In January 2011 I had the pleasure of skiing the slopes of France with Matilda Coates. The young Australian was in Europe during her Australian summer holidays training in the Alps. To say that day on the mountain stuck with me is an understatement: not only was I impressed with her skiing skills, I was utterly blown away by her determination, passion, courage and positive attitude.
However, it hasn't always been French ski resorts and elite athlete glory for Matilda. As this interview shows, Olympic glory takes a lot of sisu. Her latest challenge was selection in the Shadow Australian Olympic Team for Sochi 2014, to only have the opportunity taken two-months later due to illness.
We loved catching up with Matilda and think she is not only a girl with serious sisu, but also an amazing and inspiring role-model for many women, young and old!
Matilda, can you give us a brief introduction?
My name is Matilda Coates. I am 18 years of age. I am currently a member of the Australian Alpine Ski team. I started ski racing when I was 10 years old and have never looked back. I started skiing when I was two and quickly developed not only a love of skiing, but also a love for the mountains. However, it wasn’t until I watched the 2006 Winter Olympics on TV that I thought WOW, what is this sport called alpine? At that very moment I begged my parents to let me try, and I don’t think they ever expected it would turn out like this.
I started in MILO kids when I was six, but quickly moved into the older ski team. I have been in the NSW / ACT State Team and the Australian Children’s Team since I was 12. I made the Australian Junior Team when I was 15 and a year later I made the Australian National Team, where I remain a member. Being able to live, dream, and compete in something you love is more than anyone could ask for. I am so happy I can do this and have the love and support from my family.
What is a typical "day in the life" of Matilda Coates?
Over the last 9 months I have been coming back from severe illness, so my training has changed a lot, for the better. I wake at 5:45am every morning and have a cold 3-minute shower followed by breakfast and stretching. I leave the house by 6:45am with my skis in hand and get to the slopes in time for an 8am warm up ski. By 9am we are inspecting the racecourse and running the gates. I ski for between two and four hours, depending on the conditions of the snow and between each run I drink water or coconut water to keep hydrated and blood sugar levels even. Around midday I have lunch and watch a video before hitting the gym between 2 and 3pm to maintain strength. At 4pm I go to work at the Racers Ski Shop, which is fantastic as I get to mingle and meet other local racers.
I am home by 7:30pm for dinner and stretching to roll out my muscles and back before going to bed at 9:30pm. Every night before I sleep I recite my goals out loud and prepare to do it all again the next day.
What have been some of your major challenges and how have you overcome them?
“So if it was easy everyone would be able to do it” is something my Mum said when I was young. Since I started ski racing I have had my fair share of injuries and illnesses. When I was 11 I suffered from severe ammonia for two years, which saw my left lobe collapse. Once I conquered this illness I had a season free of injury, however when I was 14 I broke my lower right leg, with a clear break of both the tibia and fibula. This resulted in a 15cm plate and 7 screws inserted into my bones. This of course was devastating, but like any broken bone you get over it and move on. What I wasn’t expecting was the nasty mind games I had once I returned to the snow. It took me over 2.5 years to face the demons in my mind and accept that I was suffering from a fear of failure and a fear of crashing while racing.
I can laugh about it now, because if you don’t try you are going to fail anyway, so having this fear of failure was an issue with my mental strength. It wasn’t until I addressed it, and accepted it that I was able to ski properly again, without the fear of failure.
Yes, I still experience a little bit of doubt, but that’s normal and I now find it so rewarding to face my fears, knowing I can and will conquer them. I was thankful enough to meet an amazing psychologist John-Scott-Hamilton, who gave me the tools to address my mindset. Those learnings now see me remain in the present moment and not get worked up by little things that I can’t control. My mind doesn’t play as many nasty mind games. I now see things for what they truly are, and don’t worry about the events that my mind has made up and haven’t even happened. The mind is very powerful and if you are not careful the mind can be your main shortcoming. I work hard to remain positive, to believe in myself and to believe that I can!
Unfortunately last season when I was finally ready to take on the world with my new found confidence, I was diagnosed with Adrenal Fatigue. My body was shutting down. I was unable to move, and all I could manage was sleep. I couldn’t get up without my heart rate increasing to 170 bpm. I was told I wouldn’t be skiing for 2-3 years - if I was lucky. I didn’t like this diagnoses, so I did some research of my own and found a great place in Sydney called The Place Of Chi. I have been working with them for the last 9 months and to say I have come a long way is and understatement. I am back skiing and plan to go overseas to Europe and start competing again in January 2015. I feel the happiest, fittest, strongest and healthiest I have ever been.
It was devastating to miss out on the opportunity to fight for my place for the Sochi Olympics, but it has been the most valuable lesson for me and has truly made me learn how to listen to my body. I have learned the most valuable life lessons from these difficult times, and although I didn’t realize it at the time, I can now say I am so grateful for those challenges. I am stronger and am ready for the next obstacle, as I know I can jump as high as I have to to conquer them. I am glad it’s not easy.
What has been the most memorable experience throughout your skiing career?
Of course it would be making the 2014 Olympic Winter Shadow team. But this past year has been amazing in teaching me about listening and looking after my own body and how I can make it strong, both physically and mentally. It has given me the next step forward to achieving my ultimate goals.
What are your longer term goals?
The ultimate goal is to be a World Champion in Alpine, to compete on the World Cup Circuit and to be an Olympic Champion. However, at the end of the day, I just want to be strong and happy and to continue loving the sport and my lifestyle.
How can other girls help each other to reach their goals?
Everybody has different goals and different definitions of those goals, so it is important not to judge and to make sure we offer genuine support for individuals to achieve their personal goals. It is also important to set realistic goals frequently. We need to share these goals and not be afraid of failing. The more times you fail the closer you become to succeeding.
What piece of advice would you give to your 13-year-old self?
Keep standing! Don’t give up; you can do all things you put your mind to. No one said it was going to be easy. Success is not a straight line; it’s one massive scribble, but one hell of a ride. So enjoy, stay strong, smile and laugh.
What piece of advice would you like to give to your parents as a teenager?
Nothing, but if I had to, I would say, keep doing what you are doing as what you have done for me and what you have taught me through my life so far, has been amazing. I am so lucky to have you as my parents. I can’t thank you enough.
What makes you wake up each morning?
To have the sun on my face, and fresh air in my hair. To see my family, and to have a dream to chase down.
What and who inspires you?
My parents. They are the most amazing people I know. Their love for one another and their passion to help my brother and me achieve our dreams is amazing. I have never felt any pressure from them to do well. They have always told me that it’s important to be happy and feel good about the way I have performed and myself. Just do the best I can. They make me laugh and love life for what it is. They are my best friends. Thank you Felicity and Phil for being the absolute best parents/best friends I could ever ask for. You are truly wonderful!
What is the piece of advice you ever received?
Anything you want to do you can do! Believe in yourself and there is no such thing as failing, it is all a lesson in the end!