Christian: Today, I’m joined by Mercedes Nicoll. Mercedes is a quadruple Olympian, representing Canada in snowboarding. Mercedes is also a TED-X speaker and a podcaster. Welcome, Mercedes.
Mercedes: Thank you for having me.
How she got into snowboarding
Christian: Mercedes, I always thought the Canadians were born with skates under their feet, so how did you get into snowboarding?
Mercedes: You’re not wrong. I did grow up figure skating. When I was 12 years old, I moved to Whistler when and started skiing, so I had always had skis on my feet as well. At some point, I wanted a new challenge.
Snowboarding came around in the nineties and that’s when I tried it and it was something different and I never went back to skates or skis after that.
What is snowboarding
Christian: For those people who are listening or watching that don’t know snowboarding, can you explain in a few words what it is?
Mercedes: It’s one plank under your feet with two bindings on it. What I did was I would go into a half-pipe, which is two twenty-two-foot walls made of snow on an eighteen-degree pitch. I go up those walls doing tricks and spins the whole way down and there’s a judging panel at the bottom, that’s judging me out of a hundred.
Christian: How many Olympic disciplines are there? It’s five different ones, right?
Mercedes: Yes, there’s snowboard half-pipe, there’s snowboard cross, there’s also slopestyle and alpine, which is racing through gates and they’ve added Big Air at the last Olympic Games. It seems like every Olympics they’re adding something new and I know at the next Olympics, there’ll be snowboard cross team event. That’s cool too.
Christian: How do we have to think about it? If you are good at one, can you also be good at the other one or is it completely different disciplines?
Mercedes: They’re pretty different, but when you’re younger, you grow up probably doing all of them. You then end up specializing, because it’s a lot of events to go to, to try and qualify for the games.
Some people have done it. I know Torah Bright did slopestyle half-pipe and border cross one year, but it consumed her life.
Christian: I believe that.
Her darkest moment
Christian: In your life, as an athlete, what was your darkest moment?
Mercedes: I had a crash in 2014 at the Sochi Olympic Games and I didn’t know at the time when I crashed that I had a concussion. I had fallen over two stories to my hip and my face and I got up and I competed.
I had fallen over two stories to my hip and my face and I got up and I competed.
After that, it was two years of darkness rollercoaster, because I had to learn how to walk and talk and really get my sporting life back to me. My darkest time is when the sport is taken away from me.
Why she still went for the 2018 Olympics after her severe accident
Christian: You have outlined that in the Ted Talk and also in your first podcast episodes as well. There are two questions. After that dark crash or after that crash, first, did you not think about throwing in the towel? Why did you go for the 2018 Olympics?
The second one is within two years, you got back to your old level. That’s also quite quick, isn’t it, considering that you couldn’t walk?
Mercedes: Why didn’t I throw in the towel? I had doctors and staff from Canada Snowboard telling me to retire. I was just on this course of getting the sport back in my life. I was going to try everything I could. There was no giving up.
I was going to try everything I could. There was no giving up.
It wasn’t a possibility because I loved sport and that’s in my life so much that I just told them they need to stay positive with me because I was going to get through it. It just wasn’t a question of stopping. And then to answer, what was the second question?
How she managed to get back to Olympic level performances within two years after her accident
Christian: The second question was the injury was so severe that you had to relearn to walk and all these things. Within two years, you got back to your old level or at least qualified for the Olympic Games.
Mercedes: Yes, I know. That’s crazy and I don’t fully recommend it, but it also had a little bit to do with how the sports system in Canada works and staying on the national team. I knew that I had this time frame to get back on snow.
I probably went a little too early, but then once I got into the half-pipe and tried my old tricks again, I was able to do them.
Muscle memory is super crazy and cool in that way. Next thing I knew I was just pushing on and going to my next World Cup and doing well again. It was not great, but from not being able to walk and talk, I worked really hard to get all my muscles back.
I landed the nine hundred, the trick that had taken me out four years ago.
Two years, it’s crazy. I probably would say that I didn’t feel a hundred percent until four years after. At the Olympics, when I landed the nine hundred, the trick that had taken me out four years ago, then I had this last weight lifted off of me and I felt like myself again.
How she felt when she attempted the same jump again, that took her out 4 years earlier
Christian: Were the doubts in your head when you had to attempt the same jump again?
