Two lessons from a former world record holder
After we published our story on the Equinox 24-hour Ultra Ski in Leadville, I received a few requests to interview Teemu Virtanen, who once held the world record for the longest distance skied in 24 hours. Considering our shared love of the double pole endurance aspect of Nordic skiing and shared vocations — both of us do TV broadcasts for professional cross-country skiing and write about the topic as well — he fit the bill as the perfect Seder-Skier Podcast guest.
I often glean interesting life advice from my interviewees, and Teemu was no exception. However, the takeaway messages weren’t what I would have predicted going in. Here’s two — and they aren’t just for skiers.
The only person who gets to decide you’re done is you
Teemu had the prototypical Scandinavian upbringing: born-and-raised-in-skis.
“The 24-hour, that’s something I kind of dreamt about when I was younger. There was this Finnish skier who actually had the record way back then and I remember seeing him here way back in the 80s,” he recalled. Virtanen watched his idol attempt a record as a young boy.
“I would like to try that,” he said. “But it was just an idea back then.”
He tended to excel at longer stuff, but in 1990, he decided to take his chances in the NCAA system instead of going all-in on the World Loppet circuit. He never jived with the never-ending weekend race calendar and point chasing required of him in the American collegiate series, and after one season, left the team at the University of Nevada in Reno. Always an ‘all-in’ guy, he focused on his media career and eventually ended up in Hollywood, where he hosted a show interviewing the whose-who of show business.
Eventually, dropping skiing cold turkey caught up, and he found himself overweight and out of shape.
“I took a 10-year break (from all exercise),” he admitted. He had an epiphany in Rio de Janeiro when he failed to walk up the steps to reach the Christ the Redeemer statue.
“I realized that I needed to do something,” he said. “Knowing I had a long career in skiing, and I felt kind of bad, I decided to do something about it. I didn’t really think I’d get back into racing, I was just thinking about my future.”
Slowly starting to skiing, he soon caught the itch to race again. He moved back to Finland in 2008 after 18 years in the states and started producing his own weekly sports-themed weekly show. In 2009, he attempted his first 24-hour world record. In 2010 he set the Guinness world record with 433 kilometers. This April, he missed the new record (472 kilometers) but bested his own personal mark by 10 kilometers.
We’ve heard stories of individuals taking control of their health, shedding pounds, setting goals and going the distance. Teemu’s testimony is next level, and it gives me a few different shades of hope.
First of all, talent doesn’t go away, and if you want to set your mind to a long-desired goal, it’s never too late. Clearly.
Secondly, life is a long road with many twists and turns, and sometimes the opportunity — or challenge — waiting around the corner is a deja vu item you thought you passed 60 miles ago. You never really know what experiences will reap dividends later on nor is it possible to say you’re actually ever done with something. No decision has to be permanent.
Work-life balance means doing both things really well
Teemu tried solely focusing on skiing and it didn’t work out. Then he turned all his energy towards broadcast journalism. Same result.
His best life has been lived balancing 900 annual training hours with show producing, article writing and play-by-play commentating. The point: in an era where self-care and specialization preach a simplification of our pursuits, it’s ok to embrace the tension of the other side and be comfortable taking on a little more than you think you can handle.
You might surprise yourself.
I’ll end this the way I close each episode: “Keep on striving. Keep on skiing.”
You can listen to the full 90-minute interview by searching for the Seder-Skier Podcast on the iHeart app, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Feel free to email me your own takeaways and ideas at email@example.com.