27 December 2023

Ski Sunday’s Chemmy Alcott: ‘Failing’ as an athlete became my strength

27 December 2023

Chemmy Alcott is not a fan of New Year resolutions.

“I hate New Year resolutions. I don’t understand why people wait an extra day, week, month to start a new positive habit,” says the BBC Ski Sunday presenter and former elite ski racer.

“I think you always have the power to start right now. Even if you’ve eaten junk food all day, you can have a healthy meal in the evening – you don’t have to keep going on that on that path. You can always redefine your decisions.”

Alcott, 41 – who competed in four Winter Olympics and won a total of 37 gold medals in the Senior British National Alpine Ski Championships during her racing career – admits goal setting is something she struggles with generally, particularly as a woman.

“I find goal setting really hard. Because if you understate it, you’re being too humble, and most women do [understate their goals]. And then if you overstate it, you’re overconfident and it seems arrogant,” she reflects.

Chemmy “So, I really just try and push myself every single day to have the confidence. My motto is, I never lose – either I win or I learn – and that’s kind of what I go through every single day. Like, what can I do today that’s out of my comfort zone, or will push me?

“I’m very lucky to have lots of opportunities come to me… But it’s about saying yes to opportunity and knowing that somewhere, physically and mentally, you will get broken, but that’s OK. That’s absolutely OK.”

It’s a lesson she learned from her racing days, when she did literally get broken. Alcott suffered 47 broken bones over the years, including her neck and badly shattering her right leg twice, requiring extensive metal pins and plates to rebuild it.

It was this which eventually led her to retire in 2014 – even though she’d been determined to carry on.

“I was actually lucky that someone took my retirement choice away from me, because I would have kept going,” Alcott recalls. “But I had my last surgeon tell me that if I crashed again with the metal work I have in my right leg now, he’d have to amputate my leg.”

Fast-forward a decade and Alcott has carved a new path as a presenter and keynote speaker, as well as ski coaching, and soaking up family life with husband Dougie Crawford and their sons, Lockie and Cooper (who turn seven and five respectively in January), splitting their time between their Surrey home and the mountains.

She describes herself as “one of those annoyingly positive people”, and clearly drive is something she has never lacked (“You have to have an obsessive determination to be an elite level sports person”). But for any athlete, adjusting to life post-retirement can be tough.

“It is really challenging,” says Alcott. “I think also, because I have such a different and unique name, my identity was so intertwined with being a ski racer. It was: ‘I’m Chemmy the ski racer’, and for 20 years of my life that defined me.

“And that was challenging at the time too because I also felt the popularity of being successful when I was a ski racer, and in my personal life, I couldn’t detach the two. So when I struggled with skiing, it meant I struggled personally as well. That’s something I think really needs to be talked about.

“I knew I had to be busy when I retired,” she continues. “I love TV, and I’m very lucky to now have that as my job, to travel, to do my keynote speaking.”

The mountains still have a starring role in her life. As a self-described “yes person” with a tendency to fill her time, these epic landscapes are a sanctuary for Alcott.

“I think it’s the silence and magnitude… And just that change of pace, with nature at the very core of that, and snow and water. I think it brings out the very best of us.”

Determined to help protect these environments for future generations, Alcott says she’s grown increasingly interested in sustainability, which is why she has teamed up with the Austrian National Tourist Office to highlight green initiatives across the country’s ski resorts.

These include using green electricity from renewable hydropower, and storage ponds that collect snowmelt, which saves on water requirements for snowmaking machines. SkiWelt Wilder Kaiser resort also features the world’s first solar-powered lift, and heat pumps to recover waste heat from the slopes for use elsewhere.

A survey accompanying the campaign found 80% of British winter sports fans factor in sustainability when booking ski holidays. But Alcott knows it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when it comes to these issues.

“I don’t want people to think you have to be perfect – it’s about purpose, not perfection,” she says. “It takes a lot for me to stand up on social media and say I am trying to be sustainable, because the world we live in isn’t very sustainable, and obviously I am still travelling, but I’m trying to make right choices along the way.”

Letting go of pressures to be perfect is a running theme for Alcott. It’s something that feeds into her keynote speeches – and realising this was something that really resonates with audiences has “really empowered me as a person”, she adds.

“Because my strength is that I failed as an athlete. And I never thought I’d be on stage in front of 1000s of people telling my story about how I suffered from a fear of failure, and I lived my life at 80%…

“How can we be 100%? How can we have the confidence to take risks, and accept failure and grow through failure? I’m now writing a book on fear for young children, talking about how important it is to be scared,” Alcott adds. “Because we’re so scared of being scared, that we then limit our massive potential.”

That doesn’t mean reaching a place where she gets everything right, though.

“I make mistakes all the time, and I’m much more vocal about my mistakes now,” Alcott concludes. “You know, you show people a rose-tinted view of your life, so everyone thinks – oh, you’re doing great – and it’s so much easier to promote that. But actually, that doesn’t make you relatable.”

Chemmy Alcott is working with The Austrian National Tourist Office to highlight the incredible work being done by initiatives to protect our environment and the future of winter sports.

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