Mercedes: Yes, that was like an emotional roller coaster. I tried in December before the Olympics and I was scared and I was like frustrated. All of these emotions were just up in here and coming out in tears because I didn’t try it.
I dropped in and then I didn’t do it. I didn’t initiate it and then I was mad at myself and I had friends coming up to me asking if I was okay. I just told them that I was trying to get through something at that moment. Yes, it was an emotional roller coaster for sure.
I was mad at myself and it was an emotional roller coaster for sure.
Christian: How did you recover from it?
Mercedes: After a year, I ended up asking for help. I realized that I couldn’t do it on my own. After a year though; I’m pretty stubborn. I thought I could do it by myself and it just wasn’t coming.
I wasn’t getting any better and I knew that I had to reach out and I saw probably fourteen different doctors and physios and counselors and also worked with my trainer personally. I hired him on the side to get me back.
When I started snowboarding again, I realized I had snowboarded my whole life and I’d never thought about the muscles that I used and that I had lost. It was just like starting from scratch.
How to set mini-goals to achieve the big goal
Christian: In your Ted Talk, you outlined how you set mini-goals in order to achieve the big goal. Can you explain how that works?
Mercedes: Yes. In the beginning, I would set walking upstairs, going to get a piece of toast, and trying to have a conversation. The next thing would be trying to watch a movie. That was really hard because when you’re concussed, it’s just exhausting.
Everything that you know that’s normal life is not normal anymore. Honestly, it took me three months to watch one movie. That’s how slow my whole body was at being able to do things.
Everything that you know that’s normal life is not normal anymore.
When I started walking a walk that would normally take me 10 minutes, it took me over an hour. So I would chip away at that mini goal in a sense. For example, I would say that I’m taking 20 seconds off the next time.
I was moving on like that. Once I achieved a certain goal, it would be getting another one. Maybe I could walk for half an hour.
Once I could walk that in 10 minutes, I said that it was now time to start working on quick feet or bouncing a ball and trying to react and get that. It’s like the tiniest things that you take for granted and then you just try and try and try and do better.
Check out Mercedes Ted-X Talk The Journey Back Up The Mountain
Her best moment
Christian: What was your best moment?
Mercedes: You never get asked that question. There are a couple of moments. I was thinking about this the other day that I did a trick and it felt good.
I may not have won a contest, but I got praised by my peers. They were saying that it was really good. I said thanks and told them that it felt good. I also told them that it looked good from what they were telling me. It was those wins where you do a trick and you’re ecstatic that you nailed it.
Christian: What did you learn from these good moments?
Mercedes: That you don’t have to have a gold medal; that the inner joy that I get from my sport, it’s just like overcoming your own personal challenges and that’s your gold medal moment, for sure.
You don’t have to have a gold medal to get the inner joy from your sport.
Christian: How do you take that into your life now as a retired athlete?
Mercedes: I’ve only been retired for two years and I still feel like I’m getting through it and figuring it out. I take all of those ups and downs and challenges and setting mini-goals, exactly into my life right now.
For instance, doing a podcast, I will have a checklist of things that I need to do. If I’m painting, I’ll tell myself that I have a deadline to do it, and then appreciate what I’ve done. I really feel accomplished sometimes when I do things.
Her advice to a younger Mercedes Nicoll
Christian: If you could travel back in time, 10, 15, 20 years, what advice would you give a younger Mercedes?
Mercedes: I would tell myself to work out and give myself an understanding of why. I was a little brat when I was younger and I didn’t understand. No one really told me why we had to work out. I think if I was going back in time, I would explain to myself, how it helps and how it can make you a better athlete.
I was a little brat when I was younger and I didn’t understand, how working out can make you a better athlete.
Christian: Workout refers to physical training.
Mercedes: Yes, because I was just a snowboarder. I was a punk and just didn’t understand why you needed to work out. I kept saying that I just wanted to snowboard.
Her success habits
Christian: What are the habits that make you a successful athlete and/or person?
Mercedes: The habit that I have is setting a goal, or an intention in my head and sticking to it. I don’t have to write down my goals, really. They’re in my head and I tell myself that I have to do it and that it’s in my head. You’re not going to forget about it. Yes, so sticking to the goal.
The habit that I have is setting a goal, and sticking to it.
Christian: You don’t get sidetracked with a goal only in your head?
