Trust takes you further | Øystein Aasheim
Saturday, April 13th, 2019. Lemonsjøen, in the heart of Norway. The sun is shining, the music is loud, the crowd roars, the spirit is high, a bunch of professional freeskiers and jibbers play all over the mountainside, throwing themselves off natural hits and man-made kickers in a burst of creativity, guts, and raw skills. They compete all day, celebrate all evening, and drive home the next day. The annual Høkkers Invitational is officially over. It’s been a fun weekend. A few hours later, one of the competitors – professional freeskier and local legend Øystein Aasheim – spends a mellow Sunday evening at home in nearby Vågå with some friends. Suddenly he collapses on the couch. His heart has stopped. The others quickly realize the seriousness of the situation and call for help while beginning CPR. Soon after, he is rushed into an emergency helicopter, whereafter he spends 45 days at the hospital, 17 of these in a coma.
After spending greater parts of the winter in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, with over 80 days of skiing, Øystein was in his life’s best shape, both mentally and physically, before Høkkers Invitational.
“When I woke up, all my muscles were gone, I could not walk, I could not sit up, I could not eat by myself. Basically, I could not do anything. So I’ve been working my way back ever since, through a lot of patience and a lot of training,” says Øystein.
At the age of 25, one of Norway’s most accomplished freeriders had suffered a cardiac arrest without any warning, lost 20 kilos while in a coma, and went from aiming at the Freeride World Tour to learning how to walk again.
Trust in your training
Fast forward seven months to November 9th. It’s a cloudy Saturday at Galdhøpiggen Glacier ski resort, not far from Øystein’s home in Vågå.
The first ride is all about feeling out the skis, the snow, the body. Slowly at first, then faster on the gentle slope. It’s different than it used to be, but he is back on his skis, against all odds.
“What is so hard about this particular injury or struggle or whatever you want to call it, is that it is not something that I will overcome, it is something I will be struggling with for the rest of my life. The doctors could not identify the malfunction in my heart, so I now have a tiny defibrillator integrated into my chest, and I sleep with a heart monitor on my nightstand. But you know what? This winter, I got back to skiing, and I got back to competing. I might not be the same, but I’m still here dammit, and I will keep on going until I’m back, and then I will go further,” says Øystein.
Since that day at Galdhøpiggen, he’s continuously been training and pushing onwards to get back in the game. Going from clinical death and loss of most muscle mass to freeskiing at a professional level within one-and-a-half-years is a long, long journey, both physically and mentally.
“Doing what I do, there is always a risk that something can go wrong; a simple error can have big consequences. And whether I like it or not, that is always going to be one reason I do it. But I always do what I can to minimize the risk, and one of the first ways I do this is through trust. I need to trust that my training through the summer has been good enough to prepare me for the winter. I need to trust my mind to be in the right place at the right time. To ask the right questions and make the right decisions. And I need complete trust in my gear to work and keep me safe while I am on the mountain. Trust is fundamental, and without it, everything collapses. Without it, I can go no further.”
Going further, to me, is about progression. To find boundaries and test them, see where they can be moved. And not to be satisfied once you have done it, but see if they can be moved again.
Trust in yourself
“To me, it’s important to push myself simply because it’s so goddamn fun. I want to progress and see how good I can get as a skier and chase that epic feeling of pushing yourself to the next level. And now, I motivate myself through everything that I have been through the past year. I almost left this world at a pretty young age, but I was given another chance. And weirdly, I want to prove myself worthy,” says Øystein.
In many ways, surviving a dramatic event and getting back to an active life requires a certain attitude, a certain frame-of-mind. It’s been said that people getting lost in the wilderness have a better chance of survival if they keep up what’s known as a positive mental attitude. Øystein is living proof that this can be said of skiers recovering from severe medical conditions also.
“I try to learn from all experiences, positive or negative, and I try to grow from them. Everything that I have previously done has pointed me in the direction that I’m heading. For me to go further, I need to trust all previous decisions and choices and build confidence from all those experiences. The mental game is a big part of skiing and not a game that I take lightly. I need to trust myself to make the right decisions because there’s no one to make them for me. If I am not mentally prepared for a season, competition, or whatever, I can make wrong decisions causing bad consequences.”
Going beyond your limits, achieving something new, something better, it’s so hard to describe. I don’t think it’s possible to describe it in any way that would be fair to the feeling itself.