Junior Nationals Recap

Greta, Evan, Sam, Jack, Kennedy, Keelan, Elsa at JNs in Anchorage

Kennedy
Junior Nationals has been my goal since before I even understood what it was or how to qualify. I remember writing it under the “long term goal” space on the goal setting papers during the BKL goal setting activities. Not only did I finally accomplish this goal, but I got to travel to Anchorage, Alaska to race alongside some of my closest friends, and against some of the fastest people in the country.

I arrived a day early with my mom (Heidi), Heather Rowland, Jack, and Sam, so we spent the first day being tourists before we connected with the NE team and focused on our race preparations. We drove down Turnagain Arm to take pictures of the beautiful mountains (and moose!) and visit a wildlife conservation center. Both were pretty amazing, and we got to see elk, wolves, grizzly bears, caribou, musk oxen, and many other interesting animals.

 

Greta
Anchorage, Alaska is a long way away from Lyme, NH, and flying there made me realize how vastly dispersed the nordic community is across the United States. Once united in Anchorage, all of the U.S. Junior National nordic teams (Far West, Pacific Northwest, Alaska, Intermountain, Rocky Mountains, Mid-Atlantic, High Plains, Great Lakes, and New England) prepared for an intense week of competition on a skiing landscape unlike anything I’d experienced before going to Alaska.

Skiing at Kincaid Park was an unbelievable and almost alien experience. I’ve never skied in such proximity to the ocean. The course rolled through what felt like sand dunes (which were historically piles of loess that blew off the glacier). The vegetation was very old and marine-esque and it almost seemed like some of the trees came out of a Dr. Seuss book. The smell of mudflats would occasionally drift through the ski trails, since the ocean was only about a mile away. On multiple sections of the course and warm-up loop there were beautiful views of the ocean and the Denali range across the ocean inlet. The mountains were snow-covered and jutted up from the ocean. Wind spun the wind turbine blades on Fire Island, a small island right off the coast of Kincaid Park that is only accessible during low tide via a mudflat. To add to the dramatic landscape, the lodge for the athletes was an old bunker, which was part of a fortress housing missiles as recently as thirty years ago. The concrete structures added a formality and intensity to the week of championships, which was reinforced by the powerful energy of the ocean nearby.

Greta and Kennedy in the relay

The actual event was everything you would imagine: dogsleds, torches, nerves, fun, klister, sweating, happiness, disappointment, grit, new faces, commentating, cheering, and making things work on the fly. It was an unusual experience to be a part of a team that was so dominant at the races. I was impressed by how fast the New England racers are at the national level, and it was so fun to watch on the livestream some of my New England teammates finishing exceptionally well in the sprint heats. Even though I will remember many of the moments from this past week, I will remember one moment the most: in the mass start, my pole came off right out of the start after someone skied over the tip. I poled with a single pole until I could see Hillary, my age group coach, who threw me a pole, hoping I would catch it, and I did and surprised myself (and her)!

Also, I kept track of the wildlife that I saw over the course of the week, and here is my final tally: 3 moose, 1 mountain goat, and 1 bald eagle.  

Jack
For me, one of the highlights of my season was the 5km skate race. I was one of the last starters and was quite antsy to go. In the warmup I wasn’t feeling 150%. I had taken a fall pretty hard in training a couple days before and hurt a little bit but wasn’t going to let that take me down. Starting off I felt good. The skis were gliding well and I felt pretty strong. The course was quite slushy and chopped up. I had gotten advice from the wise racers before me to stay to the edge where it is harder and I took that advise. Going out of the line I probably looked ridiculous going right to the edge next to the spectators but I didn’t care I was going faster and wasn’t 3m off the marked course.

The Kincaid trails have many good transitions like Oak Hill and I knew I could turn that into an advantage. Hammering around the course everything hurt but I was moving fast and felt good. Up gong hill a notorious hill that decided almost every race at JNs I heard a coach who I later learned to be the split taker mumble 13th 1 second to top ten. I immediately concluded that that wasn’t me probably talking about one of his guys but sure enough a couple minutes later Adam Terko (the Mansfield Nordic Coach) started running along side me and yelling 13th 1 second to top ten. My result goal for the day was top 20 and hearing that made me very excited.