Mercedes: Sometimes they’re just long-term goals, so you work towards it and yes, there will be things that put a bump in that road, but then you just figure out how to work around it.
Her morning routine
Christian: Do you have a morning routine?
Mercedes: No, not really. I wish I did, but I don’t. It’s different now in quarantine too and especially like being retired. Post-retirement, I would wake up and do a warm-up before going out on the hill.
I’ll probably still do similar things like that and I’m not a good morning person. I try and just have a smoothie and then get out the door.
How to prepare yourself for important moments
Christian: How do you prepare yourself for important moments?
Mercedes: Breathe. If I’m nervous or something like that, I would always breathe, breathing in one nose, out the other – just to calm myself down.
How to overcome setbacks
Christian: How do you overcome setbacks?
Mercedes: I just take the time to reflect on what’s happened and then take the time to understand what’s important and move on.
Her role model
Christian: Who’s your role model and why?
Mercedes: I look to everyone as role models. Sometimes it could be a little kid that’s having fun playing in the park. I don’t think I have just one role model. I take little bits from different people that I see.
The best advice she has received
Christian: What’s the best advice you received and who gave it to you?
Mercedes: The best advice was from my dad when I was starting snowboarding and in high school. I was going to go to university or college and he told me that school would always be there, but I wouldn’t be able to compete in snowboarding my whole life, so I should do that now.
My dad told me that school would always be there, but I wouldn’t be able to compete in snowboarding my whole life, so I should do that now.
Christian: That’s cool. Normally parents are the other way around, and focus on education, rather than sport.
A typical training day in the life of an Olympic snowboarder
Christian: Back in the days, how did a typical training day look like?
Mercedes: If we were on snow, we would get up for a contest and we’d have training. Get up, do a warm-up, go to the halfpipe. We would either hike it or lap it on a chair lift for two to four hours. Then we would come home and do a stretch and have food; lots of fuel.
Christian: One session a day?
Mercedes: It depends where you are. One time we were in Finland and we’d go out and have a morning session because it was dark the whole time. We come in, have lunch and then go out and at nighttime and have another training session.
I love that. That was like getting the most out of your day. But it’s far and few between when you have double sessions a day.
Her motivation to start her podcast ‘Dropping In’
Christian: You have recently started and launched your podcast, “Dropping In”, what was your motivation to start it?
Mercedes: I was approached by someone on the East Coast, the ‘Dean Blundell Network’, to start this podcast and they want to branch out to the West Coast. It was just an opportunity for something different and I really enjoy learning from people, so it’s a great space for me to be able to do that.
Christian: I listened to the number one episode. What can the listener expect when they listen to your episodes? I listened to number one.
Mercedes: Thank you. Yes, so number one is my story. You get to understand who I am, where I’ve come from, and the things that I’ve been through.
Check out Mercedes’ story in Episode 1 of Dropping In
The first ten episodes, I’m interviewing people that I think have really overcome a lot of their fears.
It may be injuries or something where I’m asking them about when they were one thing and now they’re something else and finding out how it happened. It is just learning from other people’s stories. Everyone has such great stories to tell that I hope to pull those out within under half an hour.
Christian: It will not only be athletes right?
Mercedes: No, it’ll be athletes or it can be anyone. I’ll have Terri Sloan on in the coming weeks and she’s a singer and broadcaster, so everyone.
Christian: Really cool.
Her interview nomination
Christian: Do you want to nominate someone to be interviewed?
Mercedes: Sometimes it’s hard to come up with people. I will probably do an Olympic series like that. I don’t know, we’ll see.
What’s going on in the life of Mercedes Nicoll at this moment in time
Christian: What’s going on in your life at this moment in time?
Mercedes: I have the podcast. I am not working right now because of COVID, so I just pulled out my paints. They’re all right beside me right now. I’ve been painting as well, so that’s been keeping me busy and I’ve really been enjoying and trying new things and having the time to do things.
Where can you find Mercedes Nicoll
Christian: Where can people find you?
Mercedes: Everywhere online, I’m at mercedesnicoll. I have MercedesNicoll.com. I’m on Instagram, I’m on Twitter, I’m on Facebook and the podcast is, “Dropping In: A Podcast with Mercedes Nicoll.”
Mercedes Nicoll’s social profiles
Dropping In podcast Youtube
Christian: Really cool. Mercedes, thanks for your time.
Mercedes: Thank you. I appreciate it.