ambition it sounds like.

Breezy

Yeah, somewhat, I think. And I, I get that because I was, I was like so different than I think that they thought that like I needed to relax and have fun. And so, I went to Romark because they seem really supportive of like a more intense environment. And you know, I wanted to go out east to academies cause I thought that those were like the most intense and my mom was like, I think you should stay a little closer to home.

And so, you know, we kind of compromised, I guess, on Rowmark, which was an amazing move. I worked with some amazing coaches. I got my first like strength and conditioning plan there and really kind of found my footing there which was really great and trained at Park City and worked with them and made the national team after I graduated.

Stef

That's incredible. I mean, it's a tough decision, but it clearly sounds like you led it a little bit with your parents and you wanted to do it, which is important to kind of pay attention to like what you want. And then, you know that there's going to be some sacrifices, like some give and take to, to that type of commitment and moving away from your family like that.

So, you know, when you did that, you must, you transitioned coaches, to new coaches, and I want to talk a little bit about just coaching in general, right? Because, we know there needs to be more diverse coaches in this, in all sports, across the United States. We'd also love to see more women coaches in many sports, but the reality is, is like coaches have a huge influence, both positive and negative to young female athletes in their journey.

I want to talk a little bit about like what you said, you know, sometimes coaches can have different styles and, you know, say things that can really affect your perspective on your own capabilities. And, you know, a lot of times coaches can be like the most critical people in your life, like to motivate you and to keep you going.

And then, other times they can be destructive. So how did you figure out that, you know, you were maybe in a situation where they didn't have the best influence. At the time, how did you figure that out? Cause I want to help other young girls that might be thinking about quitting or thinking that they might not have another option.So can you tell us a little bit about like, I guess your experience maybe with a coach that wasn't positive and then like what you did about it?

Breezy

Yeah. I mean, I've had a variety of coaches through my career. I think, you know, at that stage when I was like in my tween age and dealing with coaches who wanted me to relax, and I think I'm not going to say that they didn't want what was best for me. They just, I think didn't, couldn't really understand a child, which I can barely understand, like the child that I was.

And so, I get it. But, the person who really taught me like my eye-opening moment was I went to an international race with Mikaela Shiffrin and she was there and she was really intense about the sport. And, she had coaches who were really supportive of her being intense about the sport. And I was like, oh, okay. So like, actually success comes in different forms. And, these people think that she can succeed in an intense environment and they're actually like pushing her to be more intense. And like, you know, I had been told like, you're too intense to be good at it. You need to relax to be good at it.

And I didn't, I just didn't really understand that. And, couldn't like, you know, get through that and wasn't experiencing success from that. And so, I saw that and I was like, oh, okay. I like want to try to do that. I want to try it. You know, find somebody like that. And so, you know, I sought out coaches who were you know, they, they wanted to support me whether I wanted to be serious about the sport or not.

And they were like, okay, you want to be serious about it? Like, here's your program, like show up on time, like do this, like, and they were hard on me to, you know, become good at it. And that was you know, that helped me a lot, but definitely you know, my parents kind of, you know, they helped me a lot to be like this isn't normal.

And, you know, if you want to be good at it, go be good at it. And like, didn't hold me back in those moments. They weren't, these guys know what they're talking about like trust them all the time. And then, Mikaela was really the moment where I was like, okay, this exists out there. I need to go find it. And so, that was kind of my moment.

Stef

I love that. Well, it's hard, you know, cause sometimes coaches are in positions of power and when you're, when you're younger and you know, you're sometimes living and breathing off of their every word, it can be really hard if it's like negatively affecting you actually. So what do you do if you're a young girl and you feel like, you know, your coach might be saying things to you that they're just not working for you?

Like it's not working the relationship isn't working, you know, obviously you can change the coaches, but sometimes you can't and in a given situation, like what would you advise young girls to do if like the techniques that the coaches are using or the environment that they're creating, isn't working for them as an athlete? How do you approach your coach, you know, or, or like adjust in that situation?

Breezy

Well, I think the one thing that I learned early on in the team, I had a, I had a really problematic coach who was emotionally abusive to me and a number of other girls on the team. Well, everyone on the team at the time, at some point. He sort of went through cycles, but is that, you can still get things out of bad coaches.

Just because you're in a bad situation, sometimes you have to kind of sit down and be like, what can I get out of this? Are there any positives that I can get out of this? And, if there are, like, how do I do that? And, how do I basically mitigate the downsides and try to get the most out of the upside. So and sometimes, you know, you get to the point where you're like, I need to step away.

Like, I don't want to talk to this guy. I don't want to deal with him. The other thing that we as women I find tend to over analyze in our minds and also other people try to tell us happens more than it does, is like the concept of blow back, that if you bring up issues to a coach or you bring up issues to an organization about a coach, that you are going to suffer repercussions from that, that will outweigh the potential benefits of bringing those issues up.

