Saturday’s World Cup at the famed Holmenkollen Ski Festival in Oslo, Norway will be the final race of my professional ski career. This decision comes with excitement and gratitude mixed with sadness and some fear. In many ways, this decision has been a long time coming, but there is also an abruptness to the ending that is unavoidable. I will wake up on Sunday morning and my identity as a cross-country ski racer, which has been my primary identity for my adult life and the better part of my adolescent life, will be gone.
There are many reasons why it is the right time for me to step away from the sport. The most important is that I now want to invest my time and energy in things other than training and racing, but I would be lying if I said that results had nothing to do with this decision. The reality is that my career was on a steady upward trajectory through the 2013-14 season, culminating in two wins in World Cup stage races and a great Olympics in Sochi. Over the past four years, I have not come close to repeating that success, let alone continuing to build on it. My coaching team and I have taken nothing for granted and have continually tried to find creative ways to break through. Unfortunately, we have not been successful in putting me back on a path towards being the best in the world. Even still, I look back on my career with nothing but pride and gratitude.
One of the reasons I know it is time for me to move on is that results are no longer as important to me as they once were. It is ironic that my signal to turn the page is also one of the greatest gifts of my career: I have learned that results do not define me nor do good results guarantee happiness. That is not to say that I won’t look back with pride upon my stage world cup wins, my silver medal at the Under-23 World Championships, or my performance in the Olympic 50k in Sochi. I do, and I will. But I doubt that any of those moments will stand out compared to the memories of laughing and crying with my teammates and friends at ski resorts all over the world.
It is a fairy tale ending to finish my career at Holmenkollen, two weeks after the conclusion of my second Olympic Games. Not only is this the most prestigious World Cup race of the season with the best fans and the hardest course, it also has particular significance to me and my career. I raced my first World Championships at Oslo 2011 and have competed here six times since. Some of the best performances of my career have come on these trails. On top of that, both my dad, Mike Hoffman, and my coach, Zach Caldwell, will be in Oslo this weekend to watch and support me.
Very few athletes are afforded the privilege of ending on their own terms. Somehow, despite less than stellar results, I raced an almost full World Cup schedule, was named to represent the US in PyeongChang and will finish in Oslo. I am so grateful to have had each of these opportunities.
Of course, I am indebted to more people than I can possibly name for making my career possible. Skiing professionally has been the greatest honor and privilege of my life, and I am overwhelmed with love, humility and appreciation when I think about all of the people who have supported me throughout my journey. You all helped me grow into the person I am today and gave me more than I could ever repay. I will forever hold you in my heart.
My future is full of uncertainty and opportunity. Most likely I will pursue a bachelor’s degree in public policy, economics or law, but I also plan to take Zach’s advice and savor the transition with patience. I will find new goals to pursue with the same dedication I committed to skiing, but I will also enjoy the moment and the unique freedom of my present situation.
Ironically, as I retire from a career as a professional athlete in an outdoor sport, one of the things that I crave most is more time in the outdoors, without a watch or a heart rate monitor or a training plan or a destination. I am also looking for more stability and less travel. I want to spend more time with the people who matter most to me in my life.
I do not know what my future online identity will be. I am grateful for the personal marketing, blogging, social media, photography, podcasting, website management and video editing skills that skiing has taught me, but I also know that my digital life is not contributing to my happiness. I will search for balance as I move forward.
Of course, I am nervous for and anxious about my uncertain future. I am grateful that I have many friends to lean on who have gone through this transition and others who are also in the midst of it. I plan to take advantage of resources available to transitioning athletes at the US Olympic Committee and US Ski Team.
My greatest fear about this transition is losing the amazing community that surrounds and supports me in everything that I do. This group includes my friends and family, coaches and teammates, supporters and fans. I do not know what my future involvement in cross-country skiing will be, but I do know that cross-country skiing is full of the most driven, successful, motivated, smart and caring people I have ever met. I hope that you will continue to consider me one of your own.
I would be remiss to end this essay without naming a few of the individuals who sacrificed the most to make my career happen. First and foremost, my parents have challenged me to justify each of my decisions, but, ultimately, they have fully and unequivocally supported me in everything that I’ve done. My sister has been my rock, always and unquestionably there for me. Zach Caldwell and John Callahan have given more of their time to my career, without pay, than any of us care to remember. Mark Doughty and Thoughtforms, the entire team at K2/Madshus, the Rocky Mountain Nordic Angel team (Mike Elliot, Craig and Becky Ward, Ruthie Brown, Dan Weiland, Dave Peterson and many, many others) and numerous other people and organizations have made my career financially possible. Last but certainly not least, the families who have taken me into their homes have shown me what true love and openness and generosity look like. Thank you all.
I will give everything I have for 50 kilometers on Saturday, and when I cross the finish line I will be proud of everything that I have given to the sport, tremendously grateful for everything the sport has given me and so very excited for the future. Thank you for being a part of my remarkable journey.
Photo Credit: flyingpointroad.com