*This is a feature that I wrote for the Cranbrook Townsman.*
“Mom, this is the greatest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
For India Sherret, ski cross racing was truly love at first flight. The 20-year-old Cranbrook native is one of the sport’s most promising up-and-coming athletes, and while she’s had an up-and-down journey, it started with, where she is now — pure joy.
“I was introduced to [ski cross] by a coach,” Sherret says. “I didn’t really know what it was when I first entered my first race at Big White in Kelowna.”
Sherret, who started alpine skiing at the Kimberley Alpine Resort when she was nine years old, had her life changed by that introduction to ski cross.
“I was never that good of an alpine skier [or] at least, I wasn’t one of the noticeable, promising [ones],” she says. “I never really won any of the races, [but in my] first [ski cross] race, I was faster than most of the boys and it just sort of pulled me a lot.
“That was when I realized, that was the discipline of skiing that I wanted to pursue.”
Ski cross is a timed racing event, similar to alpine, but considered to be part of freestyle skiing because of terrain, big-air jumps, high-banked turns and other features.
According to Sherret, after her first race she began to take it seriously immediately, racing on the USASA and Canadian Open race circuit when she was 14.
She was soon spotted by the Alberta Ski Cross team and after being invited to join them as a tag-along for a season, she raced in the NORAM circuit for the Alberta team from age 15 to 17.
In 2014-15, she made the Canadian National Development Team and progressed quickly, winning the FIS Freestyle Junior World Ski Championships in Valmalenco, Italy.
“I had a great day,” Sherret told the Cranbrook Townsman after the March 2015 race. “To win the World Junior Championships is huge, and it says a lot about our program and the next wave of Ski Cross athletes in Canada.”
Beneath the surface, however, Sherret’s life was more turbulent than her gold medal reflected. She was struggling with an eating disorder, performance anxiety, and depression.
After months of wrestling with the decision, Sherret finally decided last January that she needed to put off her promising ski career and seek help.
“It was definitely the hardest decision of my life and it was a choice that wasn’t entirely made by me,” Sherret explains. “It was helped along by my immediate family and my boyfriend. They said, ‘Hey, it’s time for you to [get help].’
“When I finally decided to call my coach and tell him I wasn’t going to ski this year, it was the scariest thing in my life, because I’d tried before. [At first], I thought I could do it over the summer, [but] it wasn’t super well received. The magnitude of the problem, I don’t think, was really understood.”
In order to get healthy, Sherret spent three months at the start of 2016 in Vancouver at the Looking Glass Residence, a residential treatment facility for young people dealing with a variety of eating disorders.
At first, she thought she was making one of the worst mistakes of her life.
“The night before we left, I did not want to go, because the class I was doing with my eating disorder convinced me that I wasn’t sick enough,” Sherret says. ”I didn’t think I was sick enough to require help in any form, let alone take any time off from things that I felt I needed to do, like ski racing or school.”
All those negative thoughts were challenged while she was at Looking Glass.
“One of the biggest things that I came away with is that everybody deserves recovery,” she explains. “It opened my eyes to the fact that it is possible [to get better], which I certainly never thought [before].
She now believes that “everybody can [recover] through the right support network with enough time and work. Everybody’s story is different. Everybody’s recovery journey is different. There is nothing about mental health that is the same for anyone.”
While she missed a ski cross season, Sherret regained a life and when she returned to competition this winter, she had a whole new outlook on skiing and life.
“In the past, I used to base a lot of my self-worth on results. I felt like when I didn’t ski well that I, as a person, wasn’t good enough,” she says. “That’s a huge thing that has changed for me. I’m finally able to see that each race is a race, and a result is just a result. It doesn’t tie into who I am as a person.
“I still want to do my best, but I don’t feel completely crushed when I don’t do well. I can enjoy the highs more and I’m not destroyed by the lows.”
While Sherret isn’t yet rocketing to the top at the same speed as before, she’s still had a lot of highs in her comeback year and is busier than ever.