And, I think that we overestimate that a lot to our detriment. And so, we put up with situations and we don't provide feedback and we don't say, this guy's got to go I, this guy or girl, although let's be honest, normally it's a guy. And, we do that because we're scared and because we are, you know, are also told that, that, you know, they will exercise their kind of power over you in negative ways, more so than with men. And, while that can be true, the reality is, is that sometimes you're in a bad situation and the upsides outweigh the downsides. And, if you are in a difficult situation and you know, you feel like you can, in any way, you should speak up and you should realize that sometimes we overblow the concept of the downsides and that sometimes when we bring feedback to you know, male coaches who we think are gonna, you know, just immediately blow up when, if they're given any sort of feedback, they're actually like, oh, thank you. Like, you know, I really appreciate that. And, if you bring it up in a respectful and like, you know, manner, like oftentimes, you know, that can actually make your coaches respect you more because they're like, I have a real relationship. I have a real give and take. And, they realize that like, you're going to hold them accountable and you want to see them be better coaches and they can respect you for that.

And so, I think that that's like my biggest advice is to be willing, to like make those hard moves and, you know, talk to an organization, talk to a coach, even when you're scared. Because, you know, most often in my experience, regardless of how bad the situation is, it's better to talk about it and bring it up than it is to stay silent.

Stef

Oh, that's so perfect. That's exactly what I was going to say. It was like, you heard it, girls don't be silent, like speak up. And, I think that’s just like anything in sport, like coaches have of anybody, of any group of people should understand the concept of feedback. Right? So I think it is a great piece of advice. You know, a lot of times, you know, even in like the corporate world, it's like, if you don't get feedback, how are you supposed to improve? And, it's the same thing for coaches. Like if they're not getting feedback from, from the people on the team, they're not going to improve either as coaches. So, I really liked what you said and that doesn't mean that's going to fix the problem always, but you can tell a lot from a person on how they receive feedback.

So use your voice, like stand up, give the feedback. It's great, it's a great first step. 

Breezy

Also if you bring up feedback with somebody and then they don't take it, like you always have that when you go to the next person is like, you know, the first thing that they're always going to ask you is like, did you talk to this person about it? And, if you were too afraid to talk to this person about it, then like, I totally understand that I've been afraid too.

But like, if you can be like, yes, I spoke to him and I like had this conversation, we sat down, we talked about this, or I sent him this email and like, you have things like that. Then they're like more willing to be like, okay, like now I can sit down and be like, why didn't you take this feedback? Or like what happened and be more receptive to that.

Stef

Yeah, that's great. And I, and you may you bring up another great point. It doesn't have to be. You one-on-one with this coach, it can be you writing a letter, it can be you and some of your teammates going together, like there's different ways to do it. And, I think that's so important that taking action, like that's what we're all about.

If this is like taking action it gives you power and it gives you strength. So, I want to dive a little deeper into, what does emotional abuse look like? You know, sometimes you don't know it when you're in it. How does that come to light so that the girls that may be listening to this podcast might be able to recognize some of those behaviors that they're not actually okay.

Breezy

Yeah. Well for me, like one of the things that I would like to say is like, first of all, trauma is on a spectrum. You know? And, I also believe abuse and emotional abuse is on a spectrum. A lot of people, particularly in this country, don't like to call something abuse unless it's illegal and that's not true.

Emotional abuse is almost never illegal, but it's still abuse. And so, for me, like the emotional abuse manifested in the coach who would basically only speak to the athlete who was training the best in ski racing. We have a timer, and so you have a very clear sense of who the best athlete is on any given day.

And so, our coach at the time he kind of spiraled a little bit, which is an interesting, and I think somewhat unique point, but he got worse over time. And so he, you know, at first, when I started working with him, he would give a lot of attention to like the top three athletes. And then the bottom three athletes, he was like, really not receptive to, and wasn't helping. 

And you know, he, you know, did that, he did manipulative kind of power grabs where he would like had this real problem with the girls. We were, I was over 18. A few of the girls were under 18, but we were all right around, you know, 18, 19 years old. And he had a, he had a really big problem with us hanging out with any boys of any kind and, you know, looking back, I didn't really think about it so much at the time, but I was like, that was kind of a, you know, it was a power grab. It was meant to isolate us. It was meant to keep us away from other people. And, it was also not treating us like professional adults, which we were. 

So, you know, it was like a concept where I was like, yes, like distractions are bad at the time, but now I'm like, every athlete gets to decide for themselves what is distracting for them. And, sometimes distractions are good. So that's, you know, up to the athlete. So, that was something that he did.

