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Episode #43

A Journey in Confidence

with Nina O'Brien

06 Apr, 2021 · Skiing

Nina O’Brien, Pro Alpine Skier, opens up about the highs and lows she faced in her career and how she built her confidence. She reminds us that our dreams aren't far away, if we believe in ourselves and are willing to put in the work.

Transcript

Stef

Welcome to the Voice in Sport podcast. I'm your host, Stef Strack, the founder of Voice in Sport. As an athlete, professional and mom, I have spent the last 20 years advocating for women and innovating across the sports industry. Now I want to bring more visibility to female athletes and elevate their voice at Voice in Sport.

We share untold stories from female athletes to inspire us all, to keep playing and change more than just the game.

Today's guest is Nina O'Brien, a professional Alpine skier for team USA. In this episode, Nina shares her journey to winning seven national titles in five different events, landing her a spot on the world cup circuit for team USA. Our conversation today is centered around confidence. We all have had peaks and valleys with our confidence.

And today we dive deep into three moments that Nina pulled herself through, as she progressed through the different levels of ski racing. I love Nina's story because she grew up over three hours from a ski mountain where her love for skiing started with her family weekend trips. She made a big decision to leave her family and join a ski boarding school, which led to a breakthrough moment as a 17 year old, when she won her first national title.

While on the surface, her journey seems perfect, she struggled with confidence at several moments in her journey. Nina reminds us all that sometimes our biggest challenges in sport are inside of us. She highlights the importance of a strong support system for young female athletes.  Be it coaches, teammates, or your family, it is so important to have people who stand with us when we are on a peak, but also who support us when we are struggling through a valley. I'm so excited for this conversation because regardless of sport, we all experienced the highs and lows of confidence. And through sharing stories like this, we will all be better for it. Welcome to the voice and sport podcast, Nina. 

Nina

I'm really excited to be here.

Stef

I love that we're talking to you from Europe today, and you're right in the middle of your season, which is amazing. And we're going to dive right into conversations around confidence. And this is such an important topic for young female athletes because girls drop out of sport at two times the rate of boys and a big part of that is confidence.

Confidence in those early years, between 13 and 23, which is really where you just got over, you’re 23. And so, we're going to take a look back at your journey and talk about all of those transitions and those hurdles that you overcame specifically around confidence. So I'm so excited to talk to you about this topic.

Nina

Yeah, it's definitely been a journey for me. So, if I can share any wisdom, I'm looking forward to it.

Stef

Amazing.  You're in a really cool sport, Alpine skiing, and you're part of the US ski team, which is incredible, but you're also going to school at Dartmouth college.

 Studying economics and originally from San Francisco. So, tell us-- how does a girl from San Francisco get onto the US ski team?

Nina

Yeah. So, growing up in San Francisco, you don't meet too many professional skiers or real ski racers, but I grew up with three other siblings and.

What we did as a family is we liked to kick the soccer ball around or play tennis. And we like to go skiing on the weekends. And my parents really never intended for any of us kids to take skiing super seriously or by any means become a professional ski racer. It was more of a life skill that they wanted us to have.

And so, every weekend we would drive three and a half hours after school on Friday afternoon to Squaw Valley and we joined the local ski program and we would ski around, have fun with friends. And then drive back on Sunday night to go to school on Monday.

And it was really just a way to spend time as a family.

Stef

It's amazing. It started as such a casual, like family activity for you. At what point did it become an area that you wanted to focus on in sport?

Nina

Yeah. So throughout middle school, I also played soccer and a little bit of volleyball. I loved tennis, and a lot of different sports and skiing was maybe my first love, just because it was one of those activities I did from the youngest age.

And I love cities, but there was just something special about going up to Squaw and standing on top of the mountains, looking out at the views and then skiing down groomers, powder days. I honestly loved every bit of it. So it was pretty clear early on, I really loved skiing. And it wasn't just a sport. It was a nice lifestyle as well.

Stef

So, who are some of your role models that you had in that sport? 

Nina

To be growing up skiing at Squaw Valley, where there's such a rich history of American ski racers and ski racing success, Squa hosted the Olympics.  The village and the area, they really celebrate skiing. And I always looked up to Julia Mancuzzo because she was from Squa and she was such a free spirit.

