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A Female-Forward Future For U.S. Ski & Snowboard Athletes

By Elise Saarela
November, 20 2019
Sadie Bjornsen
Sadie Bjornsen competes at the 2019 Nordic World Championships in Seefeld, Austria (U.S. Ski & Snowboard - Reese Brown)

U.S. Ski & Snowboard’s Athletic Development staff works hard to improve the ways athletes train. One of their most recent initiatives, which centers specifically around female athletes, takes a unique approach towards improving athletic training and progression. 

The educational system from Orecco and the FitrWomen app will be used by U.S. Ski & Snowboard to help female athletes track their hormone levels and menstrual cycles. Female athletes will gain more knowledge about their personal physiology, know how to better fuel their bodies, and make better-informed decisions on their training schedules and intensity levels. With research-based advice, the educational programs and app will educate athletes on how to best prepare and rest their bodies for performance by advising them on how much sleep to get, when to schedule intense training sessions, what to eat, and more. 

U.S. Ski & Snowboard’s Athletic Development Manager, Tschana Schiller, primarily works with the cross-country and snowboard-cross teams and initiated the early stages of building knowledge around female athletes. For the past couple of months, Tschana has worked with physiologist Dr. Georgie Bruinvels - one of the leading experts involved with Orecco and creator of FitrWomen App - to help develop educational plans for female ski and snowboard athletes. 

“For right now, knowledge is power and I think that’s the first step,” said Tschana. Her ultimate goal is to educate female athletes so that they are able to do their sport in the best possible physical and mental state. “It has been proven that there are times when women will be able to optimize their performance based on fluctuating hormone levels,” she continued. “If we aren't paying attention to that, we are missing a huge chunk that could really help athletes understand how they recover or optimize their training better.”   

U.S. Ski & Snowboard plans to start with educational sessions, not only for female athletes but for the entire athletic development and medical teams. These educational sessions will teach staff how hormones can affect performance and how different stages of the menstrual cycle can impact a variety of other body functions, such as heart rate or respiratory rate. The benefit of these educational sessions is mainly directed towards athletes, but there are positive impacts on U.S. Ski & Snowboard staff as well. 

“We have mainly male coaches and athletic development staff,” says Tschana. “They work directly with these female athletes and yet don't experience the things a female experiences.” 

With this new opportunity, staff and athletes can develop even stronger relationships and understanding, which could translate to even stronger results. Another beneficial aspect of the initiative is the flexibility of participation amongst athletes. There will be some initial educational sessions for everyone, as well as questionnaires for the athletes about their cycle, but from that point on all involvement in the programs or projects is voluntary. “It is totally up to them if they are interested in learning more,” says Tschana. “If there are further questions they have or the coaches have, they can ask and if it’s just education, then that’s great as well and is still beneficial.”  

Two-time Olympian and five-time World Championship cross country team member Sadie Bjornsen, is excited to partake in this new initiative. “I have never tracked my period or hormones and have never really thought about doing it,” she says. “I believe in understanding what is going on in your body and finding coping mechanisms will help me as an athlete. I find the app as something that will further empower me and help me further utilize my body.” 

The Athletics Department is thrilled to start this female-oriented initiative. “There is certainly a female movement going on in the world right now and so for me, it’s empowering our athletes to understand, learn more, and take advantage of their unique physiology so they can use it to help them in any way,” says Tschana. “It’s a cool opportunity because it's not only teaching them how to be better athletes, but how to be healthier people in general.”  

With a strong team, eager athletes, and a high-performance legacy to uphold, this initiative is likely to be another helpful step towards having the best and healthiest athletes in the world.