Latvian athlete Ulla Zirne opens up about her professional life, it’s challenges and perks, and lets us in on some of her beliefs, goals and passions.
It is safe to say that luge is not generally the most commonly referred-to sport, however, it does hold a large place in the world of Olympics. It is deemed to be one of the most dangerous – and fastest – sports in the world, and for a good reason. Athletes competing on luge ice tracks can reach up to 140 km/h while trying to navigate the track itself with very little visibility.
To put it into some perspective, chances are, most of us have not even been subjected to a speed like this when driving a car. Not to mention that this sport is one out of two (short track being the other), which is timed to the thousand of a second. Speed is everything. Seemingly effortless, luge requires a lot of time, work, and a particular skill set, thus even though the Winter Games are yet to be held in 2022, the training has already begun.
We had a chat with Ulla Zirne, a two-time Olympic luge athlete, designer, and traveler of the world on how she manages all of this and more, the ins and outs of her daily routine, her mindset and the wisdom on what keeps her going.
When did you start your career in luge? What inspired you to do so? My mom was working at the Luge track in Sigulda, Latvia. When I was eight years old, I wanted to go to some kind of summer camp so my mom asked if I could join the young luge athlete camp. I didn’t realize it’s gonna be a training camp and I really hated it. After the camp, the coach at the time asked if I’d like to continue to trai there and I couldn’t say no, so I started to go to the training regularly. At the end of the winter, I wanted to try sliding down the track, so I asked my mom if I could try and she said yes, so here I am 17 years later.
But I think there is a challenge that everyone faces, whatever their path is, which is to not lose yourself.
How does your day-to-day generally look like? It really depends on the season! It is constantly changing, but one thing is for sure, I’m busy. But busy in a good way, I like being busy doing things I love. So that is my goal, whatever I am doing, at the end of the day I must feel satisfied with my work. It has to bring me joy, it has to make me grow as a person, as a human being, or as an athlete.
But to be more specific, there are some “ground rules” that don’t change that often. I love waking up early. Mornings are my favorite part of the day and it’s also the part when I do all the most important stuff. I love waking up at least 2-3 hours before I have to do something or be somewhere. I spend that time for myself, so I feel better and can be prepared for the day. I stretch, I do breathing exercises, take a cold shower or swim, I write things down, I organize stuff around me, read, have a healthy, nutritious breakfast. Then I am ready for a busy day!
After that it’s usually on with training. Sometimes I have one training, sometimes two or three. If it is a full day of training, I plan everything around it; my meals, my rest time – everything, avoiding any unnecessary activities those days. If there is only one training I spend the rest of the time doing some creative projects, work on my clothing line or just spend the time with my friends and family and get into nature and wildlife.
What have been the biggest obstacles/challenges for you in this career path?
There are challenges all the time. And I think that we (athletes) are so used to facing challenges on a daily basis that most of them don’t seem like a big deal, especially when looking back on those that we have already overcome.
But I think there is a challenge that everyone faces, whatever their path is, which is to not lose yourself. Even though I strongly know who I am, what my goals are, my vision of life, and my formula of happiness, I tend to lose myself from time to time in this haze of wanting to be the best athlete I can be and always trying to do my best. So I’ve learned that it’s very important to take a step back and look at everything “from above”, to realize what is going on actually, what are my feelings, and return to my ”real self”. And most importantly, always listen to my gut feeling, even if the mind is saying something else.
Favorite memory or anecdote you’d like to share in correlation with your career in luge? Similar to challenges, funny moments happen a lot too. Not only in the sport I’m a part of, but in my life in general. I often feel like I am living in a reality show or a movie *laughs*.
But in my career in luge then there was a situation when I almost missed my race because I got lost on my way to the track in Lake Placid, USA, because it was my first time there. I got there 5 minutes before I was supposed to be on the start line. Somehow I made it. But I gotta say – there is no day without laughter!
Do you feel like being a woman in this sport somehow affects you; do you feel like people treat you differently? Actually, when I’m in the world of sports with all the amazing female and male athletes, I really don’t feel like I am being treated differently, at least not in a bad way. I feel like in the world of luge (or any other sport-related activity I have been involved in) everyone really respects each other as a person – as an athlete.
Do you have any other passion projects you’re working on?
YES! Always! I have a lot of passion-projects. Sometimes I feel like there are too many and not enough time to make all of the ideas living in my head real. One of my passions has always been fashion. So I created a clothing line ullalaaa CLOTHING to pursue this dream. But really I love all and every kind of creativity. Art, music, theatre, photography.
I live in such an inspiring environment. Most of my friends and people around me are so creative and talented in so many different ways. We are always creating something, even when just having fun on our days off. And I have realized – the more I follow my passions, the happier I get. It also affects my performance as an athlete. I do better when I feel inspired, happy, and filled with joy that comes with simply doing what I love.
Another one of my greatest passions is traveling. I enjoy discovering new places, people, the environment, food – everything! I can blend in everywhere. I love nature, finding secret treasure spots with no tourists, but, of course, there is something magical about exploring cities as well.
If you’d have to share something you truly stand by and would want everyone to know, what would it be?
No one cares about you more than you do. You and only you, are responsible for your happiness and everything that happens to you. So make sure you are making yourself happy because it is no one else’s responsibility. Don’t expect someone else to make you happy. Learn to spend time alone with yourself and learn to love it. People can only see you through their point of view and as deeply as their previous experiences have taught them to, so don’t expect people to see you as you are, they’ll see you from their perspective either way. And always follow your gut feeling! These are a few pieces of advice that I have found in my life and that I’m following myself.
Is there anyone in particular who you’d credit as truly inspiring, and why? I definitely cannot name one person. First of all, I get inspired by people’s passions, when I see that spark in someone’s eyes when they are doing “their thing” with passion and a pure heart. Also so many ‘’simple things’’’ inspire me like nature itself, sunrise, sea, the smell of fresh air, true smiles on people’s faces, talented people, satisfying conversations, movies, plays… also myself. I really get inspired by the way I am living and seeing life. I just love the way I think.
What would your advice to girls / women everywhere be?
Confidence, passion, and quality is the key to everything. Beauty has nothing to do with the looks. Charisma and the feeling you give is what makes people like you. Learn to love yourself the most and then you’ll see how much more love you’ll have for others.
Don’t be afraid of failure. Follow your dreams, work hard, break the stereotypes, inspire people. Be true to yourself and others.