*This is an article on a local Olympic ski cross racer that I wrote for the Cranbrook Townsman.*
After a grisly crash in her opening race at the 2018 Olympics, viewers from Canada and across the world struggled to focus on anything other than their concern for India Sherret.
Watching her lose balance at over 60 miles-an-hour heading into a jump and have to be taken off the mountain motionless on a sled, was a scary sight for both her family supporting her at the event, and everyone back in Cranbrook, her hometown.
Sherret, however, had other worries in the immediate wake of her fall.
“I don’t think I’d actually left the ski hill yet [when] the doctor got a call in to my mom,” the 21-year old ski crosser recalled. “[She] was losing her mind at that point. She didn’t know what happened to [me], didn’t know where I was, wasn’t sure what was going on.
“I talked to her and [she said] ‘Oh my god, oh my god, are you okay? What’s wrong? Are you hurt? What’s happening? Where are you going?’
“My only response was, ‘Mom, who won the race?’”
Despite being in serious pain, Sherret had to know how her teammates had fared. She soon found out that Kelsey Serwa and Brittany Phelan had won gold and silver, respectively. While, personally, her experience had not gone the way she had hoped, it was a happy moment.
Even in the middle of adversity, set for an hour-and-half ride to a South Korean hospital with a back injury, she stayed true to what got her to the Olympic games in the first place: her determination, her strong character, and a love for her sport and team.
Her road to Pyeongchang had only started, in earnest, a month prior, when she got the call on January 22 that she was going to be a Canadian Olympian. While Sherret has been skiing since she was nine years old and a competitive ski crosser since she was 14, she says the past year and half were a whirlwind.
“It was really overwhelming, actually. It was just crazy, and it’s still kind of crazy. I can’t believe I’ve already gone [to the Olympics] and come back,” she said. “I exceeded a lot of the expectations that I had for myself this year.”
Sherret was introduced to ski cross — a timed racing event, similar to alpine skiing, but considered to be part of freestyle skiing because of terrain, big-air jumps, high-banked turns and other features — while she was a part of the Kimberley Alpine Team and broke out in 2014-15 with the Canadian National Development Team.
Her young career, however, has already seen its share of ups and downs.
In March 2015, she won the FIS Freestyle Junior World Ski Championships in Valmalenco, Italy and at that time was widely considered to be one of the most promising women in the sport. The very next year though, she made the difficult decision to take a season off to recover from mental health issues, which included an eating disorder, performance anxiety, and depression.
Coming back in 2016-17 as a healthier and happier person, she quickly returned to form and became a full-time competitor on the FIS World Cup circuit this past season. Her rookie year was quickly driven into hyperdrive in mid-January, when she won a bronze medal at an event in Idre Fjall, Sweden.
“At the beginning of the year, nobody knew who I was. I was this other kid from Canada, and everyone was like ‘Who is this chick?’,” Sherret said. “I showed up at World Cups and I skied well, but no one expected tons from me. I wasn’t on their radar, as far as the Olympic Team went. Then, I podiumed and people got really excited about it.
“It’s crazy to go from what feels like zero to 100 very quickly.”
Within a few weeks, Sherret was in Whistler training and then off on a flight from Vancouver to Pyeongchang with the best in her sport, at a gathering of the top athletes in the world.
As Canadian ski cross is a tight-knit community, she already knew her teammates well and also had a special bond with the team’s coach, Stanley Hayer.
A native of Kimberley, Hayer had known Sherret since she was a newbie to the sport with the Alberta Ski Cross team and previously coached her for three seasons including nationally at the 2012 Youth Olympics.
“It’s [neat] to go from grassroots to the highest level with a coach,” Sherret said. “I know that he was pretty stoked that I was there.”
With a fair amount of time in South Korea before her event, Sherret took advantage of the wait by meeting athletes in other disciplines and taking in other Team Canada events.
“It was really cool to get to know all the other athletes in our Village,” she said. “It’s super neat to get to hang out with people, and once in a while you get a little star struck because there’s someone who you’re like, ‘Oh my god, they’re really famous!’”
One of the biggest highlights was attending a preliminary round Canada-Czech men’s hockey game, a new experience for her. Despite being Canadian, she says she had never been to an NHL game, or any other major hockey event, and was floored by the atmosphere.
For the most part, however, she was a little bored.
“We were there for a long time before the competition and you see everyone else competing and everyone else getting ready to race and train,” Sherret said. “Everyone asks you when you’re competing. ‘Not until the 23rd and I don’t start training until the 19th… I still have a week.’ The vibe is very competitive, so you want to get on snow.”
Once she finally began training, however, new difficulties started to emerge. Even though she says the course at Phoenix Snow Park played to her strengths, some mental blocks almost got the best of her.
“[I] had a lot of problems with feeling like, ‘Why am I here? I shouldn’t be here. Do I deserve to be at the Olympics?’ and that sort of thing,” she said. “It kind of took away from my ability to perform in training a little bit. I’d never had an issue with that before, so it was definitely strange.”
Working with a sports psychologist, Sherret broke through those struggles and she performed well in her seeding run, earning 11th place. Before her first round race though, she had to endure some second-hand angst as she witnessed her teammate Marielle Thompson crash in her heat.