She would come back and free ski the mountain. And if you ever knew Julia was in Squaw, the whole ski area was a buzz. So, I definitely looked up to her and was inspired by her. 

Stef

Parents have a role within your love of Alpine skiing. It's pretty incredible.

The dedication to drive three and a half hours every weekend, to Squaw to keep you in the sport. So, what was their role, and how important was their role?

Nina

They were champions looking back on it now, that was not easy to corral four kids and a dog into the car, three and a half hours each way.

But I'm so grateful to them. They never pushed the sport on me. Like I said, they really wanted it to be a fun activity that we could do together. But once they saw that I really loved racing, they did everything they could to get me where I needed to go when it was. Even longer drives.

My dad would tune my skis late at night before races. And then all of the other things parents do, including pep talks and packing your lunches for the day on the Hill. They helped keep it really fun.

Stef

That's so amazing that you had that, because that support system can really help you in your journey and keep you in sport.

So, I want to talk a little bit about confidence because that's what we're going to explore with you today and all of those moments where you were struggling with confidence. And so just looking at the definition of confidence first:

“Self-confidence is commonly defined as the sureness of feeling that you are equal to the task at hand”. Sounds easy enough. But we know that as athletes, when we get into the sport, especially if we lose a game, our confidence can decrease. And when you're transitioning from one level to the next, it can be really tough. And often that confidence is really closely linked to performance. So, we're going to dissect how you did it and talk about three hurdles that you had between the ages 13 and 23.

And I'm so excited because I know a lot of girls are going through the same thing. We know that change is really difficult. And a lot of times when things are changing around us, it's when our confidence completely plummets. So, for you this first moment was when you were only 13 years old, and you made a really big decision in your life.

You decided to actually skip a grade and jump to high school and attend Burke mountain Academy. So, talk to me about that experience. What were the hardest things about that transition?

Nina

Sure. So yes, as you mentioned, when I was 13, I was at this crossroads where I had to decide whether or not I really wanted to pursue ski racing and what that would look like if I chose.

Yes. And as we mentioned, living in San Francisco driving three and a half hours, I wasn't going to be able to train as much as my peers if I wanted to be competitive. So, I began looking at alternatives and ultimately decided to go to boarding school in Vermont. Probably about as far away from home as you could possibly choose.

And I'd never really spent much time on the East coast, but it seemed like a really wonderful school. And I took the leap. It was a huge change for me. I was young and I'd never been that far away from home. I had trained on the weekends, but I'd never been a full-time skier. Nor had I really done any of the fitness training before.

And so, arriving at school, moving in, not knowing any of the other students or staff was definitely a very intimidating experience initially.

Stef

That's a big thing at that age, moving so far away from your family, and getting into a whole new experience in how you train for your sport. So, talk to me about how you struggled with your confidence during the first few weeks or months that you were there. What were some of those thoughts and feelings you had?

Nina

I think where I struggled with my confidence most initially was at my first snow camp with the school.  We would have classes throughout the fall. And in November we took a trip out to Colorado and that's where we started skiing for the first time. And that's really where I felt like I was starting to be compared to other people for the first time.

I was insecure and I was nervous. I had grown up free skiing a lot in California, and I felt like some of my classmates and teammates had spent a lot more time working on their technique and doing drills. And so, when it came to doing the drills in front of our coaches, it was all completely new to me.

And it seemed like they had been doing it for years.  I was worried that my hands weren't in the right position and I wasn't forward enough on my skis. And every time we had to run through these drills, which is every day, pretty much, that's a warmup for training. I felt like I was behind.

 It was a little bit nerve wracking at first, for sure.  I definitely wasn't too confident in my ability when I showed up that year.

Stef

Did you feel an extra added pressure because you had made this decision to leave your life and completely go and commit to skiing. Did you already know? Yep. I'm going to go try to be on the US ski team when you were 13 or was it a test to determine if you wanted to fully commit?

Nina

I think there's a little bit of that pressure for sure. Looking back, I'm not sure I really believed I could make the US ski team at that time. It all felt so far away, which is something I don't encourage. I think one of the biggest lessons young athletes can learn is it's not that far away if you believe in it.