So far this season, she’s been in four NORAM races at Sun Peaks near Kamloops, two at SunRidge in Edmonton and two at Tabor Mountain near Prince George. She then went to the US Grand Prix at Solitude Mountain Resort in Utah where she won a bronze medal.
After that, she went off to Europe for some Europa Cup races in Lenk, Switzerland and was invited to race in her first world cup event where she finished 16th in Feldberg, Germany and then 19th and 13th at Idre Fjäll in Sweden.
Although she didn’t win any NORAM races outright this season, as a top four finisher in every race this year, she earned enough NORAM Cup points to win overall at the conclusion of the circuit at Blue Mountain in Ontario.
“It was definitely difficult [to get back into racing shape],” Sherret says on the struggles of the season. “I took a lot of time off, [so] I had to bring myself back up to speed fitness wise, back up to speed mentally and then I was also navigating the stress and process of performance in a way that I never had before because I was trying to deal with the stress in healthy ways instead of negatively, like I had previously.”
Most recently, Sherret participated at the world championships in Sierra Nevada, Spain where she finished 11th place in a World Ski Championship Event.
She will now finish off the year at the 2017 FIS Junior World Ski Championships which will take place in Valmalenco, Italy between April 3 and 7.
After that, Sherret has even bigger aspirations.
“Next year, I would like to be skiing [at the] World Cup full time, hopefully,” she says. “I would like to be able to make consistent top eight finishes and maybe some big finals as well. In the long-term, I’m looking toward performing well at the 2022 Olympics in Beijing and also at the 2019 World Championships.”
Outside of competitive skiing, Sherret’s life revolves around her close friends and family, and spending time outdoors is a long-time passion that has been rekindled by her return to health.
“I really enjoy ski touring, [it’s] something that I’ve taken a really big liking to,” she says. “Mountain biking, hiking, backpacking, climbing, [and] pretty much anything that gets me outside.”
Except for the couple of months when she is a globe-trotting skier, Sherret is content with being in Cranbrook.
“This summer I plan on being here quite a bit,” she says. “It’s a great place to train. I train at Arq Mountain Centre [where] I also work.
“[Arq coach] Gord [McArthur]’s been really great about supporting me in my athletic endeavours, giving me a place to work that’s super flexible. It’s been really, really amazing, as well as being a great training facility. Mountain biking is so great [in Cranbrook too] and it translates so well into skiing.”
Cranbrook’s outdoors have always been something Sherret has had a special appreciation for. In 2005, when she was in fourth grade she wrote a letter as part of the city’s Centennial time capsule where her class was asked what they liked about Cranbrook and what they wanted for the future.
“You may like to play hockey, soccer or golf, but those things are not for me. I like to go hiking,” the young Sherret wrote. “There are many trails to go on. There is Bear Lake, Fisher Peak, the Community Forest, Lakit Lookout and Perry Creek. But my favorite is Lakit Lookout. It is a steep hike but it is worth it. You can see for miles. The scenery is awesome and it smells like pine everywhere. That is why Lakit Lookout is my favorite of them all. It is so windy up there. At times the wind almost blows you off the trail.
“Cranbrook is the best place to go hiking, so you better get here quick or else these trails will be loaded. Cranbrook is becoming known for the trails around it and they are being used more so I hope they will improve them and add to them.”
When reminded of this letter, Sherret laughs but says she still feels the same way today.
“That’s one of my favourite parts about living [here], just being able to get out running and stuff on the trails,” she says. “There’s something really satisfying about getting to the top of something for me. I really love it.”
Sherret is certainly loving life right now. After reaching her lowest point just over a year ago, the young skier has climbed the mountain of doubt and self-destruction and has every reason to feel satisfied.
It is doubtful that anyone would be surprised to see her climbing a few more podiums in the near future, but no matter what, win or lose, India Sherret is on top of the world.