The defending gold medalist from the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Thompson had made a miraculous comeback from rupturing her ACL and MCL in October to even make it to the games. Sherret was crushed for her.
“I don’t normally watch heats before, but they had a TV at the top, so I watched Mare’s start,” Sherret said. “She’s worked so hard to get back [and] had a mind-blowing recovery. The Swedish girl [just] landed on her ski tip a little bit, and there’s nothing you can do in that situation, your tips cross and you fall over… it’s super crappy that it happened first round.”
As for her own race, she said that despite not being concussed, her memory is a little jumbled.
“I remember most of the run, but I don’t actually remember falling,” she said. “I remember coming into the jump and missing the press and being like, ‘Crap, this is not good, this is really not good, [but] I think I can save it…’ and I thought that I almost pulled it off.
“I was so close and had it been straight, I would have been okay. But, there was another turn, so it was like, ‘I have to stay on line.’ Then, shifting my body weight, I kind of lost the progress upwards that I had made, so there wasn’t enough time and there was a big depression and I was ripping.”
That’s where her recollection becomes shaky.
“The next thing I remember is that I woke up on the sled and, I was like, ‘Oh, wow….this sucks’,” she says. “I couldn’t remember if I had made it through my heat or not. I was like…’Is this later on? Did I even get through the first round?’”
For the rest of the games, she was in the hospital. She spent four days in bed and only started walking the day before her flight home to Canada. It certainly hadn’t been her desired experience to end the games, which could have been spent celebrating with her teammates and enjoying more South Korean culture, but she admits it was an experience.
“I got to know the nurses really well,” Sherret laughed. “The nurses, and all the people in South Korea, are super friendly. They are the nicest people I’ve ever met [and] I received really, really exceptional care.
“Even though they didn’t [all] speak English, we’d have conversations through Google translate about my health… they took really excellent care of me and were super attentive.”
The eventual diagnosis for Sherret was, fortunately, not as bad as it could have been. According to Team Canada PR, she has small transverse process fractures and is expected to be back to training in a few weeks.
While Sherret isn’t thrilled about her ‘new accessory’, a sort of vest, back-brace that she has to wear, she otherwise has made a rapid recovery already.
“I don’t feel normal, but I’m pretty pain-free, so that’s all I can ask for right now,” she said. “I felt really horrible for a couple of days there, but once I got up and moving, it’s gotten a lot better day-by-day.
“It will be six to eight weeks before I’m back to normal, which all things considered for a back break, is very good.”
As for the outpouring of support from folks in her hometown after the crash, she says that, just like the response to making the games in the first place, it has been overwhelming.
“I wanted to get back to so many people, but I wasn’t allowed to say anything about my condition, other than that I was stable, other than to close family and friends,” she said.
“There are a lot of perks growing up in a small town… I really feel I have the whole community behind me.”
Due to her injury, Sherret will not be able to finish her World Cup season, which was supposed to include two more events and then the Cup finals. While it’s a disappointing way to end things, she has long-term goals to keep her going.
“I do try really, really hard to think about the present, but obviously, I’m already looking ahead to the next Olympics and what I can do there,” she said. “Because, I know in four years time, I’ll be in a very, very good position to win a medal… that kind of gets me through when I’m not feeling so hot about my current moment.”
With those games taking place in Beijing, China in 2022, she knows that there are still a lot of stops along the way.
“The next result I [will] look at is the World Championships [in Park City, Utah] in 2019, but for the most part, I’m really focusing on being consistent on the World Cup [circuit],” Sherret says. “I [don’t] want to be a one-event performer, but really consistently in the top [like] Sandra Naeslund and Marielle Thompson. They’re the most dominant women on the circuit and that’s, ideally, where I want to be.”
As for the present moment and the upcoming off-season, she’s looking forward to indulging in her creative side through painting, and eventually getting well enough to be outside climbing and biking.
She is also keen to continue giving back to her community by helping others who are going through similar mental health struggles to what she experienced at a young age. In November, Sherret began doing some outreach by speaking to kids at Mount Baker Secondary School and she hopes to continue sharing her story in an impactful way,
“I found it very eye-opening [when I went to Baker] how much it’s needed, how much the awareness is really required with kids in high school. I had some really cool chats with some of the students afterwards,” she said. “I want to help people and be a resource for them, be someone to relate to, who is close to their age, that I never had as a kid.
While she knows that her journey isn’t over, and never truly will be, being there for others is a mutually beneficial process.
“In some ways, it [can] still be difficult to talk about, especially if I’m going through a super stressful period [myself],” she explains. “I’m definitely not perfect, I’m not 100% recovered. I can relate to what [others are] going through because I’m feeling some of the same things, so [they] don’t [have to] look at me and think [they] can never get there because I’m doing all this stuff, because that’s definitely not the case.”
India Sherret may not have brought home a medal from her first Olympic games, but she came back with something far more valuable — her spirit intact. While her body will take a little while to recover, her trip across the world hasn’t harmed her outlook and has only strengthened her connection to the Cranbrook community.
She has a long way to go, but with redemption in Beijing 2022 clearly on the horizon, Sherret will no doubt continue to make her town and nation proud as her journey continues.