And even if, maybe you're not totally confident in where you are at the moment, please trust me, it's not as far as you think. Little changes can have big effects and that's one thing I've learned in my journey. So back at that time, I felt a little bit more pressure now that I decided to go to this school.

But I think what drove me more than that external pressure was. I wanted to do well, and I looked at it as a challenge. Okay.  I'm not the best at doing these drills. How can I get better? How can I use every little bit of my time on snow to work and refine my technique and how do I catch up?

And I think that really helped me work through that stage.

Stef

 I can imagine that it's really tough. And it's also important to have a strong support system around you to build those skills.

And we know that confidence can play in a lot of forms and sometimes it's getting that confidence from your teammates or getting that confidence from your coaches. So how did the people around you, during that period at this Academy, help you really get over that confidence?

Nina

Well, I was lucky to have that coach who really stressed the basics and he emphasized dedicated practice and fundamentals in ski racing. So, while we were doing training runs, he would always pair things down to simple focuses that are really the things you hear when you're just first learning how to ski, forward pressure, stand on your outside ski.

Just, the most fundamental technical elements of skiing and trying to really perfect those movements. And through working with him, I learned that by taking a step back and sometimes slowing down a sport where you're trying to go as fast as possible, you can actually make changes and really ingrain new habits which allows you to go faster. I also had a great group of girls as teammates who, even though at first, I thought they were further ahead of me, they embraced me completely. They became my best friends, and they were an awesome support system to talk about skiing and also not to talk about skiing and just have fun.

And that was super important.

Stef

That is a big reason why we built Voice in Sport is so that those that don't have that community can access teammates if you will, from across the world and at different levels.  So, taking a step back, what did you learn about yourself and the process as an athlete to get to that next level, in those pretty formative years, 13 to age 17?

Nina

Well, I learned a lot in those years and you're right, they are very formative. And one of the biggest things I learned that was you have to be open to change and willing to accept feedback that someone's giving you. But in order to grow and improve as an athlete, it's good to try new things. And even those teammates who I initially thought were so much further ahead of me and they knew how to do all the drills. They were actually going through the exact same process of trying to make those changes every day. And while we may have been working on different things, we were facing the same battle of how to get better.

And so even if someone looks like they have it all figured out, they're also trying to learn as well.

Stef

Brilliant points, we're all a work in progress. And so regardless of what level you're at or where you're at in the rankings, you're trying to improve.

And so, you can relate to your teammates in that way. And that's so important. Well, from 13 to 17 at the Academy, you started to gain confidence, and it brought through some really amazing results in your ski racing. And in 2015, you won the US national GS title at age 17.

So, talk to me about this breakthrough moment. That must have been so exciting to go from living in San Francisco, skiing on the weekends too: Wow. You just won the U S national title in giant slalom, which is my favorite event, by the way. So how did it impact your confidence and how you perceived yourself?

 Nina

Well, that day was pretty amazing. It's something I'm still really proud of. And it was a surprise for a lot of people, including myself. But I think winning the national title, you know, totally changed my confidence up until then. I still had hoped I could make the U S ski team and that result that day solidified that I would qualify for the team, but it also helped me realize that I could compete with not only, with the other girls my age, but really the best in the nation. And that was something that I don't think I'd even tried to comprehend before. And it only started to think in afterwards.

Stef

You didn't even expect it and there you are winning the national title.

And the thing I love about ski racing is that there's a first run and a second run, and it's such a mental game, because you might have a good first run or a bad run, doesn't matter. But the time between your first run and your second run is all about your confidence, your mental game.

So, tell us a little bit about what you were saying to yourself? At that moment between your first and second run, how were you motivating yourself to build up that confidence for the second run?

Nina

You're right. it's an absolute mental battle in between runs. And I won the first run that day and I had never been in a position where I'd won the first run at an event that big before.