He would, you know, blow off and yell at us sometimes that would occasionally happen. But, a lot of it was a lot more subtle abuse where he was just making you feel not valuable at certain times. And, you know, I think that where it stemmed from is that, you know, coaches, particularly national team coaches, but coaches of any sort of high level their job is to make you good, but ultimately they have no power over whether or not you do that at the end of the day.

So his concept was basically that he would like take all the power away from us and he like, he held all the power. And then, when he told us to ski fast on race day, somehow because he had all the power, we would do that. And obviously, that didn't work, that was ineffective. But, the more that it didn't work, the more he tried to grab the power, the more he was like, I want to isolate you. I don't want you to hang out. You know, I want to like control what you're doing and when you're doing

And, you know, when things got bad, he would, he would yell at us. He would threaten us. When you make the U.S. team, you get jackets. So, you know, he would always threaten us with the jacket that we were going to lose the jacket. And things like that, that are, none of them were illegal. He never, you know, as far as I'm aware, he never hit anybody. He never, you know, didn't allow anybody like water, things like that, or force them to train when they didn't want to, or things like that.

He just operated in a way that was abusive. I don't know that there's any other way to say it. And so I think, you know, that is. I guess what I would say to look for in general coaches that are too concerned about how much power they have over athletes are the ones that I worry about the most.

If they think that athletes, if they think that they have like a mold of what athletes, quote unquote, should be, that's a red flag for me because athletes should be whatever works best for them. And, the street between athlete and coach is very back and forth. It's not one way. It's not, I tell you what to do and you do it.

It's not, I say jump and you say, how high it's you say jump. And I say, why? And, if you have a good why, then I'll jump as high as you want. But, if you have a bad “why” then you know, I'm not going to jump for you. And so, that to me, is an important, is any coach who's trying to control athletes lives too much who wants, you know, power over them can, can lead to emotional abuse.

And, I call it emotional abuse. I know other team members who were on that team who don't call it emotional abuse, they just call it, him being a jerk. Which, you know, I understand, but also that's the other thing to know is that like you, as the person who experienced it gets to define it and don't let anybody tell you what you experienced because that's not how abuse works.

Stef

That's right. And, I think it's so important. What you said, Breezy is like some of these things can be subtle, but subtle over time, kind of consistently, and a lot can like really affect your mental health and it can affect like how you feel about yourself. And, that's always something like a good barometer to pay attention to is like, how am I feeling?

And, every time I get around this one person, do they make me feel bad? Or after being with that person, how do I feel? I think it's so important to kind of recognize that, you know, sometimes you don't even remember what people say, right. You just remember how they made you feel and there's validity in that.

Breezy

Yeah, absolutely. And, I think the other thing to remember in those instances is like, I had an experience where you know, we were in lake Louise and he was yelling at us and he was like, those jackets could be gone so fast and all this kind of stuff. And, I was sitting there thinking to myself, like I should get up and walk out.

And, I was like, I can't do that. Like, he's the head coach? Like, what's he going to say to other people? And, the thing you have to realize somewhat is that at the end of the day, especially in those instances, the only person who you are beholden to is yourself. You aren't theirs, you know, you don't owe them anything.

I mean, any coach, you don't owe them anything. And so, if you feel like, this isn't helping you and this isn't what you want to hear and you don't deserve this, walk out because that, you know, me not walking out is like one of the biggest regrets of my life. Because, I like to think of myself as a strong enough person, that I would walk out. And I think today I would, but at that time I wouldn't, and I wish I had.

Stef

Yeah, that's a great lesson to pass on to other girls. You know, I think it's so important. 

Well, and you ended up getting a new coach and then you had a breakout season in 2016 and 17. You moved to the A-Team in 2017, 18 season, and then you went to the Olympics and, but unfortunately sort of an unfortunate event happened for you and you got injured gearing up for the 2018 and 19 season.

So, I want to talk about, you know, what did that, how did that feel as I'm sure, just as much as like there's emotional abuse, like when you have, you know, your physical body break down on you and in your case you tore your ACL, can you tell us a little bit about that moment for you, what you experienced right when it happened and then how you got yourself back?

Breezy

Yeah. I mean, I think, you know, tearing your ACL in ski racing is pretty common. So I'd always kind of, I sort of always felt like it was like coming for me and evidently, but when it actually happened, somehow, even though I'd always imagined it as being this like terrible event, I'd always imagine it happening in like the best conceivable way.

And of course, like life doesn't hand you things like that. And so, you know, I felt very frustrated and I felt very out of control for a long time. You physically feel not in control because your body literally can't do things that it was doing two weeks ago, a month ago, three months ago. But, you also just feel mentally out of control because, you know, I had been basically on this path since I was four years old and I wasn't, like, I was suddenly, you know, in a whole new, whole new territory.

