What does it mean to be truly free? Pro-snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler shares her thoughts on freedom and choosing the life you were meant to live.
Recently I had the good fortune of joining a very special group of people on a trip to Iceland. It was an adventure beyond boundaries, rules and limits. Only the wildest of dreamers could have conjured up such a journey. We climbed aboard the sturdy and gorgeous vessel, Blue De Nimes, in Reykjavik and sailed 38 hours to the most northern regions of the country in order to ski and snowboard from the uncharted snowy white peaks of the Gold Coast mountain tops all the way down to the frigid and deep blue arctic sea. This was one of those once in a lifetime experiences that opened my eyes and reconnected me to the awesome power and splendor of our earth’s free and natural intelligence and in its presence I also awakened to my own power and awareness. The experience sparked my own reflection around what it is to be free and why it’s so important in this world.
I believe that freedom is unapologetically choosing to live the life of our dreams while allowing others to freely choose to live the life of their dreams.
Choice is the biggest component of this concept. If we really want something in this life, then it’s my belief that it’s our challenge to go for it regardless of whether it’s been done before or not. Regardless of our circumstances, and regardless of what others or society says is possible or impossible.
We are all infinite choice makers and our lives become the string of choices we make every single day that either support who we are and what we want in this lifetime or not. I believe that dreams, goals, visions, talents or gifts that burn deep within us are not accidental. We as a society are so quick to discount these aspirations and almost laugh them off to ourselves and to one another saying, “in our dreams!” Our dreams are the paths that lead us to blossoming into the people we are being challenged to become in this life! Whether we one day achieve that dream or not, we cannot fail, because the journey of trying is what opens us up to becoming more than we ever were before.
One of the problems we face is when we start to make our daily choices unconsciously. The more we do this the more we can become disconnected from who we really are and what we really want. This disconnection can happen because along the way we start making choices that are not necessarily our own. We make choices based on what our parents want, or our partner, or we choose based on what society says we should do or be. And so we dim our own intelligence for something someone else believed. This compounded over time leads to feeling like we don’t know who we are or what we want. We feel like we are just going through the motions of life, like we are on a hamster wheel with no inspiration. The way we get ourselves back is by listening again! As we tune back into our own natural intelligence we become reconnected to our own unique desires and aspirations. This awareness creates the courage we will need to begin to choose on purpose. The reason this path is for the courageous is because it is your own and no one else’s. There are no rules and there are no guidebooks here. Sometimes you may feel like no one else can see what you see. And what you are going for is also challenging and pushes you possibly further than you have ever been willing to go before. It is scary, it is hard work, but it’s also the most fulfilling work that you have ever done and it’s something you MUST do! You are trailblazing the life of your dreams. This is a forever practice of honoring and choosing yourself because you are your own guide. But in courageously choosing your own way, you also give others permission to do the same for themselves. This is what it looks like to truly LIVE. This is what it means to be free.
I wanted to be an Olympian since I was 4 years old. I didn’t know how I was going to become an Olympian — and honestly one of the most brilliant parts was that I really didn’t care — all I wanted was to reach that level of excellence in my life and because that desire was so strong it literally dictated my everyday actions and decisions. I grew up in a very active family with 3 brothers. We were always outside playing some sport, and I needed to summon all of me for extra focus and strength to just keep up. I played, swam, dove, hit, shot and ran as hard as I could, whenever I could, because I had a dream.
When my family moved from Dayton, OH to Aspen, CO when I was 10 years old my dream didn’t die, it just evolved. I traded in my swim cap and goggles for ice hockey skates and a helmet. And I also traded out my one-piece swimsuit and the diving board for a snowboard and a pair of really baggy pants. This is the beauty of being totally unattached from the “how” part of achieving your dream. Coincidentally at the same time, I was also starting to feel uninspired and also potentially under-talented to follow the very competitive, traditional, and well-dictated path of becoming an Olympic soccer player or swimmer. Which is why very soon after moving to Aspen, I fell in love with snowboarding. Snowboarding was unpredictable, it was fresh, and it was all about style and creativity. There were no rules because we were just making it up as we went along. It was about community and having fun. It was a movement and there was a bit of an edge to the movement too because snowboarding wasn’t allowed on all mountain resorts — I loved every single bit of it. And this is where the power of pivoting — the ability to alter your path while maintaining forward momentum — comes into play. I consciously choose to be a part of something that at the time was not even considered a sport, it was “just a fad” and the furthest thing from being a serious Olympic anything.
The next four years I rode my heart out and when I was 15 years old, I joined the Aspen Valley Snowboard Team and started competing. In 1998, snowboarding was inducted into the Winter Olympics and had its debut in Nagano, Japan. And that is where unapologetically choosing the life of my dreams came into my story. You see, I had always worked really hard in high school in order to get the best grades, in order to go to a great college, in order to get a great job, in order to get the house…..yada yada yada, you know where I’m going with this. And so when I graduated from high school in 1999, I decided to ditch that whole plan and fully commit and lock into living the life of my dreams – to be an Olympic pro snowboarder.
Now this wasn’t a simple decision for a number of reasons. First off, the town of Aspen is filled with TYPE A over-achievers and I say this lovingly because it takes one to know one — these are my people! But it was really hard to make this choice when all of my best friends were going off to some of the best colleges around the country and I was not only choosing to step off of that regular trajectory, but I was choosing to step off in order to try to become a pro snowboarder! Even though snowboarding was now an Olympic sport, it was still virtually unknown AND it still was not allowed on the main mountain resort where I lived. There was most definitely a negative connotation around my choices. Basically it looked to most, and sometimes even to myself, like I was throwing away my future.
This was the point where I really had to summon the courage to choose the life of my dreams, even in the uncertainty of not knowing where any of it was going to take me. The one thing that was glaringly certain, though, is that if I didn’t try with every ounce of my fiber to make this dream a reality, then I knew I would regret it for the rest of my life. The idea of living with “what if” was far heavier then going for it. And so I chose to swan dive right off that cliff. Seven years later I won a silver medal at the 2006 Winter Olympics on my snowboard.
Now I’m not here to tell you that if you go after your dreams with unabashed commitment that you are going to get what you want, because that’s just not the way this life works. But I am here to tell you that you will — in the process — always get what you need and the unfolding of that, from my experience, is far greater then any plan you could have orchestrated for yourself.
Imagine if everyone on this earth actually made conscious choices, everyday, toward living the life of their dreams? And imagine a world where we supported and encouraged everyone else to live their own dreams and potential without interjecting our own labels, judgments, agendas, or limitations on them? And then what if we gave the earth the space for her to fulfill her own highest potential without interjecting our collective agenda and limitations upon her and we lived in harmony with her natural order? To me it would look and feel just like my time in Iceland. It would be wild, uncharted, thrilling, abundant, and beautiful. It would be free.
Gretchen Bleiler has been a pro snowboarder for the past 15 years. She is a four-time X Games gold medalist, a two-time Olympian, and an Olympic silver medalist. She is an Earth advocate and a human potential advocate. She sits on the board for Protect Our Winters (POW) and Aspen Center for Environment Studies (ACES). She and her husband, Chris Hotell, are the co founders of ALEX bottle. ALEX is a stainless steel reusable bottle that opens in the middle for easy cleaning and is their solution to a problem they saw in the sustainable marketplace. Gretchen uses her voice and platform to teach, write and speak about the importance of choosing to live the life of your dreams.