So, coming into the first run, I had been a contender, but then going into the second run, I'm leading and I'm the one to beat. So, I just remember feeling a little bit nervous, but thinking to myself, you can do it. You can do it. And that's something I still repeat to myself in the start gate today. It keeps it very simple, but I was trying to stay very calm, not thinking too much about the second run and one battle I think a lot of skiers have in between runs is: How much do I go for it? Because when you're in a position, when you're winning the first run, it can sometimes feel like you have something to lose. And it's really hard to overcome that sort of internal struggle between how hard do I push, because you don't want to make a mistake or fall.

And I remember deciding. I'm just going to go for it. I'll be happier if I give it my all and fall and end up with nothing than if I were to hold back. Because that would feel like cheating myself. And so, I ended up pushing hard and I won the national title, and I was so proud of myself for taking a risk in that moment and going for it.

Stef

And it's so tough in between those races.  And as the winner of the first run then heading into the second run, it's super challenging. So now that you have a lot more experience, what advice do you have for others that are in that position?

Whether it's track, a second half of a soccer game, how do you keep yourself in that confident, positive state in between runs?

Nina

Personally. I like to be very relaxed and mellow, so I would advise people to figure out what works for them and when do they feel their best. And maybe you can reflect on some of your best performances and how you felt before or during that. And then take the risk and take a chance if you're in a position where you can do something great.

Trust yourself. One of my least favorite feelings is ending a day feeling like I didn't give my all or there was more I had to show. And so now when I'm in those moments, I'm really trying to learn to be free and go for it and you've put in all the work. So, it doesn't do you any good if you don't show it?

Stef

That's right. It's great advice. It's such an amazing accomplishment that you had and it launched you onto the US ski team and you got the US Ski team jacket rep. That's a big deal.  I think it's so incredible. So, at that moment, did you feel like it brought a lot of pressure and how did you deal with that pressure

Nina

Yeah. So, this is the stream that I've been having since I was young to make the US ski team. And I've finally got there and got the uniform, and you feel very cool wearing it for the first time. And then I felt so much pressure my first year on the US ski team. I remember going to my first camp with the national team, and I think we were New Zealand over the summer training.

And I was up on the hill and I was worried about how I was skiing because I was wearing the US ski team label. And all of a sudden, I didn't feel like I was good enough or I wasn't sure if I deserved to be representing the US ski team. So, I really struggled for that first year and I was putting the pressure on myself, honestly.

It wasn't coming from anywhere else, but I struggled with feeling worthy of it.

Stef

How did people around you really help you through this time?

Nina

 During my early years, I was skiing well, but on race day, I was struggling with the expectations. I was putting it on myself and I had a coach who really helped me through this time. He sat me down and had a talk that I will always remember. He told me, listen Nina, you don't have to ski for anyone else other than yourself, you're not skiing for me. You're not skiing for the US ski team. You're just skiing for yourself. So don't worry about what other people think when you're in the start or you're on the course. You only get one career. So, enjoy it for yourself. And to this day, I think that's one of the best conversations I've ever had with a coach.

And it completely freed me and helped me let go on race days where I felt stress, and tension, and pressure to perform. Now when I think of just skiing for myself, I feel a lot lighter and so much happier. On both the good and the bad days,

Stef

Amazing advice and an amazing coach for saying that to you. I wish a lot of other girls would feel this way. I want to talk about lightness for a second, because I think often athletes talk about this feeling of lightness and that they're in a moment they're free and that's when a lot of breakthroughs happen. So, how would you encourage young girls to get there?

If they're feeling heavy now, and stressed and a lot of pressure how do you get to that moment? You had an amazing coach.  But what if you don't have that coach?  What would you say to those young girls?

Nina

I would encourage them to create a really positive environment with their teammates. When you're feeling those feelings of heaviness or pressure to pull yourself out of that environment or feeling alone. And so having a group of friends who also want to enjoy a day when you're racing or competing, I think that can help you.

When you're struggling to find that sort of freedom or joke around a little bit. I would always encourage other people to take a minute and take a few breaths and think about where you are. As a skier, I get to go to a lot of really beautiful places. So sometimes just looking outside and thinking about how lucky I am to be where I am, helps me feel a little bit lighter from any stress of competition. And even if you're not on a mountain top, you can take a moment to appreciate how cool it is, what you're doing and enjoy the moment that you have.

