For many who follow professional ski racing, the name Julia Ford probably rings a bell. You’re maybe even wondering what this lady has been up to since we last saw her race in 2014. The Holderness School graduate won her fair share U.S. Championship titles as a ski racer, not to mention her 24th-place slalom performance at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, amongst so many more accomplishments. She achieved the goal most ski racers only dream of, but Ford had more planned for her career.

It’s rare to hear of an athlete who competes at the Olympics only to miss national team criteria for the next season. A sequence that was catalyzed by budget cuts, many viewed it as a career-ender for Ford. She took it as an opportunity. “I was super fired up,” explains Ford, who decided to ski independently. But a troublesome knee sidelined her first go-around as an independent. “If I wasn’t feeling good in October, how could I expect to make it to February? I decided this time last year that if I wanted to be in the ski racing world, I needed to address my knee pain.”

Points frozen, Ford spent the first winter in 18 years without pushing through a single start gate last ski season. “I needed to step away from it to get healthy and refuel myself,” Ford explains. Taking the year to rehab her knee, Ford filled her extra time working with Youth Enrichment Services (YES) to bring city kids to the mountains for a new perspective on nature. Ford also ventured into the familiar White Mountains of New Hampshire with 11th grade Holderness School students on their annual Out Back (OB) trip, an experience that skiing prevented her from participating in during her time as a student there. Expecting to come out of her three-day OB solo with answers, Ford was instead left with the simple desire to compete again.

Along with her recovered ambition, Ford is taking action to develop her professional career with the help of GroundSwell Athletics. Founded by Bob Bennett and Cody Marshall, GroundSwell is a private equity firm that provides a platform for post-graduate athletes like Ford to continue improving in the sport while preparing their professional careers.

“It’s been a huge opportunity for me,” Ford says. “I’ve realized how happy I can be in this world outside skiing – perhaps, at one point, even happy enough to move on from ski racing altogether.”

Lori, her mother, was quick to notice Julia’s newfound appreciation for time away from skiing. “Julia loves ski racing and loves competing. It takes a lot of time to be the best you can be at something, so the boredom she has experienced in the past year was definitely a good thing – it reminded her of an even deeper draw within her to do something useful and good for the world.” Tempted by newly discovered opportunities, Ford was unsure of what her future in the sport was meant to be. When she flew to Sun Valley, Idaho, last March to watch the U.S. Championships, she reached a tipping point in her decision making.

“I was reminded of this community that we don’t really appreciate until we leave.” And finally, after ripping a movie-themed dual slalom fundraiser in Sun Valley, Ford returned home feeling like she “still had something left in this sport.”

The pressure of meeting national team criteria was Ford’s mental downfall in her last few seasons on the U.S. Ski Team. “Focusing on results over performance, first of all, wasn’t me, and secondly is simply no way to ski race,” Ford admits. So when she decided she wanted to compete again, she made sure it was for the right reasons. She decided to go where she felt people “believed.” No longer did Ford want to force her emotions on race day into complacency, she wanted passion, the kind of spirit she could see in the varsity lacrosse team at Holderness that her father coaches. “The passion and heart I witnessed in those boys on that field was exactly what I needed in my skiing.” So, where did she go to find people who believed? To Redneck Racing.

Excited about her decision to return to technical events, Ford chose to be with other racers who “do it their way and believe they can reach the top.” Lori Ford noticed that, “Julia needed a team,” and that this team is a, “group of generational skiers … their families are big in the ski racing world, and in a full-circle kind of way Julia is finding her way back to her Vermont roots.”

Redneck Racing’s Robby Kelley describes Julia as, “One of the most positive, down to earth, nicest people you’ll ever meet.” Kelley continues, “We’re super excited to have Julia join the team. She’s had an amazing career so far, and I hope racing with us on Redneck she can achieve even more success. We’re really lucky to have her as a member!”

For the 2016-17 season, Ford plans to focus on winning races and lowering her points, but not until she feels 100 percent ready to return to competition. “Objectively my goal is to win NorAms and get back,” she says. “Subjectively, my goal is to ski with passion, ski without judgement, and put the effort into skiing the best I can, getting a little better every day. Those are things I can control.”