And so, being injured was a lot about sort of mentally and physically finding control and figuring out ways to give that to myself. Even when I maybe didn't have it. I mean, I was maybe two and a half months into my rehab and, you know, I just find myself breaking down in the middle of the gym when I was working out alone and just crying by myself when I knew nobody could see me and I couldn't really put a finger on why I was just like felt so lost. And eventually, I reached out to a sports psychologist, Alex, who worked with the U.S. ski team and the U.S. OTC. And, you know, he was very helpful in helping me, you know, be able to like find some sort of control. And, basically in those moments, be able to dive a little deeper and be like, this is why I'm feeling this way.

And, that little bit of control was just a little bit more than I had had. And, if I could be like, you know, I am feeling sad or angry or low or frustrated because I am worried about X or because, you know, I want to see this progress that I'm not, or whatever that just allowed me to be like, okay, I have a definable thing that I'm looking for. I can set a goal around that. I can like do something about that. It just gave me a little bit more to sort of hold onto and it helped me get through my injury. 

And then, when I tore my PCL and MCL about nine months after my first injury, it helped me get through the second injury, which was very frightening because you know, when you're injured when I was injured, the first time I, you know, was sort of like, well, I kind of always expected this. And like, you know, I have to like, you know, pay the Piper and, you know, do my, you know, do my time on the slammer and then never do this again because you know, I've done it now. And, when I got injured the second time, I was like, oh yeah, this is a thing that can happen and it can happen again. And, it can happen again. 

And, you know, you don't know what the future holds and just because you've done it once doesn't mean you can't do it twice. In fact, it actually makes it more likely that you'll do it twice, unfortunately. And so, those like the small things that I could kind of hold onto and be like, okay, this is why I'm feeling this way.

And, diving a little deeper, gave me a little bit more emotional control to get through both of my injuries and you know, figure out more deeply like, you know, what do I want? What can I, what can I do right now will make me feel a little better and like, you know, okay? Long-term, like how do I, you know, how do I find something that allows me to have a balance between what my body needs and what my mind needs?

And, that's often, you know, surgeons and PTs and stuff are like, let's set aside the mind and do what your body needs. And, I found that I needed to sort of work on both simultaneously. Accepting that I needed something for my mind, you know, I've been racing as long as I can remember, and I love racing and to not race, it was kind of this thing that filled my cup.

And even though, you know, we only race about like 16 races a year between like 16 and 20 races a year. Like, I, I needed that mentally. And like, I thrived on that and to not have that for like, you know, basically two, almost two years, or so, was a lot for me. And that was hard. And so I was like, what can I do right now that'll help me get through this moment? And Alex really helped me with that.

Stef 

Well, I love that you sought out like, you know, somebody outside your support system. Cause it sounds like you have a great support system with your teammates and your family that sometimes you need like somebody completely outside of it, like a sports psychologist to help you frame things differently.

And, and especially when you're going through an injury the first time or even the second time, like it's important to get your mindset. And, I loved what you said in one of, one of the articles that you were interviewed and you talked about setting goals, like even setting goals when you're injured. You said, “goals in both times of heartbreak and times of victory are critical in helping us move forward. People tell me that I will come back stronger and my goals are what will make that happen.” So, you know, did you set like goals? Like, I mean, obviously you couldn't set goals like, you know, time, speed, et cetera, but what did you do in that moment when you were injured to keep yourself motivated and on track to come back?

Breezy

Well, I did a couple of things. One of the, I had a lot of goals and  we set, your sort of standard timelines and I've worked through with my therapist and my physical trainer, which was really great about like, we want to be here then like now, and like how we can do that.

And it was kind of funny because after my second injury, I set a very sort of strict, like I needed to make my goals like, and, I couldn't be off by a week or whatever. And my therapist, Jillian was like, we're setting these, and these are our goals. And she was like, but I've never seen people actually like, stay on track with these goals or whatever.

And I was like, gotta stay on track. And so, we set goals like that with my leg. But one of the things that we did that I thought helped a lot was that I set kind of fun and like more like kind of upper body and like strength goals that were things that were independent of my knee.

So like, you know, I wanted to be able to do a certain number of pull-ups. I wanted to, I tried to learn to do a muscle up, which I didn't achieve, but you know, I did things like that that were really helpful for me to be like, I'm accomplishing things and I'm going forward. And I like, did this and I'm this much closer and stuff like that while I couldn't really do anything.

And so, that was one of the things that I did, you know, I think I set a goal of 15 pull-ups and I did that and I wanted to learn how to do like these barbell roll-outs on my feet, which I'd always done them on my knees. And, I did that and stuff like that was like a day-to-day thing that I could be, .I can go out there and I can get better at this thing. So, that was really important to do. And also, I was thinking about kind of process-oriented goals as well as outcome goals. It was like, I'm going to do, core this many times a week I'm going to do, and you can accomplish those without actually necessarily having to see progress. Sometimes you don't see progress on a week to week basis, but you will see progress in a process sense.