Stef

It's amazing advice. After a couple of years of keeping it light and keeping the focus on the love and joy of skiing, you went on to have so much success in the 2018 North American cup circuit. So, it's not quite yet the world cup level, but it's right underneath that. And you went on in 2019 and won almost every title, overall title, the giant slalom, the slalom, the super G. So, you then went through the third hurdle that we're going to talk about today, which is your transition from the Northern circuit to the world cup.

So, the biggest stage, skiing with some of the idols that you looked up to throughout your career. Talk to us about that transition. Were you excited for it? Were you nervous? Did it feel like all the other transitions?

Nina

I was completely excited and completely nervous. This point where so many young skiers dream of where you get to start racing your first world cups, and that's a big deal. And you're at the race with the best in the world. And these people who you've had posters of on your walls growing up, and you've watched their video countless times, and now I'm standing, inspecting the course next to them.

It's pretty cool. I remember being really excited to get my first starts. And once I got there and you know, I'm putting my boots on in the lodge before. All of a sudden, you're like, Oh no, I'm so nervous. I don't know if I belong here. These are the best in the world. How did I get here?

Do I deserve to be here? And that's a challenge for me, for probably the whole first year that I was racing world cups. You know, I would sit waiting for my turn to run the course and they're televising the race and I would watch the top girls go and think. Well, I can't ski that well. And then when I got into the Stargate gate, it was hard to overcome that feeling.

So, I struggled with accepting, I struggled with a little bit of imposter syndrome almost in that first year of racing world cups.

Stef

All the athletes go through that. You're like, wait a minute I'm here, but in your case, you won every single event, in terms of like GS, slalom, super G, which is incredible, the year before.

And then here you are first season at the world cup circuit, and you're feeling like you've lost your confidence. And I think it's so important to talk about because often people think, “Oh, I guess I'm the one that doesn't have the confidence,” and then they drop out and they stop.

And so, being so open about your own experiences, will help so many young girls see that maybe your biggest challenge is yourself. Maybe your biggest challenge is, having that confidence that you can do it. And it's such an important part to your success as an athlete.

 Looking back on that pretty big hurdle, you are going to the world cup stage, you're skiing with your idols. You're feeling a little bit of that imposter syndrome.  What were the two biggest lessons that you learned at this moment?

Nina

It took some time, but over that first year or two, I finally learned to trust my training and my preparation, the work I've put in, in the gym, on the hill, what my coaches have been telling me. The speed that I have in that our team of US girls have, learning to trust that that is top level.

 Believing in our group really helped me find confidence at that level. And we built that as a team. I didn't come to that on my own, but it was through all those hours of work and supporting each other that I was able to trust myself in a world cup environment. So, I'm really thankful, I had a team who helped get me to that point.

And I think a second lesson that has been huge for me is believing that my best is good enough on race day. So many times, I felt like I needed to search for that extra inch in a race. I need 110%, and often in those moments when I'm reaching for more is when I'll make a mistake or lose my technique.

And so really believing that what I do is good enough and focusing on myself and my plan has made a world of a difference in my success on the world cup level. And that's also a pretty freeing realization, because it takes some of the anxiety and pressure off of race day. 

Stef

That must've helped prepare you for some of this super high anxiety. And all of those years of working on your confidence, your mental side of your game, trusting in yourself, working with your team and your coaches got you to this level and then was able to help you work through this one challenge. So, this February, let's talk about this race, the giant slalom race, you had this amazing first run and you were the second behind the leader, which is incredible.

And I remember watching it on TV here from Alaska, with my daughter, and it was so inspiring. But then you had to go through a very stressful equipment question because of a loose screw.

So, you didn't eat lunch, a few things else happened in the way. Tell us how you worked through that transition time between first round and second run and maintained your composure.

Nina

I’ll never forget, I was at the world championships in Cortina last month and it's the second time I've ever been to, named to a world championship team. They happen every other year, big deal and an event that we look forward to all season. And I had this pretty amazing first run. And I came down in second place and I was just shocked crossing the finish line.