Jack in the 5k skate race

I knew the last 2km were very rolling with lots of downhills and steep hills and decided to work the transitions harder than ever. Feeling good I put out the last of my energy going through the stadium, up a gradual hill, down a long hill that loops around into the stadium and the finish. Crossing the line I felt spent having put it all out on the course. All the New England fans that were nearby came running over yelling (positive) at me. When Terko told me I had gotten fifth I said “wow” in a tired tone not realizing what I had done and walked off to do my cooldown no realizing at all what that meant. About halfway through my cool down it suddenly occurred to me, wow I just got fifth at Junior nationals. I had a smile across my face for the rest of the day. https://www.vnews.com/Rec-Briefs-24108191 (thank you Cindy for the work you do with the valley news)

Kennedy
During our off days, we had plenty of time to explore Anchorage and the surrounding area. Many of the age groups, including my group of U18 girls, traveled to the Alyeska ski resort to take the tram into the mountains. Having been in awe of their size and beauty, I was looking forward to getting a closer look at them. However, the weather changes very quickly in the Alaskan mountains, so by the time we crested the top of the mountain, we found ourselves standing in a cloud and had very low visibility. The town of Girdwood, at the base of the resort, made the trip worth it with its quaint shops and pretty views of the ocean.

On the last day, Keelan and I (Kennedy) ventured into the downtown area of Anchorage with a friend from CSU (we had to learn to navigate public transportation!) and spent the morning wandering around miscellaneous fur shops, souvenir shops, art galleries, and antique stores. The downtown of the city rests between the base of an incredible chain of mountains and the ocean, and consists of a few tall buildings, a lot of small shops, and the majority of the downtown is a giant mall. The social scene in Anchorage was a little strange as well. We are used to the trusting and safe residents of the East Coast, but in Alaska, we needed to be constantly aware of our surroundings. We first discovered this after our teammates’ laptops, backpacks, running shoes, and Trader Joe’s PB cups were stolen at our hotel.

More racing photos…

The U16 boys had an all-Ford Sayre relay team

Awards ceremonies for the sprint and skate races

And a slideshow of more great photos from the week!

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Athlete Season Highlights/Favorite Memories

Jack: For me, my highlight of the season was definitely the Lake Placid Eastern Cup Classic mass start not because it was my best result but because I learned something about myself.

I have been working on my starts but it is still a little lacking and I take a little bit of time to get going. Going out of the mass start I slowly dropped from my spot near the front of the pack. After about 100 meters, I got hit with the back of a ski then stabbed my boot and finally fell. Two people piled on top of me and all of our equipment was tangled. After 30 seconds of struggling to try to get untangled we got up. By this point the rest of the field was out of sight. Luckily there was no broken equipment and I kept skiing. I decided that I would catch the lead pack. I had watched Krueger do it in the olympics and thought I could do the same. Pushing as hard as I could go I slowly caught the field and passed people. After passing 20 or so people I started to get into the sparse zone where there were few people. I passed about 5 more people before gaining sight of the lead pack in the distance. Only having a 5k to catch up, I knew I had to go fast. Passing Elvis, a skier who I have been highly competitive with, I was in to 5th with a long way to the lead pack. I hadn’t lost hope yet. As we skied along the rolling top of the 5k at lake placid I was slowly catching up. Finally we got to the downhill. I lost sight of them. Coming around the final bend and through the stadium I just saw them finish. As I skied across the line I thought “how did I do that.” I surprised myself by pushing so hard and recovering after a hard setback. Now I know that the race is never ever over until the end and just because you have fallen or had a setback doesn’t mean you can’t come back to do well.

Spencer: Our team has had some great debates (purely because we’re all so comfortable together that we’re all fine challenging each other’s ideas). These have ranged from debates stemming from our collective nerdiness. The more memorable of these were things like “Is it okay to apply mathematics to dating?” and how to resolve certain logical paradoxes, along with a good amount of riddle exchange. Other debates were a little less nerdy, but people were just as involved. Particularly interesting ones included “How to put a sandwich in a bag properly” and, of course, “The Great Sock Debate.” It’s great to be able tell someone they’re wrong without suffering the consequences. On our team, we’re all just happy to be doing what we’re doing, with others who enjoy the sport equally. It’s just a great atmosphere!

