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  • Writer's pictureKelly VanderBeek OLY, Broadcaster, Trainer, Artist

Mastering Risk-Taking

Last week, I hosted a panel discussion (virtual these days...) about Mastering Risk-Taking.

Involved in the discussion were World Champions, Olympians, a Paralympic medallist, and one PhD who has been helping athletes navigate risk for well over a decade.

I kicked off the panel discussion with a short story. A story of how a risk-averse kid took on the challenge to become a world class downhiller.


By nature, I was an academic and artist who also did sports, and who was pretty good at them. However, I was not a risk taker.

This was glaringly obvious when I was 15y old, standing in the start gate of my first FIS Downhill (a ski racing event that is fast, very fast, like 120km/h+ fast), where I was crying and shaking because I was so scared.

I didn't want to go, I didn't want to race, I didn't want to be a 'downhiller'.

However, my coach, quite literally, pushed me out of the start gate. I didn't make it far before exiting the course because I'd missed a gate.

Then, standing on the side of the run, hunched over my ski poles recovering both physically and emotionally, things began to change. My vision opened up, my heart rate slowed, and I felt like a winner.

A winner not by anyone else's standards, but a winner because I had overcome an emotion so powerful it had crippled me. I had overcome fear.

There, on the side of a downhill course, I was on the other side of fear.

I realized then that I could face fear and I could beat it.


I wanted to know more, I wanted to understand this emotion. I wanted to conquer it and I wanted to harness its power.

I was not a lover of speed or risk, but I was a lover of the challenge fear presented. THAT is why I became a world class downhiller, and that is why I succeeded. For decades after that first downhill race, I became friends with my fear. I knew it inside and out. I understood it and it understood me.

That isn't to say it was easy, it was always hard, but I was up for the challenge.

Are you?

If so, take a look at Dr. Karen MacNeil's advice from our panel discussion (summarized in my words) that concisely explains a methodology for Mastering Risk-Taking:

1) Choose It (make and recognize your conscious choice to be taking risk)

2) Name It (naming emotions associated with risk often removes much of their power)

3) Know the Cost (if you don't take this risk, what will it cost you...ex. opportunities)

4) Break It Down (tackle risk with a detailed, incremental plan)

This is a short and simple list, but execution takes diligence and self-awareness.

However, it's WORTH the effort as it enables you to take on challenges with more clarity and conviction.

- Kelly

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