Stef

How do you be patient with your body? Because you know, your body's going to kind of go at the pace it needs to go at and you can set goals and you can, I love the idea of process-oriented goals because that keeps you focused on, like, you can accomplish those process things, right? Which will hopefully then reach you to another goal. 

But how do you stay patient with your body? Because, I know a lot of professional athletes that are struggling right now getting back and, you know, it's like, you always want to go, go, go. And, sometimes you have this mindset of an athlete where you're like, and the more I do, I'll just keep, like, keep doing more and it'll, it'll get better. But how do you approach this idea of like being patient with your mind?

Breezy

I am probably a pretty bad person to talk about being patient with your body with, because I am probably the least patient person with my body. I think some of it was like, you know, some of those like process oriented things and sort of shifting your mindset on what work is. So like, one of the things that I, you know, was doing as I like, like, I slept with my knee on like a bolster for like three months after. And so I would be like, okay, I'm going to like watch Netflix with my foot in the air. And I'm going to like, you know, I said, or NormaTec or something like that, or even just sit there with your foot in the air and just like, be like, this is helping. This is you know, helping move out inflammation and it's like doing something. 

And, just because you're not actively doing something doesn't mean you're not working. You know, I tried to get like a ton of sleep. I'm a pretty good sleeper in general, but you know, like after especially in like the first few weeks after injury I was sleeping a lot and I was like, this is good for me. This is not me being lazy. This is me working.

Stef

Well, you, you also spoke with U.S.A., Ski and Snowboard on their website on Patient Notes and it wasn't like patients' notes. It was like patient, like you're a patient. And, you did, you talked a little bit about like journaling when you got injured. 

So, you know, we have a digital journal on the Voice in Sport™ platform. We think it's super important to like use journaling as a tool to like, write your thoughts down, reflect. What do you think is the power of journaling? And, do you still use it today, even like when you're not injured?

Breezy

Yeah, I've used journaling both before and since my injury. I think journaling is a great means to kind of do some of what I was talking about about like delving deeper and figuring out like, what am I really afraid of? Like, what do I want? And, I find that it's important to figure out like truly what we want.

And, that seems really easy. You know, it seems like it's always just like, I want to win or like, I want to be back, but it's not always that simple, like, you know, and so you figure out through journaling kind of like what's your, you know, true fears are and what you're really, you know, your desires are.

And so, it can be a method to do that and can also be very you know, helpful to just be like, okay, I've said it. So it does give you that control. Like so I think that that's a really important thing to journaling. I also use it for other means. You know, I had a dear friend that passed away a couple of years ago. And so, I journal to him. And, I journal around races about, you know, the tracks and things like that. So yeah, there's different, there's definitely a lot of different uses for journals.

Stef

Well, it's so powerful, especially when you're maybe not ready to talk about something and you know, you still want to talk to somebody, but you don't really know. You want to talk to somebody then it's like, well, like talk to your journal because it's a great, great place to even just start thinking about, well, how do I express how I'm feeling?

Because, sometimes it can be hard to find the right sports, psychologist, psychologist when you're going through something tough. And, that's the other thing, like another reason why we set up the platform, the way we did is. It's one sports psychologists that you meet with, you have that experience, go see another, you might just not have connected with that person. And that's what we want to inspire and encourage girls to do, because you might find your person might just take a little bit of time. So, you know, encouraging girls to try new things, I think, is this so important?

Breezy

Yeah, absolutely. Alex was my second sports psychologist. So yes, on the trying different sports psychologist. I think I walked into Alex and I was like, I don't need somebody to mansplain about visualization. So those were like literally my first words to him. And, that's where we started.

Stef

That's amazing. I love it. Well, speaking of visualization as a ski racer, I mean, you have to nail that like that is one of the most important things to what you do. So I can only imagine that first meeting and how that went.

So, let's fast forward to December of 2020. You got your first world cup podium, and then you had four consecutive fourth place finishes after that. So pretty much, you know, you came back stronger after your injuries, which is really incredible to see. So for the girls that are out there that are listening to this that are in the middle and in the thick of an injury, you know, and you can actually come back stronger.

Like what do you just want to say to them that that might feel like they, if they're in that mind space, I don't know, I dunno if I can come back? What would you say to those girls?

Breezy

Well, I think the one thing that I say, and this is to anyone who's going through tough times. But definitely injury is if you're going through how keep going, like just keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep working and. Keep going, , don't stop and hang out and like, you know, have a powwow in hell, like just keep going.

And I think, you know, I was very lucky in my body's ability to heal and the people that I was surrounded with at injury and. So I'm very grateful to those people, but I also do think that like I was very worried about, you know, whether or not I was going to come back stronger because not everyone does.

