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Hudec shares tales of ski life

Many ski racers will tell you there is no fear on the mountain. They talk about the thrill, the line between control and recklessness; but never the fear. Jan Hudec says that’s a load of crap.

Many ski racers will tell you there is no fear on the mountain. They talk about the thrill, the line between control and recklessness; but never the fear.

Jan Hudec says that’s a load of crap.

“There’s a jump at Kitzbuehl and when you hit it, guys go flying 200 feet through the air. One year they were hitting 240 feet. Guys who tell you they’re not scared are full of it.”

National alpine ski team member Hudec shared stories of resilience and perseverance, of devastating injury and thrilling comeback, of lonely ski obscurity and world cup success, to inspire and instruct Alberta Ski Team members at the Canmore Nordic Centre.

“There will be times where you totally suck and think nothing you try is working. But the fire in your heart will keep you going,” Hudec said.

Growing up, Hudec moved to Banff from Red Deer at a young age to pursue his ski dreams. He got the chance to watch the 1988 Olympic Games at Nakiska, sparking the embers of what would soon be a long skiing career.

“As soon as I saw one of the racers go by me, I knew that’s what I wanted to do when I grew up. At that age, you don’t analyze your feelings. You think with your heart and know that’s what you want to do.”

Seeing Olympic skiers live inspired Hudec to pursue his goals with the help of his father, Jan, Sr., who worked as his coach. Success came early for the Banffite, however, the results later proved to be a burden.

“Things came easily because I was pretty talented. I learned lessons later in my career. I didn’t listen to my dad or coaches until it was too late.”

He was originally humbled at his first World Cup race in Lake Louise, in front of friends and family.

“I started 80th and came down 50th or something. I realized this World Cup stuff is harder than I thought,” Hudec said.

At age 21, he began racing in Europe. In Switzerland the week before the 2002 world championships, Hudec’s life changed.

“I started the season in Europe. Eric Guay and I were the young guys and there were two older guys on the way out. Eric and I were doing FIS races and a week before the world championships, the coach said you have a chance to qualify for the championships.

“I was starting 68th (in qualifying) and had nothing to lose. Eric and I came down sixth and fifth. And just like that, we would be racing in the world championship,” he said.

“At the world championships, I was starting 34th, Eric was 33rd. He goes down and came down in sixth place. I’m at the top thinking ‘that was amazing, but I can beat that guy. Why can’t I do it?’

“I have nothing to lose. I’ve done everything to prepare for this.”

Going down the course, Hudec led every split until the final turn.

“Right before the finish, I pulled a rookie move. There was a blind corner and I second guessed myself and went way out of the track. I ended up 300ths of a second behind Eric in seventh.”

Overnight, he was a 21-year-old skiing sensation.

“I went from FIS races and a World Cup race in Lake Louise to 80,000 people screaming their heads off. It doesn’t matter where you come from, or your results in the past. You know you can do it. That’s what kicked off my career.”

However, the top results did not immediately continue for Hudec. Instead, results were replaced by the pain and suffering of injuries and comebacks.

“My career changed after that. All of the things I didn’t take time to learn when I was young, I had to learn after that,” Hudec said.

In Dec. 2003, during a FIS race, Hudec got in a bad position and tore his ACL. It took a year to recover. However, a year to the day after the first injury, he tore the same knee again.

Another year after that, he still had pain in his knee. Doctors found a staple from a previous surgery had been left in his leg and was rubbing against his IT band.

“It was so painful I could barely stand up,” Hudec said. “For the third year in a row, I was having surgery before Christmas.”

Three years of surgery and rehab took their toll and several people began to question if Hudec would ever actually return to ski racing.

At 24, many who had previously told him he’d make the World Cup told him his career was over, asking him when he’d get a real job. However, he relied on his family and supports to carry him through.

“It’s the passion in your heart that will get you through tough times. Trials and difficult times come in different ways. They can be emotional, family, injuries, money… things are always going to come up. You need a good support system that will help you through the tough times. I have a strong faith. My family always supported me. When everyone else forgot, they were there for me.”

It’s a lesson he emphasized for the young skiers.

“To give up after a few obstacles should never, never be your option.”

Hudec did come back from injury a stronger skier. He used the rehab time to improve his eating and training habits, emerging even stronger than before. The hard work paid off in 2007, as he captured the World Cup win at Lake Louise in front of friend and family and Canada.

The career highlight, though, was followed with more injuries, and again Hudec is struggling against a bad back to return to race shape for the upcoming season. However, he’s keeping everything in perspective.

“Sport is really cruel and amazing in the same way. You can have the best race of your life and end up 30th or have an average race and end up on the podium.”

Fear still grips him hurtling down the mountain, however, he’s learned bravery and resilience along the way.

Rocky Mountain Outlook

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