Meet Estonian speed skater Saskia Alusalu. Saskia represented her country as flag bearer and first ever female speed skater for Estonia in the 2018 Winter Olympics. She shares her Olympic experience and talks values, living, and being true.
Sam: Hi Saskia, it is great to speak with you! Would you please share a little about your background and growing up?
Saskia Alusalu: Hi Sam, Thank you! I'm a girl from the countryside who grew up working and playing outdoors. I wasn't raised to be an athlete, and although I did enjoy physical activity, I never trained seriously for any particular sport as an adolescent. In all actuality, I knew nothing about the sport of speed skating back then. It wasn't until around 2005 when, by complete chance, I got my first glimpse of a speed skater gliding effortlessly across a frozen sheet of ice not far from my home. Fast forward to 2011, I was 17 years old when an opportunity arose to go live in Germany for better training, but it meant I would have to move away from my family and somehow figure out how to still attend high school in Estonia. I was determined to make it work. I traveled back and forth between Germany and Estonia, spending nearly all of my time off the ice doing homework. It was almost impossible to stay focused being surrounded by athletes who weren't going to school at all. They were spending their free time between training sessions relaxing or going out and having fun, which was a bit distracting to say the least, but I managed to keep my eye on the prize, finishing high school while simultaneously taking the first real steps towards building my career as a long track speed skater.
Sam: You were the first ever female speed skater to compete in the Olympics for Estonia. Could you share your drive toward chasing an Olympic Medal for Estonia?
Saskia Alusalu: Coming from a country deprived of rich speed skating history means there is no sufficient infrastructure in place for me to take advantage of. I've had no choice but to plan entire quads, live, travel, and acquire the funds to do so largely on my own. It has not been easy and I've fallen short more times than I can count, but my most valuable strength is the ability to handle pain and failure without losing motivation, because what I've learned from each and every experience has taken me one step closer to achieving my goals. Every up comes with an inevitable down that has forced me to answer the question, "How bad do you really want this?"
Sam: After receiving international attention as Estonia’s flag bearer during the 2018 Winter Olympics. Did you have to do anything to block out the attention and focus on training?
Saskia Alusalu: I was very honored to carry my country’s flag, but I never anticipated the amount of attention that would transpire. Instead, I was far more focused on my training and just doing my thing in Pyeongchang. Similarly, since I had never been seeking attention for my sport, it wasn't difficult to say no (to media requests) or deal with the spotlight… I've always felt it’s about quality over quantity and respect over attention.
Sam: I know you are a very passionate and inspirational individual. What would you like to share with individuals chasing their dreams?
Saskia Alusalu: For athletes the main thing is to work hard for their goals, but everyone knows that. What I’d most like to share is how we got so far from being who we truly are and how much we pretend. Like in the movie Braveheart, William Wallace says, “Every man dies, not every man truly lives.”
In today’s world, with so many stimulating factors constantly around, it’s easy to become lost inside. For example, I’m sure many have felt pressured by society to pretend to be a certain way to ‘’make it.” As a result, people may stray so far from their inner self that they lose their values. For example, look at Lady Gaga. She felt the need to do something very particular to fit into a ‘box” to make it in the pop culture profession. Then when Lady Gaga made it, she went back more to being herself.
Social media is another example where there are many people who attempt to fool others by showing how great their lives supposedly are, through pretending or selling/exposing themselves in a cheap way. When in reality, the vast majority are actually lying to themselves, because you can’t run away from yourself, no matter how hard you try (even with the best filters and edits!). Regrettably, they are essentially forgetting to live and enjoy the experience, because of the false importance to try and capture themselves in the best angle or place. But who are they lying to? How many followers is enough to make someone happy for the rest of their life? For the rest of your life?
Too often, we as people want to buy happiness from the supermarket with a 50% discount. We want to instantly get all the answers to our questions in a Google Search. However, we forget that the answers are inside of us, if only we take the time to listen. For instance, why buy expensive sleep tracking machines? Everyone knows whether they slept good or bad from the previous night. Furthermore, it’s vital to recognize our bodies are not making us sick to work against us – it’s giving us signals when we are doing something wrong and a change in our life may be needed.
Sam: That is a terrific perspective on life and the importance of being true. I love that message. Do you believe people will begin to turn from the “influencer trend” and become more authentic?
Saskia Alusalu: The further we get from being our true self, the harder it will become for our souls to be at peace. If we fall into the thinking that by pretending or that if we reach one more thing, then that will finally bring happiness. However, there will always be another castle. There is no medal, status, amount of money, or followers that will be able to put the soul at peace. Therefore, I think we are at the end of the influencer product life cycle. The purity of dedication and authenticity is the next trend, and through “Authenticators”, instead of “Influencers”. As rightly mentioned, in Velveteen Rabbit, the horse declares, “once you are real you can’t be ugly, except to those who don’t understand.” So, why waste our lives living someone else’s dream? As a result, my slogan is “Stop Pretending, and Start Living.”
Sam: It has been a pleasure, and insightful to speak with you. Where can people follow your Olympic career, philosophy, and life?
Saskia Alusalu: Thank you so much! I’ve just released my site’s store, and have products that feature my philosophies and message of being true! My Instagram is @Saskiaalusalu and my website is www.saskiaalusalu.ee.
Disclaimer: All Photos Provided Courtesy of Saskia Alusalu. Potential minor edits for transcript's length, flow, grammatical/formatting.
NEXT: If you enjoyed this, please read our interview with US Olympic Gymnast and Silver Medalist Samantha Peszek