I'm super excited. I have a big reaction because I've never been in second place before. I started with bib 19 and so it felt sort of unbelievable to be crossing the line. And I was so happy and excited and then leaving the finish, I handed over my skis. We do equipment testing and we have a bunch of screws in our binding and in one point on one ski, on one side of my heel binding, a screw became like a little bit loosened during my run.

And so, that caused the binding to raise up. And it was close, or it was right on the limit of what's legal. And so, I went from being so excited that I just had the run of my life at the world championships, and I was in second fighting for a medal to, oh no. Am I even going to be able to raise the second run?

Am I going to be disqualified? Because one of my screws is slightly loosened. And so, I was sitting at the bottom. and I didn't know what was going to happen. And I had, luckily my teammates were there, and they were trying to keep me cool and talk me through it. And at that point it was sort of out of my hands.

And what ended up happening was they told me I could wait for all a hundred girls to ski the race. And afterwards my ski technician could come screw the screw back in, and then we check. I waited down there. I don't think anyone really knew what was happening, but instead of going inside and resting and having lunch, I was sitting with my fingers, crossed, hoping to God that that screw would be screwed in and I'd be allowed to race the second run.

And as it turned out, yes, he screwed the screw in. Everything was legal as it always has been, and I was given this chance to race for the second run. So, in that moment, I was just so grateful to have the opportunity that I got to ski again, and that I was like you have this chance, you take it.

Don't hold back. This is your moment because it felt like a bonus. It felt like a gift after that whole stressful ordeal. And I ended up being in the start gate for my second round with a lot of my idols, Mikaela Shiffrin, Lara Butte, and I went for it and it went really well.  Yeah, I've had one of the best runs in my life. And unfortunately, right at the bottom, I hit an old rut from the day before and made a mistake. And I ended up 10th, which is still my best performance in GS to date. So, it was still a really spectacular day, but it was an emotional rollercoaster.

Stef

It's such a challenging sport and such an amazing sport. And athletes like you are just so inspiring because it takes so much grit to continue to drive down that course and perform. I think what you do is incredible Nina and it's also inspiring just to hear this journey, these three different hurdles that you had at different moments in time for yourself and how you worked through them and how you didn't give up.

And you said to me, when we first spoke that you didn't ever feel like you were that superstar athlete in skiing at a young age, yet look at you, you are one of the best in the world now. And so, to all the girls out there that might be saying to themselves “Yeah, but I'm not like X, Y, and Z”, take a look at Nina and be like, “Hey, look at what she did. She was feeling the same way. And now look at her, she's at the top”.

And that's what sport's about, is progressing into that next level and getting through it. What advice would you give to girls and young women who are about to make that decision to potentially transition to that next level and keep going?

Nina

I would tell them to take a look at themselves and look what they've already done. Know yourself and look at the work you've put in to get to whatever point you're at and be proud of that. And then trust your ability, trust yourself in those big moments.

And don't shy away from a challenge. Go for it. We talked about it with my coach telling me to ski for myself as a really freeing moment, I would tell them, whatever you're taking this leap, do it for yourself and then go for it.

Stef

So easy to say sometimes, but how do you trust that the process is going to lead to success? 

Nina

It's so hard. I don't have it all figured out. I am still very much in the process and working through it myself. But I think a good support system is absolutely huge. I have wonderful teammates, coaches, friends, parents, whoever it is that can help you, lean on those people, talk to them, especially on challenging days. And when you can, I would say, celebrate small victories that you have along the way, because it is a long road.

And it's important to recognize how far you've come in, those turning points along the journey. As much as you can try and enjoy whatever journey or process that you're on. I know I wouldn't be able to get through some of the longer darker days of winter or without my teammates and keeping it fun. That is probably the biggest lesson that I could share.

It's got to be fun and then you'll love it. And if you like what you do, you're so much more likely to find success at it.

Stef

Such an important thing. You gotta keep it fun. How do you take care of yourself?  We make it a point on Voice in Sport to talk about things we can do as female athletes to take a step back and recharge like self-care Sundays. 

Nina

I really love to go for a walk and check out whatever new country then in. I think it's a great way to de-stress and also appreciate this crazy cool journey that we're on. So, exploring the area. Trying a coffee at whatever town I'm at or the local food. It can help break up the monotony of a long winter on the road.

