TP TALKS TO... Arianne Jones

by Travelling Peach

ME & THE LUGE
We have an incredible Olympic sliding track on the Calgary hills. Winter sports are a big deal there so, as a child, I was naturally very active. I went to a ‘Sports of all Sorts’ camp at Canada’s Olympic Park where I tried so many sports… speed skating, snowboarding, luge, ski jumping… Oh my gosh! I hated ski jumping. I wouldn’t even jump off haha but luge was so much fun… I was 12 and having a blast. To me, it was super fast tobogganing, which every kid loves – especially me! – and I was naturally good at it.

I never had to consider multiple sports or think ‘Which one shall I do?’ It was an innocent, child-like moment of thinking ‘This is fun. I want to do this’ and having one thing lead to another throughout my life.


A HUMAN PING PONG DOWN THE ICE TRACK
My parents were always 100% supportive but initially they were definitely scared (and confused!) about me choosing luge. One minute they’d never heard of it, the next they’d realised that their daughter was competing in one of the fastest, most dangerous sports imaginable. When you’re little and start any sport, you’re going to suck - that’s life! - but especially with luge. It’s such a steep learning curve. Whenever we went to the track, I’d crash constantly and I’d hit so many walls, literally ping-ponging back and forth down the ice, coming home black and blue from my shoulders down to my wrists. I never minded the bruising but my Mom was another story ‘What is this crazy sport you’re doing?’ She never stopped me but she was too scared to watch. She’d sit with my best friend’s mom and they’d take it in turns to watch each other’s children… ‘She’s ok. She did well’… then cover their eyes for their own. It wasn’t until I qualified for my first World Championships in Italy that she fully watched me race. She trusted that, if I’d qualified for the World Championships, I was probably going to make it down safely but it really took until then haha.

FIGHTING AGAINST THE SPORTING WORLD’S STEREOTYPES
I was never supposed to be good at luge. It’s a gravity sport and the best, fastest lugers in the world are over 6ft tall and heavy. I’m not. I’m petite so, growing up, they said ‘You’re never going to make it. You might as well quit. You’re never going to the Olympics. You’re never going to end up on the podium.’ As a kid - and as an adult - it’s heart-breaking. It felt terrible but instead of letting that break me, I thought ‘Well I’m going to show you guys what I can do’ so I did. If didn’t have the support of the sporting world like other athletes did and I really wanted to do this, I had to believe in myself. It wasn’t easy. There were constantly brick walls and hurdles in my way but I overcame them.  
 

‘I never thought ‘OMG! This is so hard. Can I do this?’ I thought ‘How can I do this…? In the end, I surprised myself. I proved I was stronger than I thought I was ever capable of.’


That surprised me a lot because, when you’re fighting for something you love, you never think about the bigger picture. You’re focusing on solving the little problems that add up to beating the bigger one. That’s what’s neat about sport. The learning moments don’t happen on the podium or winning medals. When you’re making mistakes, crashing and having to overcome obstacles, that’s when you learn the most about your sport, yourself and who you are as an athlete.
 

‘Most people don’t really realise the struggles and sacrifices you go through as an athlete and how much it takes to get through them. Sport’s seen as this glamorous travelling lifestyle, the pride of winning the race and standing on the podium, but that’s just 0.5% of what a sporting career is. You really have to love it.’

 

DIGGING DEEP & ‘MAKING’ SPORT BELIEVE IN ME
Very recently something incredible happened. I finally felt like I had the support and respect of the luge and sporting world. It felt incredible. I know people believe in me now but, for most of my life, despite being on the National Team, working hard and consistently positioning in the Top 10, I never had that full ‘buy in’ from coaches that I could land on the podium. Not because they didn’t think I was good but simply because I was too small. Nobody would think outside of the box and say ‘OK, how can we work with this athlete? Let’s focus on aerodynamics instead of gravity.’


THE OBSTACLE IS THE WAY: OWN IT!
One day, someone gave me a book ‘The Obstacle Is The Way’ that really hit home. After reading it, I realised that I’d actually been living my whole life that way without even realising it: yes, obstacles will always arise but you have to embrace them, learn from them and use them to your advantage. That was the year after the last Olympics (Sochi 2014). I’d just competed and felt on top of the world. Then, at the beginning of the season, the coaches decided to take a small group away; I was left at home. At that point, many people said ‘Well, you’ve been to the Olympics, why not think about calling it a day whilst you’re happy?’ Obviously I decided that wasn’t a good enough answer for me so I took that obstacle and, instead of being sad and crushed, I thought ‘Ok. What are the weaknesses I need to work on? What type of team do I need to build around me to succeed?’ I stayed at home using as many resources as I could; then, when the World Cup returned to Calgary, I was ready. I raced and won the bronze medal. No one in my whole life believed that was even possible before me and, standing on the podium, I felt incredible knowing that I’d given every ounce of energy I could and had fought through every opportunity.

