Most Olympic athletes and hopefuls follow a predestined path to success in the world of elite sports—early introduction to sports, intensive training, worldwide competitions, and eventually, status as a decorated and celebrated athlete. For Erin Beck, a former ski prodigy, the path was less formulaic.
Beck grew up in Vail, Colorado, and started downhill skiing at 2 years old, racing by the age of 5, and soon was on the fast track to becoming a young sensation in the ski world.
But at the age of 13, while competing in the Aspen World Cup, Beck hit a knoll and crashed on site. She suffered severe injuries such as loss of a kidney and gallbladder in addition to intensive reconstructive surgery on her left shoulder. From the slopes to the ICU ward at the hospital, Beck had experienced a serious decline in her physical capabilities, which ultimately led to her withdrawal from the 1992 Olympic Games.
A combination of isolation, confusion, and sadness plagued Erin’s days of recovery and years that followed as she began to piece life back together without a foreseeable future in professional skiing. The daily tasks for your average teen like attending high school became insurmountable for Beck and her fragile emotional state.
"After my accident I entered a regular high school environment, which was again extremely difficult for me. I didn't know anyone in the high school, and I was extremely bullied during my time there," Beck shared with mbg on the phone. "I still feel the sense of abandonment from that accident."
She managed to return to skiing on a full-ride ski-racing scholarship at Montana State University but found that the sport didn’t bring her the same joy or fuel her ambitions anymore—in part because of emotional trauma tied to her experience.
"During this time I was extremely abused by my mother and had dealt with several bouts of anxiety, depression, and a feeling of being lost and trying to figure out what my life was supposed to be about if I wasn't able to ski race."
A new move to New York City and a PR career in health and wellness led Beck to the practice of yoga, per a recommendation from a fellow fitness friend. "When I entered yoga, I was at my lowest; I was in such a depressed state," she shared, noting that yoga’s built-in sense of community encouraged her to seek out the practice on a more regular basis. "I was trying all of these different workouts around the city—from boxing to cycling—but nothing was connecting in the mind-body-spirit way I craved." For Beck, yoga was the catalyst for the shift that would take place next in her life: acceptance and forgiveness, for herself and by herself.
"My mood changed drastically, almost instantly. My ability to handle stressful situations and resolve conflict and stand up for myself improved greatly."
Among the elements of yoga that resonated most with Beck, the mindfulness aspect became a fundamental tool that assisted with her new perspective on life. Committed to both the philosophy and practice of yoga, Beck immersed herself in the world of yoga, including a move to Miami, where she builds her days around a deep focus on strengthening her knowledge, skill of the discipline, and relationship with herself.
"I am still healing to this day, but I have come to terms with everything, and I really believe that my journey has made me so strong, and now I want to share my story in hopes that it can inspire and help others who may be experiencing mental health setbacks—to let them know that they are not alone and that there is hope."
Searching for more yogi inspiration? Read how this woman used yoga to fall in love with herself again.