There was a certain point in Mike Janyk’s glittering ski-racing career, captured in his new memoir, Go to the Start, when the three-time Olympian questioned what it was all for, or, more precisely, who.
In his late 20s at the time, the third-generation ski racer was asked a rather simple question by his sports psychologist: What is your motivation as an athlete?
“Before, when someone asked me that, it was like an affront. Why would you ask me that? I’m here to win. Every time you get asked that question as an athlete, it’s almost like, are you imitating what you want the coaches to hear? Or is that really what you’re saying?” Janyk, now 41, recalls. “So, when I was asked that, I was at a place where I was going through this shift, and I went to go answer right away—and nothing came out.”
For the unfamiliar, Janyk’s list of accomplishments in the skiing world is long. The Whistlerite hails from Canada’s “first family of skiing,” with a mom, the late Whistler councillor and youth sports coach Andrée Janyk, who was an accomplished national-level skier in her own right, while older sister, Britt, also made her mark on the World Cup circuit, and joined her brother on the Canadian national team at Whistler’s 2010 Olympics.
Those who know Janyk personally will attest to his innate sensitivity and depth, qualities not always associated with elite athletes at the highest levels. Even before Janyk knew his early scribblings would turn into a book, it was clear this was someone who was seeking—for meaning, for purpose, for a life after sport.
In an environment where he was not only beholden to an army of coaches and sponsors, but an entire community of supporters, Janyk noticed a shift within him, as he describes it, from “an external proving to an internal knowing.”
“I decided I was going to use sport to discover who I am, rather than prove who I am,” he says. “My results back then were up and down, and my identity was super attached to my results. It was a chance to discover something about myself. Every loss, every win, that was my process for discovering who I am as an athlete, which led to the bigger picture of who I am. Who do I want to be in this world?”
In the intervening years, Janyk has certainly stepped into who he is in the world. He became a father. He toured the motivational speaker circuit. He founded, alongside friend and fellow Olympic skier Manny Osborne-Paradis, the Mike & Manny Foundation, which supports youth skiers. He served close to two years as executive director of the Whistler Mountain Ski Club.
Through it all, he has shared his own experiences in the sport openly and honestly, particularly around his struggles with mental health, an important theme in the book. He shared the story of a fellow national team racer who faked a back injury to get out of an international race because he didn’t feel comfortable sharing his mental-health issues with coaches.
“Because that was OK to say, ‘Oh, my back’s hurt.’ Totally normal. And so he got to go home. But what was really going on: He was so depressed, he didn’t want to be there,” says Janyk.
Heartened by the new generation of ski racers talking openly about their mental health, Janyk was asked if it’s possible for the top athletes in ski racing to prioritize their well-being and still achieve the results they need to progress in the sport.
“This is something that, ever since I retired, has been the question that I’ve been working with, when I was working with kids. And there’s wonderful people now who are doing the work, like psychologists who are giving us studies that show that these two goals are congruent. And I wouldn’t have gotten back into sport development if I didn’t believe it was not only possible, but I feel like that’s the only way to progress sport,” he says.
Janyk will be at the Whistler Public Library on Tuesday, Nov. 21 for a conversation with program coordinator Jeanette Bruce, followed by a reading from his book and a Q&A. The free event starts at 7 p.m., and registration is required by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Copies of Go to the Start will also be available for purchase, courtesy of Armchair Books. Learn more about the memoir at books.friesenpress.com.