Ultimate Direction ambassador Jessie Young recently won her 4th Ski Mountaineering National Championship in five years. She and husband Max Taam had their first baby in 2018. We asked Jessie about how she maintains a high level of performance while raising their son Ryder. How does being a mom-athlete work logistically? What are her strategies? Read on.
Ultimate Direction: As a now 4x Ski Mountaineering National Champion, what is your secret?!
Jessie: I think one of the basic tenants to achieving any goal rings true for me…It’s about all the seemingly small choices and actions that add up to reaching the bigger goals. I think being consistent in getting out the door before dawn on most days and making sure every workout is a quality one is key. This is especially true now that I have very little time to spare between new mom responsibilities, working full time, and training.
While training is important, I think a lot of my results come from being prepared on race day – there are a lot of moving pieces in ski mountaineering racing – from understanding the course and where potential bottlenecks into the single track might be, to choosing the right skins for the right conditions, to having an idea of where to have a snack and a drink… all those details can make a big difference!
UD: Why ski mountaineering? How long have you been doing skimo and what’s appealing about it?
Jessie: Ski mountaineering racing or skimo is a glorious union of fitness, strength, endurance, technicality, adventure and fun (i.e. the descents). With ski mountaineering the opportunities for exploration are endless and there is a meditative element to skinning at sunrise – whether on one of the Aspen-Snowmass resorts or in the backcountry that feeds my soul.
I started skimo as a way to stay fit in the wintertime and connect with the mountains year-round. My first couple of seasons racing I was at the back of the pack in baggy clothes and slowly worked my way up as I trained for my first Grand Traverse and Power of Four races in 2011. I’ve now been on the National team since 2015 and have represented the USA at the world championships in Europe twice – with a third time on the horizon this March!
UD: What was pregnancy like for you as a super accomplished athlete? What changed in your training and your approach to your sport while pregnant?
Jessie: I found that it was tough to find solid information from the medical profession on how to maintain a high level of fitness while simultaneously growing a strong and healthy human with high elevations and -gasp- skiing added into the mix. For example, any article you read about being active during pregnancy warns against partaking in activities like skiing and biking and there was never really a good answer about whether it was okay to spend significant time just being at or working out above 10,000 feet.
I found that ski mountaineering or skinning the local ski areas was the perfect low impact activity and a great workout throughout my pregnancy – especially the later months when running was too bouncy. The weekend before I went into labor my husband and I went for a mellow ski tour (ending at our favorite on-mountain restaurant for pancakes!). I had to adjust my training by cutting back on the intensity, but I maintained a good amount of volume (at least in terms of time on my feet – though I wasn’t covering as much ground). I did do more workouts by myself because I found that when I went with friends I tended to push harder than I felt I should. And I had to be okay with going half as far in the same amount of time and skiing groomers at a snail’s pace – but it was all worth it!
What I wasn’t expecting was the challenge of the postpartum weeks – between the physical recovery, the needs of an infant, and the complete exhaustion, I went through two weeks of almost no activity aside from pushing a stroller around the block. For me, that time was much tougher to get through mentally than my entire pregnancy.
UD: Has your identity changed since becoming a mother? How do you balance it with your identity as an athlete?
Jessie: I am still growing into this role and getting used to the word mom being directed toward me! I think becoming a mom just adds another layer to who I am. I do feel honored to be inducted into this sort of secret club of totally incredible and supportive women athletes who inspire me daily. There are so many strong moms that I look up to for how to balance it all. For me, being a mom is now #1 and everything else that I can fit in is icing on the cake.
UD: What is life like now that you’re back racing; how do you manage competing and traveling and training (and working) with being a mom?
Jessie: Life is busier and better than ever! I haven’t been back racing for very long so I’m still learning how to manage it all. Ryder (the babe) isn’t a huge fan of road trips so I spend a lot of time in the back seat singing Twinkle Twinkle and playing peekaboo and our travel radius for races has gotten shorter, which is a bummer for the time being but hopefully won’t last forever. We have a super supportive community of racers and families (as well as grandparents) who are eager to help as baby holders while my husband and I are out on the course, which makes racing possible with the little guy in tow.
UD: What advice do you have for other moms on balancing sport and life?
Jessie: Oh man! I think it’s so different every day, I don’t know if I have any advice worth taking since I’m only 9 months into this journey. A few things I feel like I am always working to improve are my time management, staying organized and sticking to a schedule both for training and a daily routine while also allowing for some flexibility.
My husband and I are also always planning – from a weekly idea of when we will both get our training in to making a game plan for the evening to maximize our time. We will hash out the details about what needs to get done (on a detailed level like “you chop the onions and I’ll start the laundry”) on the car ride home and then both jump into action when we pull up to the house!
UD: What’s the most rewarding aspect of being a mom athlete?
Jessie: Having extra red blood cells to help me go faster! Kidding J I won’t know for some time, but I hope that I am able to be a role model for my kid as he grows. I hope to show him the value of spending time outside, setting and reaching goals, and living a healthy and active life. I have found it so rewarding to be a family of three and to bring Ryder along on our adventures and explorations and show him the things we love in life like being in the mountains. As a family, we have really enjoyed hiking and backcountry (mellow) skiing with Ryder in the chest-pack. Next summer we hope to go on a multi-day family bike tour.
UD: What’s the most challenging aspect of being a mom athlete?
Jessie: Even though I know that I am a better mom if I get my “me time” to train it’s hard not to be thinking I should be spending more time with Ryder. Sometimes it’s just not possible to do it all and something has to give. There have been days when I cut workouts short because it’s getting close to bedtime and I feel like it’s more important to be home with Ryder than to do another set of intervals – and that’s ok, there are such small windows for quality time together!