And, I came back very much with a like carpe diem. Like, I don't know if I'm guaranteed next week, next race next year, next quad. But, what I can do right now is ski really fast. And so, I'm going to go try to do that. So I think that like, you know, just keep going and keep working. 

If you always try to do your best every day, regardless of what, injury or problematic coaches or whatever setbacks happen. That's the best advice I can give you to, coming back stronger or, doing better and at the end of the day, regardless of whether or not you win if you can say that you left it all out on the field, like my hats off to you, like, I don't, I can't, I can't tell you to be any more or less. 

I admire champions as people who won medals, but to me, winning is about leaving your heart on the field. And if you do that through injury, then to me you are a champion, and you can take that into any part of life, that courage to go for it. And so yeah, if you're, if you're going through an injury and you're worried about coming back stronger you know, face those fears, head on those fears are real. I know those fears and just keep going and keep working and come back and seize the day.

Stef

I love it. Well, you're living proof, so amazing work. So excited to see you in the upcoming Olympics. And, you know, I want to, I want to dive into like, part of ski racing and being a female athlete, especially when you make it to these elite levels. Like you, you go from high school sports and you make it to division one sport.

So you start weight training or you make it like you did moving from your academy to the USA ski team. And, you kind of get into this like whole new routine of like training both mentally and physically. But, what I noticed as a, going into division one athletics, and I'm sure it's even more intense as you growing into like an Olympic level pro athlete level sport is your body starts changing, like physically your body, like it just does. Right? You're doing more things, more training. So did you ever struggle with like body confidence or body image? And how did you, how did you deal with those changes in your body when you were transitioning into this probe circuit?

Breezy

Yeah. I mean, I think it can be hard. You know, I'm like a larger build person then maybe the next girl I've always been, or for basically since high school, I've always been like the biggest girl of anyone, either my age or my category or whatever. And you know, I was kind of coming of age in the time when like paleo was really cool and people were anti-gluten like spread. And so, you know, there were people.

Stef

You liked to eat bread.

Breezy

Yeah. I love bread, bread rocks. Don't let anybody tell you otherwise.

Stef

We haven't. We have an article on Voice in Sport™ that says Bread. Yes. Like, so check it out.

Breezy

I will definitely check it out. But you know, so you know, I had some teammates who made fun of me because I liked bread. And, I definitely felt like in ski racing and particularly in speed skiing there can be sometimes a, joke about the fat girl in the fast skis that I didn't experience too many times, but you don't have to hear it a lot for it to sink in.

And so, I definitely have had conflicting feelings, I guess, about my body. I have always loved my body. But, I definitely have struggled with concepts like that. I always try to come back to loving my body for what it can do and being like, there are some incredible things that I can do with my big legs. And, there's some impressive things that I can do with my broad shoulders. I think it's important to appreciate what your body can do and not what it looks like and not what we are told that it should be. So that's my advice. And also like, you know, what eat, what you want to eat.

If a nutritionist comes to you and says like, oh, here's some advice in order to meet your sport goals, then those are professionals and, they hopefully are not coming there unsolicited. But, those people know what they're talking about, but your teammates, your friends outside of sport, they don't understand what your body can do.

They are, are really just looking at it from a very one-sided perspective and we're three-dimensional human beings. And so, I think it's important to, to love your body and love it for what it can do. I still have moments where I'm bummed out that I don't have like a six pack or whatever, and that's normal. And so, some of it's also just like accepting yourself and accepting that, I don't think anyone has a perfect relationship with their body. We can just try every day to be better and to love ourselves and love our flaws. And except that, and I think that you don't necessarily have to always also fight with yourself sometimes when you don't love yourself 24/7.

That's okay, too. If you're like hating yourself all the time, then please reach out and go get help. But occasionally being like, I wish I had a six pack or, I wish I looked like Gisele Bündchen is normal. It's just important to come back and be like, yeah, but like can Gisele Bündchen and go 80 miles an hour on skis? No, she can't.

Stef

No, no. I love that. It's so important. And that's why, just recognizing what are you doing? And looking at every single day, because that can really affect your mental state as well. So social media is known to actually cause a lot of these body image issues for young girls. So if you're on your phone constantly looking at other people's bodies and you feel bad about yourself, you need to shut that down and shut that off. And, it is so important to recognize that those sorts of things that you might not realize are affecting you are.

Breezy

Yeah. You know, I like, I have had a lot of moments through my career where I also kind of almost have the reverse where I'm like, you know, when I was rehabbing, I struggled with my femininity in a way that I never had, because I always loved being a girl. And then, I got injured and they were like, so it turns out this all would be fine with you being injured, except that you have two X chromosomes. And so, your body just wants to die all the time. And so, I had to kind of come to terms with that too. I had to kind of coax my body into being like, you can, yeah. You can like put on muscle and you can do this and you can like do this other thing.