Cheering on the older boys at Rikert

Elsa: The moments that I found the most fulfilling and inspiring this year were those spent cheering on teammates during races– whether into the finishing stretch of the Rikert Eastern Cup, or up the longest hill on the Lake Placid distance day. Letting my voice go hoarse from the combination of earlier races and intense cheering in the moment was one of the best parts, preceded only by watching in awe the battles that each teammate was fighting out there on the course. I’ve loved rooting for you guys every race, and am so excited to watch everyone crush it during championships!

Dirk: The highlight of my season was probably all of the OD’s at Greens as a team. From the crisp cold mornings on a few layers of polar, to the warm and sunny klister days. It was fun to explore the new trails in the beginning of the season, especially the very long Dorchester Connector.  The beautiful sunny mornings on the glistening powdery snow made me realize why nordic skiing is such an awesome sport. Nothing beats a 4 or 5 hour ski in perfect conditions with lots of nice people. I am looking forward to continuing to ski later this season, after the championship races, as well as next year spending many hours skiing on these beautiful trails.

Caroline: Each eastern cup weekend, I always look forward to the meals, not only because of how hungry racing makes me, but because of the conversations that form around the table. During one extra special dinner at Craftsbury, the power went out, leaving us to scramble to conserve water to be able to stay hydrated and cook the pasta. This resulted in drinking “starch water” in which pasta had already been cooked in multiple times, giving it an uncustomary flavor. Catherine went as far as making “starch tea” which made all of us gag. We ate our low-water meal surrounded by candles and laughing teammates who have since taught me what an amazing group JNT is.  

Catherine: My favorite memories come from all of the van rides to the races. All the laughing and singing completely distracts me from the fear of racing. We are comfortable enough not to care about singing out of tune and sounding awful (except for Eloise because she always sounds amazing!!) I am going to miss the dancing and singing that I have had with this incredible group of friends! Couldn’t ask for a better team!

Intervals in the dark at Greens

Eloise: Night skiing at the Greens was such a magical experience. I am glad to have been doing my intervals with Hannah because of her amazing eyesight, her watch, and because of the wonderful person she is! The excitement of this kind of adventure motivated me to push even harder in my intervals and it made the familiar interval workout seem new and thrilling! It made me think about the other sports I am involved with and how lucky I am to be a part of this one. I went home inspired and in great gratitude of all my teammates and coaches. Although it is hard to pick one moment from the season, this one felt particularly special.

Our Vermont Ladies with Dennis

Hannah: I loved the Holderness race, it was beautiful and wonderful and amazing and one of my best races ever, except I accidentally went off the jump at the end and ate it in front of everyone a few hundred meters before the finish. But I’m not going to write about that. I think the most important race of the season for me was the Vermont Qualifier – actually 2 races. I’d had a great start to the season skiing at Craftsbury in the eastern cup and nationals, and probably the best race of my life at the Bogburn, but since then, I’d been feeling pretty awful, mentally and physically. After a couple of difficult races that left me feeling disappointed and discouraged, we had a weekend off from racing, and then the qualifier. Going in, I really didn’t know what to expect anymore. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t make it onto the team, given how bad I had been feeling, but I decided to do my best and see what happened and try to focus on just having a good race without thinking about results or goals not met or anything like that. I was super duper nervous before the first race (thank you Eloise for grabbing my hand and dragging me outside skipping and singing to cheer me up! You are amazing:), but somehow getting out and skiing made me feel calmer. Going into the second race, I felt like my bouncy BKL self again, hanging out with Eloise waiting in the start line, watching people already on course careening around the corner and crashing through the fence, and being psyched for an exciting and fun challenge. It was wonderful. 3k skate is basically a sprint for me, and I felt fast and strong and happy again, and even managed to pull off a finishing sprint, which has been a challenge for me. After that race, I didn’t really care whether or not I made Easterns, because I was just so happy to have finally felt good in a race again.  And then I made it, which was a bonus. But mainly, I got myself back into happy race mode, so that then I could go have a blast at Holderness, accidental jumps or not.

