"Enthusiasm is the yeast that makes your hopes shine to the stars. Enthusiasm is the sparkle in your eyes, the swing in your gait. The grip of your hand, the irresistible surge of will and energy to execute your ideas."
- Henry Ford
The outcome was never really in doubt. She'd pushed her body to the very limit. Had accomplished deeds on her skis reserved only for the very best. Olympic finals, World Championship podium, top o' the pops in the international skicross world — the Whistler-born kid with the famous last name had defied the odds and forged her very own path to success in the snowsport world. But her rise to prominence had come at a terrible price.
I'm sure I'm not the only one who heaved a sigh of relief when Julia Murray announced her retirement from active competition earlier this summer.
"It was a pretty easy decision to make," the 23 year old tells me. "There's more to life than competition. Longevity is very important to me." She pauses for a breath. Gathers her thoughts. "I mean, I'm still so young, and there's still so much I want to do." She stops. Smiles. "I live in one of the coolest places on the planet. And all the things I want to do are literally just out my front door. I want to be riding my bike, skiing, touring, hiking... for years to come, you know. I want to do more than you can do on a gimp leg."
Murray hasn't strapped on a pair of skis in a year and a half. "It's the longest I haven't skied in my life," she groans. And it hasn't been easy. You see, she's still rehabilitating her knee after major reconstruction work in the spring of 2011... her second significant knee surgery in two years. And while she's looking forward to the upcoming season with gleeful anticipation, she also knows that the damage she suffered in the skicross trenches will probably haunt her for a long time to come.
There's no denying Julia's success in the slam-bam world of head-to-head racing — in some eerie way she was able to combine her mother's ski-acrobatic talents with her dad's downhill audacity... while adding a little Julia race-sauce of her own to the mix. But it begs a profound question: given her injuries, was it all worth it?
"It was an amazing trip, those five years," she says. 'There were so many ups and downs, you know. It taught me so much. It really made me who I am today." Another long pause. "Attending that first skicross camp... I mean, that totally changed my life. It was such an amazing trip. To follow in my parents' footsteps, to experience what it means to race at such a high level — that was priceless. And all the friends I made. I mean, that's the most important. The memories...."
Ah yes. The memories. Julia lost a good friend last winter. The whole skicross team did. When Canadian Nik Zoricic was killed in one of the last European races of the season, it sent a tsunami of a shock wave through the country's tight-knit ski racing community. Once again it raised some difficult questions about sport, risk and athletes' physical limits. Once again it raised all sorts of warning flags for concerned parents. And friends. And loved ones.
"That was tough on everyone," she admits. The fact that Julia's boyfriend Davey Barr was actually competing in the race put the tragedy in even higher relief for Julia. "That Davey saw the crash from the sidelines, you know..." She lets the words trail off.
So did Zoricic's sad demise play a role in her own decision to leave the field of play? Not really, she says. "My knee still wasn't totally right last spring," she explains. "And I think that I'd pretty much made my decision before Nik's accident. The fact that Davey had already announced his retirement, well, that made my decision a lot easier." She pauses again. "Still..."
The transition from elite sports to civilian life can be problematic for some. Like the members of a military unit, high performance athletes live their life virtually isolated from mainstream society. It's all about preparing for battle. Honing your skills so as to be able to shut off everything else around you when the times comes and perform on demand — as one coach put it to me: "Any day. Any time. Any place. Bring it on!" Nothing else matters but that winning performance. Nothing! In fact, the mundane details of every day life pretty much disappear. You become incredibly efficient at doing just one thing right. But only one thing...
Alas, that's not how the real world operates. And some retiring athletes struggle. Set adrift in an environment where the goals aren't so clearly defined anymore (and there's no coaching staff to take care of details), they discover that the skills they worked so hard to develop aren't quite sufficient to bring them success in their new post-racing careers. So they get frustrated, impatient, sour even.
But have no fear. Julia is not one of these. The girl has so many career sticks in the fire right now, makes me dizzy just listening to her. As for her enthusiasm for the future, well, let's just put it this way: I don't think Ms. Murray has ever seen a half-empty glass in her life!
"I'm pretty excited about my prospects, for sure," she says. "I mean, there are just so many amazing opportunities out there." First on her list of course, is to catch up on her free skiing. "I just want to be able to explore Whistler for a winter," she says with a grin. "Maybe get some helicopter time if we can, do some shooting with our great photographer friends... and get as much GoPro footage as possible. And I want to go ski touring too of course. I'm really looking forward to that."
She says that she and Barr are planning to meet with the folks at W-B soon. "We'd like to revamp the Dave Murray Ski Camp brand," she says. "You know, modernize it a little bit. Maybe bring in a 'ski with the Olympians' component. Stuff like that..."
But skiing business isn't the only thing she's focused on these days. I'm sure many of you have heard of Jules Fuel by now. If not, here's the wiki on Whistler's newest home-product. Like many of her generation, Julia discovered the wonders of the Quinoa seed a few years back. "It's super-healthy, you know. And I started eating it for breakfast a couple years ago. And people got interested. So I just made it into a package and started selling it to friends."
Her breakfast mix – a blend of Quinoa, various other seeds, goji berries and raisins — quickly became popular with local foodies. "It 's all organic you know. Throw it in a pot, boil it for ten minutes, and there you go — breakfast for the whole week. And it's really good for you too." She laughs. "Jules Fuel is a total family thing," she explains. "My mom, Stephanie is the passionate promoter, her husband Ray is the numbers guy, my dog, Derby is our mascot... and well, Davey, I guess he's my number one product-tester and ideas guy."
And you don't have to go far to check it out either. Jules Fuel will be one of the many locally-produced offerings at this weekend's Farmers' Market. Tell her I sent you.
"It combines many aspects of my life," she explains. Not the least of which is the fact that part of the profits of Jules Fuel go to the Melanoma Network of Canada. "It's a great way," she says, "of contributing to research into the cancer that got my dad..."
And then there's the communications side of Julia's new life. "I'm just completing a two-year diploma at Capilano University," she says. But she's far too busy right now to explore local opportunities in that field. Right? Of course not. "I've just been hired as a new host for RTown Communications," she says proudly. "And it fits perfectly. I'll be appearing in all the retail shops, hotel rooms and restaurants in Whistler, you know, covering local news and happenings and all that stuff." Rumour even has it that the company is planning to groom her as the new face of RTown...
In the meantime, she'll also be producing a regular online blog for the network. Called Julia's Picks, it will offer inside scoops on great deals and hot events in Sea to Sky country. "I'm hoping to attend a lot of local events this year," she says. And laughs some more. "This place has so many opportunities, you know. Sometimes it's almost overwhelming. And the help I've gotten during my transition... wow! So inspiring to look around Whistler and see so many potential mentors."
There's more of course. Did I mention Julia was recently appointed ambassador for Alpine Canada's Podium Club... along with fellow skiing superstars Brian Stemmle, Kerrin Lee Gartner and Melanie Turgeon? "It's such an honour to be included in that group," she says. And then she laughs. "And it's such a great way to stay involved."
As I said, I get dizzy just listening to her.