Q&A with OST’s Aaron Puskas
By AOA Communication Manager, Kristin Ellis – September 18th, 2019.
This interview is part of a series of Q&As with each member of the Ontario Ski Team. This week we are profiling Aaron Puskas who is from Thunder Bay and the Lake Superior Division – Alpine (LSDA). He is entering his 2nd year on the OST and his 3rd year of FIS and will be skiing full time while applying to Universities for next fall.
Q: How was your summer, did you juggle a job with dryland and ski camps?
A: Yes, I worked all summer as a contractor and landscaper and I played football and did my off-season dryland program.
Q: Where do you do your dryland training?
A: Well we live 30minutes outside of Thunder Bay, so we have a home gym. I manage all the CSIO (Canadian Sport Institute of Ontario) programming myself adapting it to fit in with my football workouts.
Q: So you don’t have a personal trainer?
A: No, I guess you’d say I’m my own personal trainer. We do check in with the CSIO four times over the off-season so they keep an eye on our progress.
Q: What kind of football are we talking about, what level?
A: I’ve been on the high school team for 4 years along with the Ontario Football Team for the 2016-17 season. I’ve also been invited to try out for Team Canada. Football is very competitive up here – Thunder Bay would be ranked 35th in Canada for its football program and we’ve won the OFFSSA bowl for 3 years in a row now. Anyone who knows football knows this is a pretty big deal coming from a small town.
Q: Is this similar to how Sam (Duff) juggles whitewater kayaking with skiing, you are juggling football and skiing at a high level?
A: Yes exactly. Football is the perfect compliment to ski racing as I’ve always been able to do both. When skiing ends, football starts and when football ends skiing starts. The sports also complement each other as I get power and explosiveness from football and that translates well over to skiing.
Q: But this year it seems like you’ve had to make a choice and that’s skiing.
A: Yes and no…football is still there. I guess I’m not technically on a football team right now, but I’ve had some Canadian University offers to play in the future. I feel that I can come back to football and I’m still training right now.
Q: Football runs deep in your family as I recall…your brothers both play for Queen’s?
A: Yes, my oldest brother is in his 5th season with Queen’s and my middle brother his 3rd.
Q: You boys love Queen’s!
A: Yes we do. I really love Kingston, it’s a town that I feel super comfortable in. It would be a great place to study, I think.
Q: Will you apply there for next September? Does this mean no more skiing?
A: It is too early to say, I am in the midst of applying for 2020 entrance. I’m applying to quite a few Canadian schools and some ivy league schools as well. Eventually, I’d like to consider law. I’m about to start an apprenticeship with a lawyer this fall here at home.
Q: So you are not a math & sciences guy like the rest of your family? (Aaron’s parents are both doctors and his two brothers are in science-focused programs)
A: No, no I’m the opposite of my entire family. They excel in math and sciences and my best subjects are in English, law, literature and philosophy.
SIDE NOTE: At this point, I should add Aaron is extremely articulate and well-spoken. I’m starting to wonder if, in fact, I’m talking to an 18-year-old.….
Q: So let’s assume you don’t go to Queen’s. Is skiing at a high level still a goal of yours? Skiing for Canada I mean?
A: Yes, it’s still there. It’s a long-term goal of course but yes, I’d love to represent my country.
Q: Were you happy with your season last year?
A: Yes and no. I’ve been battling the mental side of this sport for two years now. Until March of this past year, I haven’t been happy with my results. I went from the top of the pack in U16, to never finishing a race in 1st-year FIS. (Aaron represented Team Canada on the Italy project in his final year of U16). Then in my 2nd year of FIS (this past season), I still wasn’t finishing. In March I started to turn this around but let me assure you I 100% would not be here if it were not for my coach Cam McKenzie. With his support, I was able to hit the podium at Nationals in GS and more importantly – I was happy with how my season ended mentally; it was a really good March for all of us!
Q: That’s true as you, Sam and Britton all did well late in March. I guess the team started feeding off each other a bit?
A: Yes absolutely. We all progressed. You can’t complain about that.
Q: So is it fair to say your weakness is mainly the mental side of this sport?
A: Yes absolutely. Fear of failure, not pushing yourself hard enough, confidence. You watch peers around you succeed and then you get impatient. Cam helped me a ton. The team psychologist Dana Sinclair also helped me a lot. I learnt a lot under my coaches arm, he’s so insightful and wise and very patient.
Q: What about your strengths? I would take a guess and say you are extremely good at self-management.
A: Yes, I guess so. Living in Thunder Bay means I need to manage the sport and training myself. I also lived alone out west for my 1st year FIS so I guess I was thrown into the sport on my own.
Q: Oh right, I forgot about that. (Aaron skied 1st year of FIS with the Nakiska Ski Club) Was moving to Alberta alone a good thing, or bad?
A: Well for me it was good. It made me uncomfortable. I was down and out, and I had to drop everything in my life …my home, my family, my school. I came back with a true appreciation of what I have here. I’ll also add that patience and fortitude are new strengths. These took me a while to learn, however.
Q: Is early success a good thing or bad?
A: For some people, early success can be a very positive or negative factor in shaping your career as a FIS athlete. There is a large stigma surrounding points and national ranking in this sport and as a result of this, athletes who have had early success might lose focus on their self-development. Of course, every accomplishment is well deserved and earned – but the way one reacts varies drastically, of course.
Once you enter FIS it is very unpredictable. You can enter 1st-year FIS thinking “ok this is my time to score” but it is a whole new playground. It is incredibly hard to say what will happen…some random skier you’ve never heard of can pull ahead and then so many others go down.
Q: Words of advice to the younger skiers?
A: I can’t say for the girls but at least for the guys entering 1st-year FIS – forget everything you’ve ever done. Start fresh. Watch and learn. Be open-minded. Very little of how you did in U14 or U16 matters.
Q: Last question…what do you love about ski racing?
A: I love the opportunities the sport has given me. I appreciate what I have. My dad always tells me when I get to the top of the course no matter how I’m feeling I should look around and take it all in. It’s great advice and I try to follow it. Perspective is the main factor in controlling emotion, especially in this sport. So regardless of where you’re sitting in your career and goals at the end of the day, you have the chance to chase your dreams and do something you love.
I also love seeing my hard work and focus come to fruition while rippin’ it up on the snow. Who doesn’t love that?
To read the other OST interviews or to learn more about this team please visit alpineontario.ca/ontario-ski-team