Lifestyle

Olympic athlete trades skis for yoga

World Cup skier Libby Ludlow is teaching a class at the Island’s Yoga Bliss.  - Contributed photo/Wayne Rutledge
World Cup skier Libby Ludlow is teaching a class at the Island’s Yoga Bliss.
— image credit: Contributed photo/Wayne Rutledge

Olympic and World Cup skier Libby Ludlow has had her fair share of set-backs. Yet that has not kept the 28-year-old from pursuing her dreams while understanding that life’s path does not always head in one direction.

Today, that path no longer speeds down the icy slopes of a mountain, but seeks serenity in the warm studio of Yoga Bliss.

Ludlow, who retired from professional skiing in 2008, is now teaching a special yoga class for athletes and skiers; one that focuses on flexibility, preventing injury and athletic meditation.

“I expect and hope to get athletes who are muscle-bound and tight. They might train hard, but not treat their bodies quite the way they should,” the 2006 Winter Olympic competitor said. “I’m an athlete and so I understand injuries and being muscle-bound.”

This is no understatement. In her 10-year skiing career (she was named to the U.S. Ski Team at age 16), Ludlow has suffered a blown-out right and left knee, has undergone four major surgeries followed by months of rehabilitation, and has been diagnosed with arthritis and a condryl defect.

Yet the Bellevue native always pushes on. She recovered from each injury and returned to the slopes, winning world-class medals along the way.

At the age of 21, Ludlow placed 29th in the 2002 World Cup Super G, scoring her first World Cup points. Before long, the skier was consistently earning top-30 finishes. She became a familiar name in the World Cup circuit. In 2003, Ludlow competed in the World Championships, placing 24th. Not long after, she ranked 28th in the world in the Super G event.

In 2006, the Eastsider saw her dream come true when she qualified for the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. She finished 28th in her strongest event — the Super G.

Ludlow’s injuries, however, continued. In 2008, the skier decided to put her body first and retired from professional athleticism. It is a decision she does not regret.

“My body was toast from ski racing. I was ready to move on,” she said. “I can’t say I even miss much about ski racing. The reason I was a racer was because I love skiing in general. Now I have more opportunities to ski as a recreational skier.”

And she has more time for other activities, such as yoga.

“I love being physically active — using my body. That will never change,” Ludlow said, adding that the physical benefits of yoga are unique. “Yoga really benefits anyone, in any context, in any pursuit. It definitely made me a more grounded competitor. I was able to compete with more composure.”

Although Ludlow practiced yoga while racing, she did not obtain her teaching certification until she studied in India last February. She returned to America, finished her last courses at Dartmouth — graduating with a degree in philosophy — and then turned her love for yoga into a new career.

“Being able to bring the rich experience of yoga to other people’s lives is really fulfilling,” the 28-year-old said.

Ludlow met Maria Bliss, the owner of Mercer Island’s Yoga Bliss, while attending one of Bliss’ classes with her mother. After the class, Bliss and Ludlow talked about the skier’s career, devotion to yoga and future aspirations. This brief connection opened a door for both women.

“[Ludlow] has such direction for such a young person. To switch from a life that’s so competitive and step back and choose this course for awhile shows great depth,” Bliss said.

Not long after their first meeting, Bliss attended one of Ludlow’s yoga classes at the Mountain Flow studio in Madison Park. Impressed with the skier’s unique approach to yoga — centering on the muscles and physique of athletes — Bliss decided to ask Ludlow to teach at her Mercer Island studio.

“It was obvious that she would bring new energy to my studio,” Bliss said. “Because of her experience — and because she’s strong and vibrant — she may entice more people to come into the studio.”

Yoga Bliss, which has been open since January 2007, is a unique studio among a budding milieu. Bliss opened the studio for Islanders, and so it offers a variety of yoga classes — for pregnant women, for men, for self-healing, for self-challenge, for children and for experts.

“My intent is to present yoga in a way that as many people as possible on MI feel welcome to walk through my door and realize that being more still in mind, stretching muscles and breathing deeply can truly better your life,” Bliss said.

Bringing Ludlow to Yoga Bliss, the instructor realized, was a natural way to welcome new students.

“On the one hand, people might have an idea of how yoga instructors should be — foot behind head, you know — but Libby represents another way of bringing yoga into your life,” she said.

In turn, Ludlow is thrilled to be working with Bliss and her studio, which has seen consistent success; from its 2007 debut, in and out of change, and through an ongoing recession.

“I love Yoga Bliss. I can see myself teaching there in the long run,” Ludlow said, adding that she is currently scheduled to teach classes through Nov. 22.

Bliss agreed that Ludlow may, indeed, find a permanent niche at the studio. In its two-year life, Yoga Bliss has doubled in size, introduced various new classes and grown to include 10 unique yoga instructors. Bliss is proud of this history, proud of her instructors and certain in her hopes for the future.

“It’s the best service I can provide,” she said. “It’s gone very well, and we’re still here. That says a lot in these economic times.”

To sign up for a class at Yoga Bliss, including Ludlow’s, call 275-2300 or visit www.yogabliss.org.

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