Finding the Love & Joy of Ski Racing
As the ski racing season concludes I feel exhausted, exhilarated, still heart-broken, yet inspired. This winter really has been a roller coaster; the lows of missing an Olympic team and getting sick with Covid were unpleasant, but the highs that I experienced in recent weeks gave me something to hold on to.
After returning from Europe at the end of January having recovered from Covid, I didn’t know what to expect from myself both physically, mentally and emotionally regarding ski racing. There were no more Olympics to qualify for and my body felt exhausted. However, being in New England for eastern Supertours felt like home and I was able to relax, look forward to the racing with few expectations and enjoy the little moments.
Making my way to Lake Placid after international travel had me anxious about racing in frigid wind chill temps around -15 Fahrenheit and nervous about what type of shape I was in. To my astonishment, the cold kept zero spectators from the venue and I was blown away by the turnout of ski fans cheering on the hills! I didn’t have the best sprint qualifier, but used the energy from the crowd to have fun in the heats and made my way onto the podium - a pleasant surprise! The following day was a skate 10k mass start and again I found myself nervous, not sure if my fitness would hang on for that long of a race. I was timid at the start of the race and let the lead pack ski away from me. However, halfway through the race it hit me that I was racing scared and that I had absolutely nothing to lose at this point. I started really going for it, dropped the chase pack and made my way around the technical, twisty course, just feeling good be outside, surrounded by friends and family, ski racing. In the final half kilometer I had one of those magical moments in athletics that I will carry with me forever. I was in second place by 20 seconds feeling content with that. Coach Pat hollered at me that I could win. My first thought was, ‘no way - that’s not possible,’ my second thought was, ‘hells yeah I’m going to try!’ With what felt like the entire New England ski community cheering for me on the final hill I made a move that carried my speed all the way to the finish and crossed the line in first.
Feeling jubilant after racing in Lake Placid I was no longer anxious or nervous about another supertour weekend in Craftsbury. My brother was racing at the UVM carnival and my parents had made the trek from Minnesota to watch. Similarly, I found myself running into friends and ski family over the weekend, all of whom put a smile on my face. This relaxed, positive energy that I felt from the crowds carried me through another very fun and successful weekend of racing.
Surprised with my own performances on the supertour, I wanted more. I traveled to the Midwest with my parents to prep for the Birkie. I skied with friends, did intervals with local athletes, raced the Mora Vasaloppet and continued to feel energized by the people around me. I will admit that is was difficult during these weeks to watch the Olympics progress, something I'd spent the last decade dreaming about, but that doesn't mean I held back in my cheering from afar. It was amazing to see Team USA perform so well at the biggest stage!
Birkie Fever just might be the death of me someday. I can’t help but let it get to me! With that, I’m guilty of spreading the contagious energy. Teammate, Lina, and boyfriend, Thomas, both flew into town for their first Birkie experiences. I still can’t decide if I had more fun racing and partaking in Birkie festivities, or watching them fall in love with the event. Thomas completed his first cross country ski race as he skrrtted his way through a jigsaw of Korteloppet skiers and ended up second in his wave. The shot of blue liquor that he took on Lake Hayward was part of the experience, but Thomas admits he might not need to repeat that in the future. Lina broke a pole in the first 100 meters of the Birkie, having to fight her way back to the pack over 50k. The girl still crossed the line with the biggest grin on her face and has already agreed to coming back for more Birkie weekends in the future!
Meanwhile, I cherished every person cheering on the course. Even after dropping my feed bottle at OO and facing many ‘close call’ moments of losing the lead pack including a crash 3k to the finish - I felt strong and happy to be there. The roar of screaming fans hitting me as I raced up and over the bridge onto Main Street will never get old. I’ve experienced some impressive crowds on the World Cup but nothing can beat Hayward, WI on Birkie Saturday.
At this point, Vermont and Minnesota feel like home to me. I have a community in both states and appreciate everything that they bring to me. They make me feel loved and support me no matter what the goal. Coming home from Europe this year had me feeling immense gratitude for not only my close support system, but the entire cross country skiing community. The excitement around the sport that I felt in Lake Placid, the love that I felt in Craftsbury, and the FEVER that I felt in the Midwest this winter, all reminded me how much I love the sport. During one of my darker moments along this journey, the people around me pulled me up and left me feeling happier and more excited about pursuing my athletic goals than I think I’ve ever felt.
I ended the season with a trip to race the sprint World Cup in Drammen, NOR, then to Sapadda, Italy for Europa Cup Finals, and finally Spring Series in Whistler, CAN. Some of these races were amazing (like winning in Italy) while others were bleak to catastrophic (nearly last in Drammen and exploding a ski binding in a crash in the 45k at Spring Series). Despite this continuous rollercoaster ride, I couldn’t help but find myself smiling through it all and having a blast with my teammates, friends, coaches, and supporters.
For now, I’m going to take a BIG rest in April before I stoke the fire again for next season. :)
Professional skier, traveling the world, exploring the culture, racing my heart out.