Keelan: The highlight of my season was the 10km classic race at Holderness. I felt that something clicked and everything was just working and working in overdrive. This season, as a whole was incredible and I wish it would never end. This team is a truly incredible group one who I am proud to spend time with. This is group who I can share my triumphs but also my disappointments with. There is always something interesting happening whenever the team is together, from games of three or four dimensional tic tac toe (I still have not figured out how to play) to impressive piano performances it always lightens my day. This has been an incredible season and I am so proud to have shared the experience with everyone on the team.

Andy: My favorite memory from the season was the Bogburn. I am a big fan of the the narrow singletrack trails up on the hill and Pomfret. This year’s race did not disappoint! Although it was much colder and a stable kick wax race for once compared to my preferred Bogburn of choice (a sloppy 40º klister day), it was still a blast. I am looking forward to hopefully coming back in the years to come to race the Bogburn again!

Greta: The highlight of my season was my carpool to practice. Spencer, Catherine, Caroline, and Elsa never failed to brighten my day with uncontrolled laughter, hilarious jokes, and perplexing riddles that made my head spin. Most days, I couldn’t believe the positive energy in my car! It kept me smiling on tough days. I loved watching you guys laugh! I also appreciated how much you care about each other and how hard you work all the time. I tried to be the best driver I could, and I hope you enjoyed rides to practice as much as I did. I wish I lived in Hanover so I could drive you home! I can’t believe I only have a few more car rides with you.

Justin: The highlight of my season was definitely the people. I could not imagine a better group to spend time with. Everyone was so caring, compassionate, and just friendly. While Nordic skiing is an individual sport, I am always astonished by how much everyone looks out and cares for one another. This is modeled by the unbelievable array of coaches that we have, whose leadership and mentoring experience go far beyond skiing. I really enjoyed just talking and sharing my thoughts with everyone this season. This made practices, van rides, and especially OD’s so much more enjoyable. There were some OD’s at Greens this year where the snow was perfect, the air crisp, and being surrounded by this group of people made me know for certain that this was the perfect place and moment. The place where I really felt I belonged. I know that I will miss this no matter where I end up next year, but I also know that I will be able to come back and hopefully share some more time with this wonderful group.

Kennedy: The highlight race of my season was the 10km classic at Senior Nationals. I had been sick for multiple weeks before, and finally got the antibiotics I needed a few days before. This was the first race of the season where I was healthy, and finally was able to remember why I enjoyed racing so much (it turns out being able to breath helps a lot when you race). I skied most of the race among college skiers and friends that I have been racing with since BKL. I was able to push myself to stay with people I normally consider faster than me, and it finally felt good to go hard. However, some of my favorite memories from this season are not from the race course, but from the time we have spent together as a team. Spending Sunday mornings at Greens with some of my closest friends is pretty amazing, and those competitive Speedball games before practice always cheer me up. I will definitely miss our team dinners, contra dancing, movies, and gelato runs next year, and most of all, I will miss all of my amazing teammates.

Jacob: I know all my teammates well as skiers, but this season, one of my goals was to spend more time with the team outside of practices or competitions.  As I have worked towards this goal, I have gained new respect for our sport and our team. During the team dinners that Hannah and Elsa and Greta hosted (which were, by the way, so much fun–without thoughts of an impending Eastern Cup in the back of everyone’s minds, laughter and carefree conversation abounded), along with contra dances and gelato and movies, I have come to appreciate the eclectic mix of interests and opinions and aspirations we represent.  Although we are very different people, our shared love of skiing has made us such a tight-knit team and–dare I say?–friends. That’s pretty neat. Love, Jacoobydoo

 

The Rest of the Regular Season

Most of the team headed to Mont Sainte Anne in Quebec for a winter break training camp after Christmas. In Quebec, we trained as a team twice a day and spent most evenings together in the outdoor hot tub at the Chateau.

Shortly after returning from Canada, many of us raced at Senior Nationals in Craftsbury. Keelan, Hannah, and Kennedy traveled with Evan, Mia, and Dennis to stay in Craftsbury for the Thursday and Friday races of Nationals (some took day trips), and a larger contingent of the team joined them to race on Sunday.

