Town: Shelburne, Vermont
Quote: “Run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal.” – Cheryl Strayed
About Lex: I grew up outside of Burlington, Vermont, playing ice hockey and skiing. When I discovered backpacking in high school, something clicked. I devoured the Long Trail in Vermont with my dad upon graduating; it was beautiful and miserable and, in hindsight, I learned a great lesson about the value of taking your time and connecting with the woods.
By the time college rolled around I was frustrated with the competitive spirit that was manifest in so many facets of my life, from sports to academics to relationships. Exhausted from years of elite hockey, I decided to invest my energy in something only if it was fun and made me happy. But finding peace and fulfillment and time for self-reflection in the go-go-go-all-the-time setting of Colby College proved difficult for me. By my sophomore fall, I was overwhelmed by all of the stress and stimuli. I was painfully aware that I didn’t have a clue who I was at my core. I was also painfully aware that I had no idea how to take care of myself.
So, I took a semester off and thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail. Nature has a beautiful way of making us raw enough to understand who we are. While on trail, I spent a lot of time getting comfortable being alone with myself. I earned a more profound understanding of what I valued in life, namely simplicity, adventure, and being outside.
The hardest part of thru-hiking the AT, however, was returning to society. Sílvia Vidal says, of climbing, “In so many hours alone with yourself, you begin to open your heart. Later, when you descend the wall, you start to lose yourself again.” This is precisely how I felt. I felt lonely, lost, and uninspired. I felt that, away from the trail, I no longer had the tools to be happy. I was disappointed in myself for spending all of that time in the woods discovering who I wanted to be, only to go home and not be that person. Slowly, I slipped into a deep depression. This, I now know, was a result of learning to manage my mental health in a very specific context, and not being able to translate the bigger-picture concepts to my everyday life.
I’ve been learning to co-exist with my depression for the past two years. I’ve taken more time off of school. I’ve spent three winters ski patrolling at Stowe Mountain Resort. I’ve trained for triathlons and mud runs. Again and again I find myself escaping into the woods. But nothing makes me want to wake up in the morning the way that Ice Cross Downhill does.
Last winter, deep in the clutches of my depression, I read “Tiny Beautiful Things” by Cheryl Strayed. In this collection of advice columns, Strayed preaches that you are the only person who can change your life. Empowered by the realization of my own agency, I signed up for my first Ice Cross Downhill race at Afton Alps in Minnesota. Ice Cross Downhill is sort of like ice-skating down a bobsled course with jumps and rollers and obstacles and three other girls trying to get down before you. I don’t quite know how to explain the feeling of flying down an icy track at 45 miles per hour, other than to say that it makes my heart sing. I’ve been chasing that feeling ever since. I feel that way when I’m racing, when I’m training, when I’m skiing, when I’m hiking, and when I’m climbing. It’s a feeling that makes me want to be alive. Given my history with mental illness, this is no small thing.
After a season on the Red Bull Crashed Ice World Championship tour that included a broken wrist in Munich, Germany and a first place finish in Jyväskylä, Finland, I am now the top-ranked woman in the United States. I’m stoked to be racing on the tour, and to have a shot at the first ever Women’s World Championship title in St. Paul this February.
I love extreme sports and the out-of-doors because they inspire and motivate me to take care of myself. Most of what I have learned in the last few years I have learned from nature and adrenaline and depression. Think critically about who you are. Try your best to know yourself. Learn what you need to be healthy and happy. Trust your truths. Honor what you know about yourself by taking care of yourself. Find the things that fill you up and do them every day. Don’t be afraid to put yourself first. You deserve the best, and you are the only one who can give it to you. Build a healthy relationship with yourself. You are the only person that you have to live with for the rest of your life. And don’t forget to reach.