And, that can be hard too as females, but I think it's important to accept that. I was always like looking at like the guys and being like, well, wouldn't it be great if I had your injury risk, wouldn't it be like awesome. If I could build muscle back, like you can. And so that's, you know, also another thing is like to, to love, to love yourself in those moments too, when you want to be, you want to be bigger, faster, stronger sometimes.

And you're like, as a female, there are difficulties to that, but to me, that's sort of also where you come back to. It's not about the highest peak that you've climbed. It's about the distance from the valley to that peak. And, sometimes we, as women, we start off at a disadvantage. That's just true. And so, you know, when you get strong, when you get powerful, when you do these things, like it's that much more impressive because you know, you have limitations just based off of your genetics. And so, that's something to always remember too.

Stef

Well, I really appreciate you just being open and honest because it can be really hard. And here you are, like at the top of your game, right? I think it's as important to recognize that like, we're all going to always have a little bit of that because we live in a society that idolizes a certain body type and you know, so that's going to affect all of us, but what's important to remember is that everybody's body is different.

Our bodies in particular, as athletes, are strong and powerful for a reason, and it helps us accomplish our goals and our dreams. So, I appreciate you sharing that with us Breezy and I hope the girls that are listening walk away with all right, like I got this and love their bodies for what they are.

Breezy

And, what they can do.

Stef

And ,what they can do. So let's talk about one more thing that you do, which has nothing to do with skiing. And, it has to do with advocating as part of the reason why we wanted to bring you on the Voice in Sport™ podcast. You know, a lot of what we do beyond helping girls stay in sport is advocating for change.

And, you have served on the Alpine Sport Committee for the U.S. ski team and have been nominated by your teammates. So, you know, can you tell us a little bit about this role, what it means to you and specifically the role is about driving change. So what kind of change do you want to see in the sports industry for women.

Breezy

Yeah. So, I am on the Alpine sport committee. I'm also an athlete liaison on the U.S. team, which is sort of our version of team captains because the term team captains is a little bit tough for people, but so I act as a liaison between the U.S. ski team and the athletes there, and then the organization as a whole.

And, some of that comes out of my, experiences early on in the team and my desire to not see anybody else go through the things that I went through and other people went through worse. So, you know, I'm always working to try to better the sport and to try to make sure that things are equitable between men and women and things like that.

And, that really stems out of my own experience and the things that I want to see improve. And so yeah, my work with the Alpine sport committee, I work more broadly with the youth sport and, developing rules and policies to help the younger levels.

And then, with my role as athlete liaison, I work specifically on the team. And so, those are both things that I'm very proud of and trying to kind of pay it forward and make things better. I never really saw myself as a leader because I wasn't like, I was never super popular and I always thought leaders were like popular people. And, I basically just got to a point where everyone was like, oh my gosh, like, I don't want to step forward and talk about this. And, I was like, okay, well, like if nobody else will, then I will.

And so, I stepped forward and I was like, let's change this. Let's make this better. Let's, let's do this on behalf of the athletes. And, it didn't necessarily come from when I was young that I really wanted to like, improve the sport or see that I just experienced it. And I was like, somebody needs to do this. And okay. I guess, like, I guess I can do it. And so that's kinda where that came from. 

So I guess, you know, another piece of advice that I would say is just because you don't feel like you're a leader doesn't mean that you're not, and sometimes you just find that you're kind of the last one standing to, step forward and talk about things and and that's okay too. You can do it. Sometimes those people, I think make, make the best leaders and advocate the best as the ones who didn't seek it out necessarily, but who just found themselves in that position and try to do the best they could.

Stef

Well, I think you bring up a really important point. Like even if you never saw yourself as that advocate or that leader, or you didn't think you were that person back then, that doesn't mean that you can't step up and be that person now and leadership comes in so many different forms. And, I do think just like body types, right?

Let's like the society idolizes, certain body types. And then, in leadership, like it seems like certain leadership types get elevated and you know, it just goes back to like the conversation around diversity is those things can come in so many different forms and be amazing. And, be great. And, you know, we, we just had Elizabeth Williams on our Voice in Sport™ platform talking to all of the VIS™ advocates about her journey to becoming one of the advocates for the WBA and the social change work that happened last year.

And, she also shared a story about how, like she didn't ever feel like she was a leader and was never the one that really speak up. And now, here she is like using her voice to drive incredible change. So, I think it's important for young girls to hear that from leaders like you and that really anybody can step up into those roles.

It's a decision that you have to make and you gotta find your passion and your why and like what you want to drive. So, I want to end a little on that question for you Breezy. Like when you take a step back and you think about, you know, the change you're trying to drive on these committees, the work that you're doing on the slopes, like you take a step back. What is your why and how do you stay focused on that why in your journey through sport?

