Talking about professional losses and fear of failure might not be every Olympic athlete’s idea of a good time, but with social media, at least, some are talking candidly about it. Olympic gold medalist Dara Howell isn’t afraid to open up about her setbacks, and her honesty is delightfully refreshing, especially on platforms like Instagram where polished images reign supreme.
Howell became a household name (at least in the skiing world) at 17 when she became the youngest woman to compete at the 2012 Winter X Games in Aspen. She finished sixth in slopestyle, a relatively new skiing event that includes a medley of rails, jumps and other terrain park features on a challenging downhill course. Two years later, she went on to become the first freestyle skier EVER to win gold in slopestyle skiing at its debut at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.
If you watched Howell on the Sochi slopes, she was the epitome of confidence and complete fearlessness as she flew through the air. But the high was short-lived. Shortly after she took her gold medal home to Huntsville, Ont., she was hit by an immense pressure to succeed. “I was not prepared for that influx of attention,” Howell told FLARE. “Internally, I was struggling with the win.” So much so that she bowed out of subsequent competitions and wondered whether she’d ever return to the sport she loved. It was so bad at one point, she that she didn’t want to get out of bed.
FLARE talked to Howell about dealing with the pressure to repeat her epic 2014 win, the four-word mantra she repeats to herself when she needs a boost and how she coped with a disappointing turn at PyeongChang.
How Howell bounced back
Falling back in love with skiing didn’t happen overnight for Howell. But it started when she witnessed the passion of her close friends on the slopes. She remembers watching her family friend, 10-year-old Kyle Mattice, absolutely tear it up on the downhill—”his passion was contagious,” she says. It was enough to get Howell back out there and tackling the rails again—one of her biggest challenges. The process slowly began to “reignite the fire that’s always been inside me,” says Howell.
But the biggest difference came when Howell stopped thinking about the competition. “I just skied for me, and was doing what I loved. I had to come to a place where I knew I deserved to be there,” she says.
With help from her Olympic coaches, teammates and family, she was able to secure a spot on the Olympic team this year. “I am so grateful I had a support system to get me to this place of peace,” she says.
On the importance of channeling stress into confidence
To get ready for PyeongChang, Howell had to flip the script to help with jitters on competition day. Instead of seeing her fear of failure as a bad thing, she started making it work for her. “Nerves are a good thing because it means I care and that I’m prepared,” she says.
Howell now relies on four little words as her go-to affirmation for a boost in confidence: “I am good enough.” Whenever she has a moment of self-doubt, she says she tries to take a step back, breathe and “remember the evidence of what I’ve accomplished and the qualities I have as a person.”
Howell didn’t have the best performance at PyeongChang last month, finishing 21st in the slopestyle skiing event, which meant she was unable to defend her gold medal. “I don’t think that winning a medal at the Olympics is what defines you—it’s the journey you take to get there,” . And it’s safe to say that her fans seem to agree.
Wow this tweet really means a lot. Thank you for the very very kind words
— Dara Howell (@DaraHowell)
Although Howell didn’t compete as she expected to, it was a feat in and of itself just to be back on the slopes.
Looking forward to Beijing
Her recent Olympic experiences have proven to be a rollercoaster, but Howell continues to look onwards and upwards.
In between getting her sweat on at the gym and training on the slopes, she spends her sunny days off on her boat in Muskoka with her loved ones. Howell also continues to keep busy by getting involved with organizations that encourage other girls to persevere when faced with failure—such as the #LikeAGirl campaign she’s representing with Always.
“The majority of girls in Canada feel paralyzed by the fear of failure at puberty,” says Howell. “The Always #LikeAGirl campaign wants to change that and encourage girls to embrace failure as fuel to build their confidence and keep going.”
The new partnership is fitting for Howell, whose unfiltered social posts about her journey in a sport she loves are revealing and relatable. And for anyone else who is struggling with their own anxieties and fears of failure, her words are reassuring.
Howell will continue to use her messages of empowerment to push herself over the next few years. “My sights are set on Beijing for sure, and all the competitions in between. I have more to give,” she says. “Pushing myself to be the best I can be at this sport is my goal.”