It’s hard enough to make it to the Olympics when you have the support of a team behind you, but making it as an independent athlete? This requires a huge amount of determination, drive, and belief in yourself.
Three-time Olympic Alpine skier and lifelong Parkite Megan McJames knows what it feels like to be on both sides. She was on the U.S. Alpine Ski Team for her first Olympics, the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, but was cut from the team in 2012 and spent the 2012 season recovering from a broken heel bone.
“It was a low point, but I couldn’t believe my Olympic story was over — I believed I had some more good turns I could make,” she says, adding that no Alpine skier had ever made it back to the Olympics after being cut from the team.
Megan learned to ski at Alta Ski Area and joined the Park City Ski Team at age 8. She made the U.S. Ski Team after her senior year at the Winter Sports School.
“I was both good at it and it gave me a sense of purpose,” she says of competing. “I loved pushing the limits in the mountains; even today, the mountains are my happy place.” Megan worked her way up through the ranks, finally earning a spot competing at the 2010 Winter Olympics.
“I’d been dreaming of it for a long time, so I was so proud to make it to the Olympics,” Megan says. “The Olympics has bigger energy than any other race I’ve ever been to. Walking into the opening ceremonies was something I’ll never forget. I was so proud to represent my country.”
It had taken a lot of literal blood, sweat, and tears to get to the 2010 Olympics, so after being cut in 2012, she was ready to do whatever it took to get to the games again — team or no team.
“I had to reconnect with my love of skiing. I used my passion for skiing to fuel me through the hard times; to persevere to the Olympics and other competitions along the way,” she says. “The runs where you know you threw down the best times you could, that’s what made it all worth it.”
To get to the Olympics, athletes must first accumulate enough points in World Cup competitions. So, as an independent athlete, Megan worked tirelessly to raise money so she could travel the World Cup circuit in Europe with a coach. She found generous donors in Park City who cared about ski racing and believed in going after your dreams in the face of adversity.
“It was really important for me to have someone in my corner who believed in me and, most importantly, helped me believe in myself,” Megan says, adding that most national teams have 10 or more staff members there supporting them. “I needed someone there to remind me I was a great athlete and to help me believe in myself when I was struggling.”
Megan accumulated enough points as an independent athlete to make it to the 2014 Winter Olympics and again for the games in 2018. Now that she’s retired, she’s fallen in love with skiing in a whole new way and has been enjoying backcountry skiing and freeskiing.
“I feel so lucky because I was able to choose when I wanted to retire on my own terms. I knew it was time when I started thinking about things other than World Cup skiing for the first time in my life,” she says. “I felt like I had accomplished my goals and was ready to move on.”
Next up in Megan’s always-evolving world is a documentary film about her life and experience as an Olympic skier called Trailblazer Ski Film.