PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — A lot of athletes talk about self-confidence, but alpine skier Megan McJames defines it.
The Park City native’s faith in her own abilities is not without flaws, but it has been able to withstand the kind of blow that not many athletes in any sport would have the fortitude to endure.
In 2012, McJames was cut from the U.S. Ski and Snowboard team. For the last six years, she’s competed outside the very structure set up to find, nurture and support the country’s best ski racers.
That’s right, McJames was essentially told she wasn’t good enough to represent the U.S. at the most elite levels.
That’s right, those that seek, nurture and guide the best skiers in the country told McJames she wasn’t good enough.
The 30-year-old Westminster College student, however, felt differently.
And, since then, the 2010 Olympian has earned a spot on two more U.S. Olympic Alpine teams, including the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, where she will compete in giant slalom on Monday morning, and possibly two other races.
“It’s a lot harder in a lot of ways,” McJames said of competing on the World Cup circuit without the support of the national team. “But it’s also given me freedom to pursue the athletic plan that’s best for me. I am juggling a lot more details, like fundraising and travel plans, but then you have that one run, and you know it’s awesome even before you see your time on the board. It makes it all worth it.”
Her fellow skiers admire her tenacity — and organizational skills.
"I give huge props to her for doing that," said Holladay native and her Olympic teammate Jared Goldberg. "Continuing to make it work is really hard. It's hard when you have a team behind you. Not having somebody to plan everything, and having to be in charge of all of that, it's impressive. She has no support financially, and I think she has to raise all that money. … It's cool she's doing it. She's a good skier, and it's cool to see her make it outsie the team."
Finding the faith to continue a professional ski career without the support of the U.S. national team was not easy.
“When I was first cut, for sure, it was a process of re-believing in myself,” she said. “The organization that manages skiing in our country was saying I’m not good enough.”
But she loved every aspect of ski racing so much that she couldn’t bring herself to give up on her dreams. So she figured out how to fund an independent ski racing career that has carried her two her third Olympic Games.
“I don’t know if it’s more special to make the Olympic team independent (of the national team’s support),” she said. “But I know all the work I put in, every thing I juggle, all the support I have, and it’s really fulfilling.”
McJames said she doesn’t use revenge or proving a point as motivators.
“At first, I had that, ‘I’m going to show them,’” she said. “But that never really worked for me. I have to ski for myself. That’s the mental space I have to really try to get to. If you’re doing it for revenge, it doesn’t work for me.”
McJames grew up in Park City, where both of her parents were ski instructors.
“I learned to ski at Alta when I was 2 years old,” she said. “It was sit in day care or go out on the slopes.”
She began skiing with the Park City racing team when she was eight, and graduated from the Winter Sports School. She’s earning her degree in finance at Westminster in her “spare time,” although her father hopes she’ll minor in accounting.
McJames said learning to fundraise and finance an independent ski racing career has given her great insight into budgets.
“I hope all those skills are going to translate into whatever I do next,” she said laughing.
McJames knows and his friends with the U.S. athletes, but she often trains with other independent skiers or teams from other countries.
“We all travel the same circuit, doing the same races,” she said. “It’s not always an open door for me to train with them. I’ve found some other teams who are very welcoming, and I’ve gotten better at organizing quality training when I am in Europe.”
In the weeks leading up to the Pyeongchang Games, she trained with teams from Great Britain and New Zealand.
“They’re really friendly, positive coaches,” she said. “And they each have one girl who is really fast, so that made for a really good training group.”
In fact, that might be the most challenging aspect — outside of fundraising — that independent athletes have. Training with other elite skiers is how the best push themselves to new heights.
“Just training with other good skiers is a good thing because it pushes everyone to go faster,” she said.
Unlike the rest of her U.S. teammates who competed on the Olympic course in test events, McJames has never even been to South Korean until she arrived for the Games.
“I don’t have a feel for how it will be, but I’m very excited,” she said. “There are definitely days that are hard when I think, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t do this anymore.’ But I’m really excited to be going to this third Olympics, and I’m really grateful for the support I do have. That’s what keeps me going. I have a lot of friends and family and people who donate to me and sponsor me. I found a lot of people who believe in the idea of going for and achieving goals. … It translates out of ski racing and into the business world.”
She said the Park City community has never wavered in its support of her and her abilities.
“I don’t have specific results goals,” she said, noting the community supports her through an annual fundraiser each fall. “I think the energy of the Olympics is just something really special, but this time I’m ready for that. My first Games was overwhelming because I’d never been there, and my second was overwhelming because I’d never done it without support. Now I know what I’m in for. … I’m going to go as fast as I can and see how it goes. I’m just enjoying my skiing at this point.”