After Nationals, we raced at the Bogburn (a traditional style classic race on narrow and roller coaster-like trails) and Ford Sayre’s home race, the Silver Fox Trot.  Some of the seniors sported the chicken suits in the “exhibition” race.

 

Unloading in Lake Placid

After a few weekends of smaller races, we set out for our next Eastern Cup weekend in Lake Placid at the Mt. Van Hoevenberg Olympic trails. We had (or at least it seemed like) more JNT’ers than ever qualify for the classic sprint heats on Saturday. The grueling distance race on Sunday consisted of one, two or three laps of a 4km climb and the 1km downhill.

Finally in early February, we entered the last two Eastern Cup weekends of the season – the first one in Rikert and the second split between Dublin and Holderness. In Rikert, Ford Sayre rocked the double distance weekend with many season-highlight races and strong performances. Many skiers were also competitive at the college carnival level on Saturday during the skate race. During the winter break between the last two Eastern Cup weekends, skiers split between Craftsbury and Hanover for a week or training, resting, and recovering.

The Dublin Double race consisted of a 3km morning race and then a 1.5km sprint, only two hours apart. We don’t normally race twice in a day, so this was a new experience for many of us. The final Eastern Cup race, the day after Dublin, was in Holderness NH, Dennis’s favorite venue, for a classic distance race. The new snow, rain, and warm weather caused the kick waxing to be quite difficult.

Enjoying Holderness

Holderness was also the last Junior National qualifier race, so the New England team was named after the race. In Ford Sayre recent history, only two athletes have qualified to represent team New England at JN’s, and this year, Ford Sayre is sending 7 skiers to Anchorage, Alaska! Congrats to Sam, Jack, Evan N, Elsa, Greta, Kennedy, and Keelan. Andy, Dirk, Justin, Catherine, Caroline, Eloise, Hannah, Jacob, Nicoya, Spencer, and Tobin are all off to either Eastern High School Championships in Fort Kent, Maine, or U16 Championships in Bethel, Maine, or a combination of both! Eloise and Jacob are starring in Thetford Academy’s production of “Once Upon a Mattress” and Nacio is looking forward to the sailing season and to exhibiting his master chef skills in upcoming cooking competitions.

Everyone on our team is off to do great things! Congratulations to all!

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Beginning of the Season

A dryland OD from Hanover to Lyme

Our ski season started back in November with a very early batch of snow. Fortunately, this meant we had a fairly short dryland season before Garipay was skiable. By late December, we competed in the first Eastern Cup weekend in Craftsbury, Vermont. Hannah wrote this blog back in December about the weekend, and it unfortunately never got posted because we didn’t have any photos:


Making the Best of Dark Days 
(by Hannah)

On the winter solstice, in the pouring rain and fog, the JNT left for our first Eastern Cup of the season: skate sprints on Saturday, and 5k (U16/U18 girls) and 10k skate (U18-20 boys) on Sunday. While the coaches peered through the fog and darkness navigating the vans and SUV northward, the fun began, including listening to our newly assembled JNT playlist, pondering logic puzzles courtesy of Spencer, and generally chatting and catching up with teammates, both old and new. Pulling into the uphill ice-glazed driveway, the traditional Craftsbury van traction troubles ensued, but Scottie and Jennie’s strategic maneuvering quickly solved the problem, and for a change, we had a reason to be grateful that the side of the driveway was a strip of mud. As we piled out of the vans, older team members reminisced about previous Craftsbury weekends and their memorable stories (look back through the blog and find them!).

For house chores, we randomly divided up into three teams, named Extra Blue, Klister, and Glitter. My crew, Extra Blue, had several new JNT athletes who were very enthusiastic and helpful (shoutout to you all), and we prepared the traditional burrito/salad meal. While I did my best on the salad, it still wasn’t quite as good as Johanna’s salads last year. I’ll keep trying 🙂

After a quick team meeting, the girls went back to the other house for the night, where despite the colder-than-outside temperature, we slept soundly, happy to be on break from school.