 

‘That’s the thing… You have to love what you do because when it’s hard - and sport is so hard - if you don’t like it, you might as well walk away. That’s something to remember for everything in life: you have to work really hard to become successful so you might as well be working really hard at something you enjoy. That’s what makes it worthwhile.’


 

MY FAVOURITE ATHLETE TO COMPETE AGAINST
Erin Hamlin - an American athlete and a great friend. We have a great time competing because it’s a constant see-saw. Sometimes I beat her, sometimes she beats me but it’s always fun. Whilst competing, were very focused so it’s nice to finish and have somebody to laugh with, be proud of and motivate each other in that way. It’s healthy.


FAVOURITE PLACES TO TRAVEL

Travelling with luge is amazing. We travel all over the world but it’s not as glamourous as people think – or like other sports. We’re chasing the ice tracks so we often stay in tiny little towns and small mountain villages. Quirky but absolutely gorgeous. My favourite places are:


KÖNIGSSEE, GERMANY. Set in the mountains and surrounded by nature, Königssee has one of the oldest and most magical luge tracks in the world. It’s so much fun to slide down and totally unique - like a rollercoaster with crazy twists and turns that no other track has. I love being in nature so racing here feels incredible. At the bottom of the track, there’s a huge lake and, at the very top, a waterfall trickles, following the track all the way down to the lake at the bottom. Beautiful.


I love exploring. We spend so much time there so I get to practice my German and learn the ins-and-outs of these teeny tiny villages. You want to fit in and feel at home but it happens so gradually that you don’t realise how much you know until family visit. When my dad visited for the World Championships, I said ‘We’ll go to this place to drink beer because it’s got the best pretzels’ and ‘We’ll go and have coffee at this teeny little hole in the wall.’ It was cool knowing that, in this teeny European town, I actually knew the ins-and-outs of where to go, where the best markets were and things like that.


FIJI. Growing up, I was very fortunate. My parents have always loved travelling so, when my sister and I were born, it came naturally. I took my first flight aged 6months and, for work or play, have been travelling ever since. During High School, my parents took us on a 3 month adventure around Australia and New Zealand, after which they brought a home in Fiji - this tiny little island with no internet, no TV, nothing. We’d live there for several months a year. It was one of the most unique family experiences you can imagine. Sometimes, when we needed to grocery shop, my sister and I would ride our bikes up a big hill to the local store. It was really funny because the bikes were too big for us and we’d often fall off and drop the groceries in the ocean. So many adventures happened there. We learned to scuba dive, snorkel and live that ocean lifestyle. It’s one of my favourite paces to relax and unwind.


‘Travelling for sport is so hectic. When I’m on holiday, I love to relax in quaint, quirky places. Exploring and mellowing out in Hawaii or at the beach is perfect.’
 

HAWAII. As lugers, we spend all year chasing the snow and ice around the world so, when the season ends, I like to go somewhere tropical. Hawaii is brilliant - very easy going so I love mellowing out there. Anywhere near the ocean and beaches where I can go on adventures.

CANADIAN MOUNTAIN AIR. Nature’s very important to me... being active, outdoors, away from technology with the fresh air and peace. I’m fortunate to live really close to Kelowna and Banff, surrounded by the Canadian mountains. It’s like another world so simply immersing myself in nature is a really powerful way for me to recover.

 

THE SECRET TO BEING A FAST LUGER
Height and weight are innate advantages but, since I don’t have those, if you don’t either, don’t let that stop you… Make sure you’re the best at every other aspect of luge. Be the fastest starter, a great technical slider and mentally robust.


THE IMPORTANCE OF MENTALITY
The mental aspect of sport and how much it can affect your performance is really underappreciated. I didn’t realise quite how much until 18 months ago when I had an extremely serious back injury. I broke my back and suffered multiple spinal stress fractures. For 3 months, I couldn’t do anything. People said ‘That’s great! You have 12 weeks off from training. You can do so many fun things’ but suddenly I realised that not only was I active in luge but nearly every hobby I enjoyed involved moving… hiking, biking, swimming… I couldn’t do any of them. I had to find something to do so I started meditating and learning about mindfulness in sport… sports psychology books, meditation apps... you name it, I read it. Traditionally, athletes use psychology as a ‘fixing’ tool – something to help them when things are going badly. Me too! But nowadays it’s about maintenance: How can I be stronger mentally? How can I be more present and mindful? I started using mentality as an advantage - an extra layer to strengthen my training - and it’s going really well.


