Jen Hudak on Moving Mountains to Reach Olympic Gold
Winter is upon us. With a series of first snow reports, jaw-dropping film premieres, and inclusion of a free ski half pipe competition in Sochi 2014, there is a lot to be excited for. Some truly amazing things are coming down the pipe in snow sports -- and one in particular is Professional Skier, Jen Hudak. Jen is a five time X-Games Gold winner, and one of the raddest women to grace snow sports. She is the real deal, and has overcome career-threatening injuries to bring the sport she loves to the next level.
The Ski Channel: So you've just returned to the northern hemisphere after spending your summer training in New Zealand. How did it feel to get back on your skis since your injury this past March at Winter X Europe?
Jen Hudak: It was good. I was down there for a month and got to do two contests. It was nice to get back on the snow for fun and in a lower pressure environment and see what I can make of things.
TSC: How has your technique progressed?
JH: I haven't changed too much as far as all that goes. I was focusing a little bit on just resisting the G-Forces you feel when going through transitions and staying taller throughout those transitions which will help me to go bigger in the future. It was a pretty mellow trip, really just to get my feet back underneath me and get my confidence back to figure how much further I need to go in order to be ready for the winter.
TSC: In regards to your injury, how much do you attribute it to physical overtraining vs. mental overtraining?
JH: I would say my injury was caused by bad luck -- it was an unfortunate circumstance. That happens in our sport when we are doing something dangerous. Especially if our attention slips for just one moment or we start focusing on things we want to change. We forget things we still need to be doing, and then you can get hurt. That's kind of what happened to me. I was doing 9's and feeling good and then just started thinking about a different kind of lift and sort of forgot about how much I needed to pop. So I missed my pop and then crashed really hard on the deck, and tumbled to the flat bottom and landed with my arm above my head, square on my side -- and my shoulder just popped out. For how bad the crash was, I think I was lucky that was all that happened. In that sense, my physical strength was an asset because I think a lot of other people would have been much worse. So I guess it is a mental thing for sure.
TSC: You've definitely gone through a lot this year, but it hasn't stopped you from giving back. How was your experience working with High Fives and being a judge at this year's Trains 2011 competition?
JH: High fives is awesome; they are a phenomenal company and I hope to be doing more with them in the future. It was really inspiring to be around a group of people who see beyond the ski industry. They see the greater needs that exist in the world, and to be around athletes that were taken away from the sports that they loved and managed to find a way to get back into it -- that, to me -- is so inspiring. They didn't let the physical limitations keep them away from doing what they love to do. That is huge, so many times in life when we are striving for goals, we face obstacles, and a lot of people get freaked out and don't know how to keep going on. To be around people that never surrender to their circumstances is empowering!
TSC: Moving Mountains your new film series is debuting this fall online and on The Ski Channel. Can you tell us a little bit about what to expect?
JH: The plan was to do four short films and release them going into this season, but I got hurt so we couldn't film the last one. So we just had to work with what we had, which was in a really good place. We have 3 really great short films that we'll be releasing the 1st of October, November and December. It's exciting because I haven't really had an opportunity to film in the past. There was more involved than I had ever anticipated. It was a really great year to try and do this project, because it wasn't a perfect year, it wasn't a fairy tale season. It shows people there is a different side to things, and it was important to me to let people know that it's not just about that. There's so much more that goes into what we do and it sometimes gets minimized because what you see is the best of the best and the people on the outside see it as almost easy. We are all out here pushing ourselves and learning lessons along the way. Moving mountains was my way to show what you can learn when you set a goal that's something greater than yourself.
TSC: Is there a part in the series or a particular segment that you are most excited about?
JH: The first one sets the stage for the rest of it, and I cant wait to see the next two! The first part is pretty mellow, its just me around Utah, skiing in the pipe, training getting ready for the season, and of course skiing some Utah pow. The second one follows me at X-games which was crazy intense. The competition was better than ever, and I had a new trick that I was doing -- the 1080 -- and everything was going great and I pretty much skied the best run of my life and then a "snow snake" got me and dragged me down. To be able to watch that and relive it again -- should probably bum me out -- but it gets me excited because there is so much drama in it! I think it will translate really well in the film. The third one I went to Japan with Julian Carr. We skied around for a week, and then spent four days just exploring Tokyo and really just experiencing skiing as if it were brand new to me. It was a totally different world to be in. I got to explore an amazing country with incredible people and take a little time out from the pressure of my normal season. They are well juxtaposed and show all ends of the spectrum.
