The great outdoors has always been the foundation of Gretchen Bleiler’s zest for life. Blessed with the natural ability to snowboard, Gretchen was able to fulfill her life-long dream of becoming an Olympian, earning the half pipe silver medal in 2006. Having conquered this goal, Gretchen responded to her calling, becoming a champion for the environment. From Aspen Mountain to Capitol Hill, Gretchen strives to live life to her fullest potential. In this interview, Gretchen shares her inspirations and passions.
Conscious Connection: It’s great to be with you, Gretchen. Tell us what inspired you to pursue Olympic snowboarding?
Gretchen Bleiler: I feel like I was born with the desire to become an Olympian. In my mind, being an Olympian was being at the top. It was excellence. I didn’t know how I was going to get to the Olympics, and I didn’t really care. I immersed myself in sports. I played soccer, tennis, and golf, and I was on swimming and diving teams. On school breaks in the winter I skied at my grandmother’s house in Aspen.
When I was about 10, we moved to Aspen. Aspen’s really special in that the schools consider experiencing nature to be part of our education, so every Wednesday in winter we got to spend half a day on the mountain. One of those Wednesdays I took a snowboard lesson. The instructor said I was a natural, and that motivated me. When I found out that snowboarding was being added to the Olympics in 1998, I committed to becoming a pro snowboarder.
Conscious Connection: Tell us about that crucial moment right before an Olympic run. What’s going through your head?
Gretchen Bleiler: When I watched the Olympics as a little girl, I saw all of these athletes who had worked so hard to get to that moment right before they dropped in or began their routine, and watching that moment always inspired me. It always fascinated me how people are in that moment – if they’re relaxed, if they’re tense, if they’re happy, if they’re stressed. For me, that moment was just filled with infinite potential.
Conscious Connection: There is an element of discipline in snowboarding, but it is also a sport that requires free-spiritedness. How has the combination of these seemingly different mindsets contributed to your success?
Gretchen Bleiler: I was always a disciplined, type A person. I like to set goals and work toward them. Snowboarding made me become more creative and let things flow. It’s so important to have a mix of both of those energies. For me, combining the creativity of snowboarding with the discipline of competition is a match made in heaven. The key is finding the balance.
Conscious Connection: Tell us a bit more about your process for goal setting. That’s something a lot of our readers ask about.
Gretchen Bleiler: I was very lucky that my desire to be an Olympian was so strong from such a young age. Throughout my career, people always asked me how I stayed motivated to go to the gym on days I really didn’t feel like it. But for me it was simple – it really didn’t matter because I had something that was so much bigger.
So I started with that big picture. It was not just my motivation; it was my inspiration, my heart’s strong desire. That desire guided my everyday actions and decisions and was the basis on which I structured my smaller goals.
Some people don’t know, they don’t have that burning desire to do something. Figure it out. What are you curious about? What are you interested in? Explore those things and it will lead you to that passion. Once you’re following that deep burning desire, everything else will fall into place.
Conscious Connection: I like that. That’s part of why Conscious Connection was started, to inspire people to figure out their core desires.
Gretchen Bleiler: Yes. I feel like we have this problem in society that we’ve become human doings, not human beings. We spend so much of our time just doing, doing, doing, and we get stuck on paths that are not serving us. When that happens we need to slow down, reconnect with ourselves, and get back on track with what really matters to us.
Conscious Connection: This is a perfect transition to my next question. When and why did you start meditation, and how has it changed your life?
Gretchen Bleiler: I had gotten to a point in my life where I was doing all of the things I always had dreamed of doing and beyond. But I had such an up in the air lifestyle – I was traveling around the world and spending all this time thinking about photo shoots and competitions and results and accomplishments and training my mind and training my body – I felt drained and overwhelmed. I felt like life was just taking me for a ride. It was a feeling of disconnection, and it was alarming. I knew something was missing.
That’s when I began to incorporate meditation into my life. I learned about the foundational techniques of the Chopra Center in Carlsbad, California – primordial sound meditation, Ayurveda, and the seven spiritual laws of yoga. At first I meditated off and on, and I noticed some benefit. But once I began to meditate consistently, that’s when everything changed.
I realized that the missing component was a connection with myself. I felt like, “Ah, there I am again.” It wasn’t like I stopped doing things, I never lessened my schedule, yet I became more focused, happy, and creative because I felt whole and connected. I began to love everything I was doing again, and there’s nothing better than that.
I’ve been a type A achiever, essentially living from the outside in, and that’s one way to do it. But I’ve learned that life is better when you fill yourself up and live from the inside out.
Conscious Connection: Could you give us a few tips that we could share with our readers about developing a successful meditation practice?
Gretchen Bleiler: I think people have the perception that meditation is sitting down and having zero thought. But meditation isn’t about necessarily quieting your thoughts, it’s about quieting the attention that you give to your thoughts.
In primordial sound meditation, meditation is the dance between your thoughts and your mantra. Whenever your meditation is disrupted by a thought, you commit to going back to the mantra. That‘s it. It’s simple.
When you meditate regularly, the results come out in your everyday life. Others around you may start to notice the changes in you first, but then you will begin to notice them. You will find that you are moving through life with more focus, more creativity, more compassion, and more happiness.
Conscious Connection: Awesome. Let’s shift gears and talk about your work with Protect Our Winters (POW). How’d you get started with POW, and what are you doing with those guys?
Gretchen Bleiler: After I became an Olympian, I was at a luncheon where the speaker said, “You’re all Olympians now. Congratulations, you’ll always be an Olympian. But this is not the end, this is just beginning. What are you going to do with that now?” And that was very powerful to me.
I decided I wanted to use this platform to talk about the environment. I chose to work with Protect Our Winters because POW brings the entire winter sports community together.
With POW, I hosted a video called “Hot Planet, Cool Athletes,” in which pro athletes inspire viewers to do their part by telling what they’re doing to help. I’ve helped rally college kids to vote, and I’ve been to Capitol Hill a number of times to discuss climate change.
After POW helped the White House with a social media campaign called #actonclimate, we were invited to meet with the President’s environmental group, and we also had a twitter town hall chat with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. During that chat, we invited Gina to come out to the X-Games, and she actually took us up on it.
It was amazing to spend the day with Gina. I toured her around the games, and she held a round table discussion for local businesses and spoke at a local school about climate change. She is very common sense, very straight forward, very from the heart, and also very optimistic – which I loved.
Conscious Connection: Another thing you’ve done to help the environment is creating the Alex bottle. Tell me about it. It’s brilliant.
Gretchen Bleiler: My husband and I always have the environment on our minds, so we owned tons of reusable water bottles. One day he became really frustrated trying to wash them, so he literally took a hacksaw to a bottle and came up with this concept of a reusable bottle that opened in the middle. That idea resulted in many other benefits. Splitting the bottle reduces storage space, allows the bottle to be used as two cups or bowls, and enables the bottle to be used as a dry case. The name of the bottle, ALEX, means Always Live EXtraordinarily, and that’s a message we want to convey.
Conscious Connection: Fantastic. In closing, Gretchen, what’s your single best piece of advice for readers who want to have a positive impact on the world while doing what they love?
Gretchen Bleiler: I think every single one of us has unique skills and a unique purpose. When we figure out what we love and do it, in that process we serve a larger purpose. And no matter what it is, if you’re doing what you love, then you have a meaningful and successful life.
Many of us feel that one person can’t make a change, but if every single one of us became engaged, there would be a huge collective shift. So get in touch with that part of you that lights up, and get engaged. That’s the foundation.