 

'People say ‘I know I need to meditate but I don’t know how to so I’m not going to start’ or ‘My mind is really busy so I can’t start meditating’ but that’s exactly why you need to. It’s the equivalent of someone saying ‘Swimming’s going to save my life but I don’t know how to swim so I’m not going to take swimming lessons.’ When you hear it, it seems ridiculous but it makes a lot of sense.'

 

GETTING INTO MEDITATION & MINDFULLNESS
I love the HeadSpace app. Initially meditation seems big and daunting - most people don’t know how to begin and, even when they do, it takes a while to master - but HeadSpace really helped me to get started and I’m glad I stuck with it. I experience the best meditations outdoors surrounded by nature. Just sitting peacefully, smelling the fresh air and hearing sounds of nature helps me to relax and clear my mind but it doesn’t happen automatically. If you want to start, don’t worry if you’re good or bad at it. It will still help. Take baby steps and try meditating for 10mins at a time, gradually increasing the timeframe as you feel comfortable.


GAME FACE? NO! MY FACE
I’m a happy person - an eternal optimist - I always have been but, in sport, there’s a lot of pressure to have a serious ‘game face’ on, especially when competing and definitely in luge, but that doesn’t work for everybody. I was once told ‘When you’re at the start handles, you need to be uber focused, huge game face on and stare down the track and your competitors.’ I tried it for a while and it really didn’t work for me because it wasn’t who I am. The German women can be that - that’s their personality and the system they’ve grown up in - but when I tried to emanate their behaviours, it actually put more pressure on me. I realised that, to do my best, I have to be myself when competing and I’m happy and I’m smiley. So, now, just before I go down the track, I always smile. People judged me for not being focused, saying that ‘I was just there for fun’ but that had nothing to do with it. Smiling before I go down the track puts me in the most focused state that I need to be in; where I’m focused and ready but also happy and reminding myself to enjoy my sport. That’s so important. People misunderstood that and I got a lot of backlash but I needed to trust my instincts.


‘Did you know… 60% more girls drop out of sport than boys as teenagers? That’s really sad because sport’s helped me grow so much as a person – mentally, physically, emotionally – and it can help them too.’

 

WOMEN IN SPORT
Fast and Female is very important to me because of my personal history in sport when people said ‘You might as well quit.’ I don’t want women to feel that way, or feel like they can’t or shouldn’t play sports. Whether you’re participating professionally, personally or socially, sport can be life-changing.

When I was younger, I had a coach who, at dinner, said ‘Women shouldn’t be allowed to do sport.’ - Seriously?! You’re surrounded by male and female athletes - That was the environment I grew up in; not exactly conducive for female empowerment but I was lucky: my friends and family were supportive so I empowered myself. Other girls aren’t so lucky, especially with the rise of social media and reality stars. There are so many pressures on them to look and act a certain way. Sport isn’t always seen as the ‘cool’ thing to do or the ‘right look.’ That’s why I became an ambassador. I wanted to make sure that other women had a tangible role model - someone in sport who they could relate to and talk to - to encourage them to get active. We run yoga events, running, mentorship, Q&A’s with the girls and more.

‘I totally agree with you and, having spoken to them, I know that a lot of the female athletes are really on-board with you and pro-active too. What we’ve all realised is that around the Olympics other big sporting events, the perceptions of every nation in every country changes for the better. Their whole perception of what they want to be like, what is beautiful and their ambitions changes, especially for girls because, usually, the media and social media bombards them with reality stars and the like then, suddenly, all of the papers are filled with these incredible athletes and those reality stars who have had so much plastic surgery or achieve fame through nudity can’t compete. Suddenly we’re surrounded by all of these positive role models who, unfairly, were ignored before.’


Definitely. It’s so powerful when that happens. As soon as the Olympics starts, the athletes stories take over and everybody’s stories, moments and emotions fill the media. All of the female role models switch to being these amazingly strong athletes and all these different body types because every sport has a vastly different body type and those become the highlights of the media. It’s so amazing and important for young girls to see that. However, unfortunately, it only happens once every 2 years. It stays for a little bit and then disappears when the media jumps back on to the reality starts, TV stars, plastic surgery and things like. That’s why it’s so important to showcase these amazing female athlete role models and showcase the benefits of healthy bodies and lifestyles.
 




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