Saturday morning at the race venue, the rain petered out to drizzle and then *gasp* snow, as we warmed up and raced the qualifiers. Many of us were in different places, some recovering from frustrating injuries and illnesses, others feeling absolutely awesome, and almost everyone feeling nervous and excited for this first race. However, the team (coaches, athletes, and alums) still had our supportive and positive spirit that makes being a part of JNT so wonderful. Once the qualifiers had run, those of us who hadn’t made heats returned to the houses, while the remaining athletes holed up in the nordic center for a long wait. Our still-racing teammates skied very fast, and we had two Ford Sayre podiums by the end of the day.

Meanwhile, at the main house, the solstice theme of darkness continued as around 1 pm, the power went out. For most of the afternoon, this was not particularly bothersome, aside from a lack of running water and increasingly dark rooms, and some games of ping pong and pool by headlamp light continued in the basement. In the living room, Greta inspired many artistic endeavors as she drew an incredibly detailed and realistic portrait of Andy, while Eloise drew Greta drawing Andy, I drew Eloise drawing Greta, Lucy drew me drawing Eloise, and then everyone started randomly drawing each other with varying degrees of success. Meanwhile, Dennis worked very hard to get our power back, making many telephone calls and trips to the village. The dinner crew started chopping vegetables by headlamp in the pitch black kitchen, but the coaches eventually decided to pack everyone, along with dinner makings, into the vans and go over to the girls house to cook. Fortunately, we couldn’t actually get out of the driveway, because a power truck appeared and a few minutes later, the lights were back on. Finally, the pasta was bubbling on the stove and everything seemed normal…until the lights went out again. More phonecalls were made, our resident engineers Keelan, Justin, and Dirk hooked up the team generator to power a lamp in the kitchen, and we had a candlelit dinner. Eventually, the fiasco was resolved, the electrician who had returned assured us that he had fixed the problem, and the electrical systems remained functional for the rest of the weekend.

Elsa at Craftsbury

A beautiful sunrise with snowflakes drifting down greeted us on Sunday morning, and the race course was amazingly fast for our 5k/10k races (now changed to individual start, because of the rain on Friday). I felt like I was flying on the flats and downhills, and my personal nemesis, the uphill climbing section starting at about 3k, was the best I’ve ever skied it. All in all, this Eastern Cup left me feeling excited for the season to come, both for my own races, and for all the promise my teammates were showing. Reflecting on the sleepy van-ride back, several of us discussed with Dennis the very real, tangible effects we had felt from the structure of our training in the past few weeks, and the year in general, and how our future plans made sense, not just from an intellectual training theory standpoint, but in a really personal, physical way. Next year, I realized, just over a week away, is going to be exciting, and I am looking forward to it.

VT U16 & EHSC Qualifier

by Nacio

Sunday’s Vermont qualifier race was held at Rikert this year. For me it started with waking up at 6:30 because my family spent the night just outside Middlebury in an Airbnb. The hosts were quite lovely and they provided eggs, oatmeal, orange juice, and coffee for breakfast. What a pleasant way to start the day! 

A little after 8 I put some warm clothes on and walked outside to put my bags in the car. To my surprise, it had snowed overnight. There was now a light dusting of powder on top of the ice. It was now much more treacherous walking where the snow hadn’t been cleared. Somehow I made it to the car safely, and we were off to the race venue.

When we pulled up to the ski center, I unloaded my bags and brought them into the barn and claimed a table. There were several buses unloading in the parking lot, which created a bit of a traffic jam, but we managed to find a parking spot. I brought my ski bag over to the Ford Sayre area where Dennis and Scottie had set up, and then went back to the barn to pick up my bib.

Every skier at the qualifier skis two races. Both were 3 kilometers. The classic races were in the morning, and the skate races were in the afternoon. My first race was at 10, so at about 9 I began my warmup. I skied 15 minutes of L1, 10 minutes of L2 and another 10 minutes of L3, along with some speeds. Because I had left the klister on my training skis and there was fresh snow on the ground, my entire warmup was done on my race skis.

About 10 minutes before my start, I took off my pants and jacket and headed over to the start. Scottie was in the starting area, so I talked to her about my goals for the race. After that, it was time for my race, so I got in line and waited for the clock.

I didn’t think about much during the race, the 3 kilometers went by really fast, and then it was over. There was still another race in the afternoon, but I tried not to think about that while I was doing my cool down.