TSC: Going forward towards the Sochi 2014 Olympics, what are you most excited about?
JH: I'm excited for the opportunity for our sport to get recognition on such a big stage. I want to go and I want to compete and experience something new -- and the Olympics would be that. It would be amazing to go and win a medal, but there's so much more involved in the journey. In the end it will have been a 13-year journey to get there, not just the next 3 years. For me, it's been the last decade that I have been thinking about this sport and dreaming to go to the Olympics. And for me to get there will be incredible!
We made a huge push for the Vancouver games. When that didn't happen it was a bit demoralizing, but there are positives to it. Having been post-poned the sport is in a much better place now, especially on the women's side. There are more of us, and we are all doing big tricks and getting things done. When people see our sport for the first time 2014, I think everyone is going to be blown away by the level at which we are all skiing.
TSC: How has your training regiment changed since embarking upon this journey as opposed to your experience in other comps such as the X games?
JH: Since my first knee surgery, 5 or 6 years ago, I went on a really good training program. I have always had to do it independently and find my own trainers; I have never had physical testing done. I had no idea about heart rate levels or lactate thresholds or anything like that. I have been working out at the Center of Excellence at Park City just over a year now, and I feel like all of my efforts make a difference, whereas before I would work out and just maintain rather than get stronger. Now I have a trainer designing a program specifically for me based on my strengths and weaknesses, and where I need to see improvement. I notice how much stronger I am -- I love it! Its terrible how much I love going to the gym! I want to be strong because you can do more when you're strong and be more confident, trust yourself to push a little harder because you know I might crash but I will be fine because I am strong. To have that extra confidence will just make all the difference in the world. I have to be a little more focused and organized in my efforts. I can't just go out and huck myself like I used to as a teenager. I have to take everything step by step -- and so that added strength and confidence will make all the difference in the world.
TSC: What effect do you think it will have on the sport of free skiing and snow sports overall?
JH: I think it will be good for the sport. The freeski side is been growing on its own without the Olympics and will continue to grow after this first Olympics. It's certainly going to drive the level up. People's biggest concerns are that it doesn't change the spirit of the court. All of us got involved in this sport and to go out and push the limits and see what was possible on our skis. Try to achieve new things and reach new goals and hopefully that remains the perspective and it doesn't become about winning and getting more medals. There are certainly something to be said about winning medals and going to the Olympics but there are a lot of people in the sport and not everyone was going to win a medal.
I always want my skiing to appear that it comes within me and it's exactly what I want to be doing on snow, because I'm choosing to, because I love it. I'm doing it because I love it. I don't want it to look like I'm skiing to make others happy and to please judges to win an event.
TSC: Combined with the film and Sochi, you are going to be one of the most notable female athletes in the world. Are you ready for that level of international notoriety?
JH: It's a weird thing to think about. I'm still a small fish in a big sea but I am ready for the added exposure that will come from this. Not so much for myself but any way we can get more attention into our sport, the better. Its not just about the skiing, which I feel sometimes gets missed. People understand what the Olympics are, so to be able to say I'm training for the Olympics -- people get that. They don't necessarily know what free sking is but they know I'm training for the Olympics and they know the price that's going to go into that. I'm hoping I can serve as an example for anyone who has any goal at any time to just have faith and trust in themselves and try your hardest every day. To push a little more and to see where it takes them. Even if it doesn't get you all the way, you're going to be lot closer than you would have been if you didn't try at all. That's my whole MO.
TSC: I understand you can solve a rubrics cube in less than 3 minutes. What is the secret?
JH: It's a series of algorithms that you do, and then it solves it. My dad is a computer science professor at Yale -- so lets just leave it at that.
Interview by Justin Keppler, The Ski Channel