Breezy

Yeah. I mean, I think my, why is, I want to see you know, I love the sport of skiing and I want to, I want to see it elevated. I want to see it be a better place, a more inclusive place. Part of that inclusivity is being a cheaper place. And, so as far as like my role in leadership, like I want to see people who are happy and who find themselves through sport and because, you know, I did, but I didn't necessarily come to that in like the most positive way.

And I, but I think that sport can teach you a lot. And so I, you know, just want to support that and support that for as many people as possible, whether it's in the sport of ski racing or beyond.

Stef

That's amazing. Well, we know you're also part of the Doug Coombs foundation in Jackson Hole, which is an organization that assists underprivileged kids to get into getting into sports. So I love that you're a part of that organization. It's a big part of what we have at Voice in Sport™. We offer sponsorships to memberships at Voice in Sport™ so that kids that can't afford it can also get access to the resources we provide.

So, it's so important. The work that you do, we're really excited to see what you're going to accomplish in the Olympics in this up and coming winter Olympics. So ,we will definitely be watching. To end off our podcast, we'd like to offer just two pieces of advice that you have, one for girls and one for the sports industry. So let's start with the girls. What is one single piece of advice that you would like to tell your younger self and all the girls out there?

Breezy

I would like to tell girls that, you know, regardless of what type of person you are, if you have goals and you want to achieve them go out and don't be afraid of them. Courage to go after what you want is, one of the hardest things we can do as human beings. But, when you do that, when you set yourself free, when you free yourself to potentially fail at something you love, you can do so much.

You have the world at your fingertips. And so, go out there, love what you do and work hard at it and watch the magic happen because win or lose. That is how you become a champion.

Stef

Love it. And what is one thing that you would love to see for the future of women's sport?

Breezy

I would like to see a media presence where women can be more unique and not be shoved into categories. You know, that you have the girl next door, the, this kind of sexy athlete and like, you know, that like power horse woman and you know, I think that women are so much more deeper than that. 

And so I, you know, hope to be perceived as deeper than that. And, I hope that other women can be perceived deeper than that. And, I hope that the media in this world where we have so much access to athletes can see women as more than just one out of a few categories. And more than just, you know, a smiling face on a Wheaties box or, an action shot on the front of Sports Illustrated. And, we can, you know, accept women as multifaceted.

Stef

I love that. And, I feel like what you said is pretty spot on, like, there are these like stereotypes that are sort of consistently portrayed for women athletes and you don't really get to see everybody. And, I think that's something that we all need to work on. It's part of why we started Voice in Sport™. How do we bring more visibility to incredible women like you to other people that are like in the, in sport doing amazing things? So, I appreciate that you said that, and it's a big part of what we're trying to do. So we hope we can be one small part in doing that.

Breezy

Yeah. I mean, I hope that, through platforms like Voice in Sport™, we can see that women and all athletes are more than just like that one liner that they throw as like this athlete went through X and is now here. That's just like, you know, we all have a massive story.

Stef

Well, I loved hearing your story today. So Breezy, Thank you for joining us at the vVoice in Sport™ Podcast, and we're excited to see what you're going to do next, and I'm excited to have you part of our community. So thanks for joining us.

Breezy

Thank you very much.

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Stef

This episode was produced by VIS Creator™, Rena Schwartz, a skier at Dartmouth College. Breezy's experience and advice on creating healthy coach-athlete relationships is vital. Coaches can be our greatest advocates, and it's also important to recognize if you are in a bad situation and in Breezy's experience, being emotionally abused by a coach.

It's also easy to feel hopeless when injured. And, I love how Breezy unpacked, how she was able to find meaning in her recovery, through focusing on what she could control. By doing this, she was able to come back stronger. Whether you are a skier, runner, soccer player, or any other athlete, we will all face challenges in our journey. But, it is up to us to seek support, speak up, surround ourselves with people that care and that believe in our ability.

Don't let one bad experience push you away from your sport. Breezy is currently racing on the world cup circuit and preparing for the winter Olympics in 2022, you can follow Breezy on Instagram @breezyjohnsonski and on Twitter @_breezyjohnson.

To cheer her on, please subscribe to the Voice in Sport™ Podcast and give us a rating. You can follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Tik Tok @voiceinsport. And, if you're interested in joining our community at Voice in Sport™, you'll have access to exclusive content mentorship from pro and collegiate athletes, access to the top experts in sports psychology, nutrition, and advocacy tools. So check out voiceinsport.com to join. And, we hope you enjoyed this episode. And, if you're interested in checking out other incredible skiers, check out episode number 43 with professional Alpine skier, Nina O'Brien, The Peaks and Valleys of Confidence.

See you next week on the Voice in Sport™ Podcast.

(background music stops)

Host: Stef Strack

Producer: VIS Creator™ Rena Schwartz

Breezy is fast and fierce on the hill, landing her on the world cup podium seven times. How does she do it?