McJames continues to persevere as independent skier | ParkRecord.com

McJames continues to persevere as independent skier

29-year-old Parkite to compete in World Cup circuit

For local alpine skier Megan McJames, her career could not have had a better scripted beginning.

Before moving to Park City at just 2 years old, McJames would tag along with her parents, who were ski instructors, to Alta Ski Resort, where McJames developed a love for skiing.

But when she was 8 years old, that love really blossomed after the family moved up to Park City, an American mecca for skiing. It was a good thing, too, because Alta didn't even have a youth ski team back then for McJames to join. So when she moved up here, it became apparent she wanted to fully invest into skiing.

"We moved up here, so I joined the Park City Ski Team," McJames said. "I went to the Winter Sports School and then senior year, I made the U.S. Ski Team."

Fresh out of high school and on the U.S. Ski Team, life was good for McJames, who would go on to enjoy a colorful career. One of the highlights includes being a member of the 2010 Olympic team. At that point, it seemed as if the sky was the limit for McJames.

Just 22 years old at the time, McJames felt she was in her prime and looked forward to much. But then, the improbable happened.

In the year following the Olympics in 2011, McJames dealt with a broken heel, which kept her out the last quarter of that year's World Cup circuit. She was working her way back, and anyone who has experienced a major injury can relate to what McJames was going through.

It wasn't easy, but then on top of that, things got worse.

"Four years ago, I was cut [from the U.S. Ski Team]," McJames said. "But I decided that I didn't want to end my career on a low point and I still felt like I had good skiing left in me. … There were tears. It was kind of a shock. I was upset, for sure."

McJames took matters into her own hands. It would have been easy to throw in the towel and call it quits on her career. She had already been to an Olympics and a FIS World Championship; no one would blame her for being satisfied with where she was.

But that's just it — McJames wasn't satisfied.

"I felt like I wasn't ready to be done," she said. "I knew that I had still had World Cup results left in me."

So McJames decided to compete as an independent, a path that not many have chosen and even fewer have been successful. But she has flourished in this role, and she's actually grown to prefer it.

"I've found advantages to being on your own," McJames said. "My program is centered around what's best for Megan McJames as an athlete."

Since deciding to ski independently, McJames has qualified for another Olympics (2014), been a NorAm overall champion and most recently competed at Killington for the Audi FIS Ski World Cup event last weekend. She couldn't qualify for the second run at the historic event on the east coast, but she has no time pout.

On Sunday, McJames is departing for Europe, where she will compete in five World Cup circuit competitions. She hopes she'll be able to show out the way she knows she can.

"I think it's a little bit frustrating because my skiing is there; I'm skiing really well in training so it's just bringing what I can do on race day," she said. "It'll take a couple of tries. … I'm really excited to keep working on it."

Skiing independently obviously brings its challenges. Instead of having flights and hotels and pretty much everything else already set up and booked for her, these are all things McJames now handles on her own. She also has to worry about paying her own way, something she also didn't have to worry about when on the U.S. Ski Team.

But she couldn't do any of this without the support of the community where she grew up. Park City is a generous town to begin with, but the help that McJames has received from people she went to school with or skied with growing up is indescribable.

"The Park City community has been amazing and I just found so many people who believed in the idea of going after your dreams, face adversity and persevering through that," McJames said. "A lot of those people have donated to me and have made everything possible."

Her last event was at O'Shucks in Pinebrook on Nov. 3, where over 100 people showed up in support of the independent skier. It's events like these that keep McJames' career going. It's people like the ones in Park City that keep her dream alive.

"I think I'm very spoiled," McJames said. "People come to my fundraisers. … It's a big family."

For all skiers, whether they are part of a team or independent, careers have to end at some point. McJames doesn't see that happening any time soon, as she has goals to qualify for the 2017 World Championships and her third Winter Olympics in 2018. But when she does finally retire from competing, she has a plan.

Because she was on the U.S. Ski Team at one point, they have a special tuition grant program with Westminster College in Salt Lake City. This allows the athletes to still go to school and train at the same time. Since McJames was grandfathered into the system, she is still studying there until she graduates.

McJames is studying finance, and calls herself a nerd when it comes to checking the stock market and dealing with money matters. She also loves to bake and could see herself opening up a bakery one day when competitive skiing is over for her.

That said, skiing will always be a part of her.

"I'm Alta's new ambassador, so, I will start working more and more with Alta Ski Resort because when I'm done ski racing, I'll still ski powder all the time, forever," McJames said. "I know that the mountains are a part of me. I will always have to be in the mountains."

By 2018, McJames' life could be drastically different. She hopes to have just competed in her third Winter Olympics and if all goes to plan, she will obtain her finance degree from Westminster that summer after 10 years of schooling.

She feels she has much to be proud of, and even more to be thankful for.

"I really love the sport," McJames said. "A big thank you to everyone in town and my family and friends. They have all stepped up behind me. They stepped up when I was struggling. So now, they're with me when I'm doing [well], so I appreciate that."