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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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!