The world of ski racing is as challenging as it is exhilarating. For Stef Fleck, it's been a journey of passion, determination, and resilience.
Sitting on the couch, with a cup of tea in hand, after a day of ski training in the Chilean mountains, Stef reflected on the past season.
"I was quite happy with last season," Stef shared, but the early days were marked by struggles, especially with her equipment. “I was testing what worked for me and what didn’t, so I didn’t ski as fast as I wanted to” but with the help of her team, Stef was able to get her equipment dialed, and throughout it all her love for the sport deepened with every challenge she overcame.
Her journey has taken her places like Sochi, Russia, for the 2016 World Junior Skiing Championships, an experience that was both intimidating and transformative; "It was the first time I had raced in Europe," she said, the memory still vivid in her mind. "It was such an eye-opening experience for me." This experience was a moment of realization for Stef that this sport is truly what she wanted to pursue; however, with every journey there are setbacks.
In 2018, Stef experienced a leg injury while skiing in Chile. When the Canadian National Team couldn’t support her recovery process, Stef decided to attend the University of Colorado Boulder and rehab while earning a degree. College was a significant chapter in Stef's life, offering both rewards and challenges. A huge reward for Stef came early in her college career during her Freshman year she was able to attend the NCAA Skiing Championships in Stowe, Vermont.
One of the biggest challenges she faced however, was attending her last year of school during the height of the COVID Pandemic where balancing “being a college student, constant COVID tests, and taking the next step in skiing by earning a NorAm title” proved difficult. But it was during these years that she learned the importance of self-reliance, a trait that would serve her well as she embarked on her journey as an independent athlete.
Being an independent athlete has brought its own set of challenges. From managing travel and training logistics on her own to ensuring she has the right mountain gear, every day has been a learning experience. "Skiing itself is so hard," Stef admitted "It's a really demanding sport physically and mentally." But the rewards, like the moment when she and former SYNC Athlete Tricia Mangan both made it to the top 30 at the Crans-Montana World Cup made it all worthwhile. "We both had our SYNC kits on," she recalled with pride, "and people were asking, 'where are you guys from?' because we weren’t in National Team fits. It was amazing to share that moment together as independent athletes."
To Stef, SYNC has been an instrumental part of her independent athlete journey. To her, it goes beyond the gear; it's a deep sense of connection. "There are several reasons, but I think the number one reason is that I feel really, really connected with SYNC," she shared candidly. "It's wonderful to be part of a community where I know they genuinely want the best for me. SYNC believes in me, and I'm eager to represent them in the best way possible. It's reassuring to know they're willing to invest in me. And let's not forget about the suits!" Stef added, "I often get curious inquiries about my suit when I'm out on the slopes." Unfortunately, for those who are curious, Stefs' suit is a unique, one-of-a-kind design.
Looking ahead, Stef's goals are clear; "My big goals are to be a consistent top 30 contender on the World Cup circuit," she said, with determination in her voice. "My biggest goal, however, is to make it to the World Cup finals," which are being held in Saalbach, Austria.
For young athletes looking for success in alpine racing, Stef shared some wise advice and her current motto. "Stay suspicious and be really curious, keep an open mind because you don’t know everything yet, and take advantage of your time on and off the snow.”
Photos By Iain Innes