Behind the Gold: Having belief in yourself
March 20, 2018
In the wax cabin outside the stadium, Bryan Fletcher pulled on his cross country race bib one more time. In a few minutes he would step to the starting line for nearly the 200th time in his international career. Nearby, a technician labored over his Atomic skis, prepping them for the grueling 10 kilometers of cat and mouse that was about to play out at Holmenkollen, one of the most hallowed venues in Nordic sport.
Nordic combined is a small sport, but an intriguing one. It blends the explosiveness of launching off a ski jump and soaring like a bird through the air with an inexplicable 25 minutes of maximum aerobic output on the cross country trail.
Holmenkollen, in Oslo, Norway, is a special place to Bryan Fletcher. It was here six years earlier where he became only the fifth American to win the King's Cup – the most prestigious prize in Nordic combined. It meant an audience with the King and his name etched forever in the annals of his sport.
Today was a different day. A final race at Holmenkollen then up to Trondheim to close out his career. While it didn't end up like that storybook day in 2012, it was still highlighted by a great pride in sport – pride in community.
"My gratitude extends to everyone big and small who have been a part of my journey in Nordic combined," said Fletcher. "This community is one that I have been lucky to be a part of for so many years. It's amazing in so many ways and I truly cannot thank everyone enough. I am humbled that I got to follow and learn from the best mentors and role models as I came up with the sport. I would not be who I am today if it wasn't for them."
It was a quiet close to a career with humble beginnings. As a young boy with cancer, Bryan longed to be up on the ski jumps in Steamboat Springs. Despite doctor's orders, mother Penny just wanted her son to be happy. Skiing provided that joy. So he jumped. And with that passion he beat his cancer.
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His career as an athlete has provided a lifetime of lessons for Fletcher.
"This sport has taught me more than I ever could have imagined and I am quite certain the life lessons are not over yet," he said. "To say it was the good times that taught me the most would be a lie. It was the challenges I faced along the way that taught me the most about life, myself, and what I am capable of achieving. Every setback along the way challenged me to be a better version of myself personally and athletically."
It was the lesson cancer taught him as a child.
One of the hallmarks of sport is athletes' passion for giving back. As a childhood cancer survivor, his work with cc:Thrive has given him the chance to help others. And as one of the most respected athletes in his sport, he has helped inspire a new generation as a two-time Olympian.
"That day in Holmenkollen was a dream come true and a memory that will fulfill me for a lifetime," reflected Fletcher. "Winning the King's Cup put me among some pretty amazing company. But I cannot wait to see who of the future generation will get to share that company."
Fletcher tells a story of that day at Holmenkollen as he broke out into the lead. Every time he quickly glanced back to see the chase group, his vision was obscured. So he just kept charging.
"The reality is that I had the upper hand because that day I had 100-percent confidence in myself," he stated with conviction. "That day solidified the belief that I could be among the best in our sport. It proved to me the power the mind has in the sport. That day I believed I could win and so many things played out to perpetuate that belief."
In his final races at Holmenkollen and in Trondheim, Fletcher was toasted by the leaders of his sport. At the same time he focused on leaving his legacy to the young combined skiers who joined him in Pyeongchang – their careers just beginning.
"If I could impart one piece of advice to the younger generation," said Fletcher, "it would be to always believe in yourself."