And then also as a team, we love to play games. We play cards, we watch shows together, but we're a big game family on the road.  

Stef

So, what are some of the surprises that you've found when you joined the US ski team that you maybe wish you would have known before joining?

Nina

Well, there've been a lot. There are constantly surprises to this day, in terms of scheduling changes, surprises that come with living out of a duffel bag for six months of the year in Europe and travel stress. You learn how to do a laundry in a sink, and you learn how to talk your way through the airport customs when they don't understand why you're traveling in a global pandemic.

So, you learn lots of different lessons along the way, but I'd say I was surprised by the camaraderie we have on our team at the moment. The US ski team has a lot of different groups and right now I have an awesome group of girls I'd travel with, but beyond my group, as a team we've created this mentor program.

And I think, you know, from veterans to new athletes, we're really starting to build a bridge where we can talk and learn from each other. So that's been a really awesome surprise over the past few years. I've learned from athletes who have a lot more experience than I do. And I also learned from girls who are just joining the team.

So, everyone has something to bring to the table and that's been really cool to learn.

Stef

Such great advice and great learnings, because you can learn from anybody around you, regardless of what level or ranking they are. I love that you have that attitude and approach. It's going to take you a long way.

 So, Nina, I really appreciate you coming on our podcast. You're our second skier. We love ski racers, so it's good to have you in the family and joining us at Voice in Sport.  Let's end it with our two questions that we ask every athlete.

 The first one is what is one single piece of advice that you would tell a younger girl in sport?

Nina

I would tell younger girls to have as much fun as you can. Enjoying what you're doing on any given day is never going to take away from your growth. It's only going to help you in the big picture. It'll help you stay motivated and be resilient on days when you really need to be. So as much as you can have fun, laugh with your friends and enjoy the time that you have.

Stef

And what is one thing that you would like to see change for the future of women's sport?

Nina

I'd love to change this idea that there is only one path or pipeline to success. I think I grew up hearing that women peak at a younger age than boys. And if you're not meeting certain markers on a trajectory and your odds of being successful might not be as high.  I really don't think this is true.

And I think it absolutely discourages girls from staying in sports and believing they can get to the top. I think if you've looked at our team of women right now, we have such a diverse background of ages and paths that people have taken. And so, I would love for girls to believe that having your own unique journey and path is totally fine.

It's great. And you're going to learn more about yourself and who you are as an athlete, and ultimately you can still get to the very top by doing your own thing.

Stef  

Thank you so much, Nina. We're excited to see your future success in skiing.

Nina

Thanks for having me. 

Stef

Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us. Nina, believing in yourself and having confidence is so incredibly important to finding success in sports, but it's not always easy to find it and to hold onto it. Nina's story on how she built confidence at each new level reminds us that we are not alone in these challenges.

Even the top athletes in the world continue to work on building confidence. Nina shared so many great tips on how to stay calm and focused when your nerves are high, how to be open, to change and willing to accept and implement feedback.

What Nina said about taking a step back and sometimes slowing down is so important and often overlooked. It's in those moments when we are struggling and maybe moving slower towards our goals where we are actually progressing. It's just harder to see it in the moment. As Nina said, there is no magic way to make that happen other than diligent work.

At Voice in Sport, it's our mission to bring more visibility to female athletes and elevate their voice through stories like Nina's. We appreciate you so much, Nina for raising your voice in today's episode. You can follow Nina on Instagram at @nina_obrien and you can always find us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and tick talk at @voiceinsport.

Leave us a review, subscribe, share our podcast with your friends to show support. And if you are a female athlete, 13 to 23 years old, we'd love to have you join our community. When you sign up at voiceandsport.com, you will have access to exclusive content mentorship from amazing pro athletes like Nina expert advice and advocacy tools to help drive change.

We hope to see you next week at the Voice in Sport podcast.

Host: Stef Strack

Producer: VIS Creators™ Zosia Bulhak and Anya Miller 

Nina O’Brien, Pro Alpine Skier, opens up about the highs and lows she faced in her career and how she built her confidence. She reminds us that our dreams aren't far away, if we believe in ourselves and are willing to put in the work.