Feb. 16—The Whitefish teen who dreamed of making the U.S. Olympic downhill ski team is now passing on her knowledge to a younger generation of skiers while chasing glory in a new sport.
Seventeen-year-old Mikaela Daniels has traded in her skies for a mountain bike, a wetsuit and a good pair of running shoes as she makes the switch to the world of triathlon. Meanwhile, she is enjoying passing on her ski knowledge as she works with the Montana Alpine Race School youth developmental program on Blacktail Mountain.
For Daniels, who had been training with the New York Ski Education Foundation in Lake Placid, New York, the first thoughts of changing sports came after COVID-19 shut down the youth ski season early in March 2020. Having suffered a broken hand in her final race last year, Daniels found herself at home with nothing to do.
“I couldn’t do much to work out with a broken hand. Plus, all the gyms were closed and so was the mountain. It was pretty frustrating,” she said. “I’m not one of those people that can just sit still and let time pass. I had to find a way to work out.”
With all of her usual workout venues unavailable to her, Daniels had to get creative with her training regime. Even though it wasn’t a big part of her usual training, she decided to take up running, which eventually led her to the sport of triathlon.
“I’ve always been a pretty good runner, but running on a consistent basis was not something I had really done before. Once I got into the habit of running, that’s when the idea of triathlons came into my head,” she said. “I’ve always liked mountain biking and I used to swim a lot when I was younger, but it was never really a focus of mine.”
After giving it some thought, Daniels decided the change to a new sport might be a good idea, but she wasn’t sure where to start.
“I was pretty bummed out at first, having to start over in a new sport and not really knowing how to train,” she said. “But, after a lot of online research, I put together a training plan and set to work.”
Wanting to build up her endurance, Daniels began with high-intensity interval training, alternating short periods of intense exercise with less intense recovery periods until too exhausted to continue.
AS HER endurance level and confidence grew, Daniels decided it was time to put herself to the test in competition. While nearly all triathlons around the country had been canceled, she was able to find one race on the Idaho-Utah border in September.
She did not disappoint in her debut.
Daniels took first place in the girl’s age 15-19 division at the Bear Lake Brawl Olympic distance triathlon in September, posting a time of 2:47:37, good enough for sixth place among all female competitors and 21st overall.
Fresh off that success, Daniels knew she had a tough decision to make.
With all downhill ski races canceled for the foreseeable future and uncertain when she would be able to return to ski training, Daniels had to decide which sport she wanted to pursue.
“At that point, I had to choose one sport or the other,” she said. “They are both full-time commitments and I couldn’t do both. It was a really tough decision, since I never thought I would ever give up ski racing,” she said. “I felt as if ski racing had become my entire life and everyone pictured me as a ski racer. Don’t get me wrong, I love ski racing, but it kind of turned me into a perfectionist. Unfortunately, ski racing is a sport where you can never be perfect. There is no such thing as a perfect run. I was beating myself up over it and I decided that I really needed a change.”
THE DECISION may have caught her friends by surprise, but Daniels said she is really enjoying her new sporting focus.
“My friends were super shocked. They thought I would be ski racing forever, and I thought so, too. I guess you never know what kind of twists life is going to throw your way,” she said. “Triathlons just give me such a high. I take them pretty seriously, but being around other athletes and pushing myself to do better is so much fun. You work for weeks and months to get ready for a race and then you get to see all of that work pay off as you push yourself as hard as you can.”
While triathlon had become her new focus, Daniels wasn’t quite ready to give up the ski slopes completely. When the opportunity arose to join her mentor John Steitz as an instructor with the MARS program, Daniels jumped at the opportunity. These days, she spends her Wednesday and Saturday afternoons on Blacktail Mountain, working with 7- and 8-year-old skiers and helping train the next generation of downhill competitors.
“I wasn’t sure at first about how tough it would be for me to teach someone else. Plus, I had never worked with kids before,” she admitted. “Skiing had become so second nature to me that it actually turned out to be a lot easier than I was expecting. They all love to ski and go fast, and so do I. It has worked out pretty well. Everything has.”
Reporter Jeremy Weber may be reached at 758-4446 or [email protected]
#Olympic #hopeful #skier #shifts #triathlon #competition