It's been a while since I came back from the University of Wyoming and I have to say everything has been unforgettable. There are several times I dreamed about the old days that we raced together and coaches cheered for us. But it’s not real which made me depressed. This is the most precious pearl in my memory. I do miss skiing on the snow, like flying in the sky .There are sunshine , birds, and animals I don’t even know its name, everything is just right, as if in the magic world. Now I am busy looking for a job and graduation, but every time I think of snow, I feel very sacred, and my heart is very peaceful and quiet. I have to say that I really miss my coaches and teammates a lot. They are the most beautiful scenery in my journey. They have taught me a lot both in skiing and life. I will keep this precious experience in my heart and wish all the best for my caring people over the Pacific! Love you all!
I love being outside. But sometimes, it’s kind of hard to drag myself out the door and get started. I always feel better after I’ve spent some time hiking or backpacking or skiing. That’s why when I came to college, the ski team was such a big part of my self-regulation. We traveled together. We spent practice in the mountains going on long trail runs or gorgeous skis. We would wake up early and start the day with a jog and strength workout or get through a long week with core and yoga in the evenings. It’s was easy to be outside all the time when I just had to be ready to jump in Zima and spend the day hanging out with the team.
I admit that the constant schedule for an outdoor adventure was something I really missed when I packed my life into boxes and moved to Spain for a semester. It was wonderful in a different way, until it wasn’t. A year ago, the world stopped. As many people familiar with lockdowns can attest, being trapped inside a small apartment does something to you psychologically. The fact that I was isolated with a family I’d met only weeks before in a country I was still new to was really just fuel to the fire. After the first few days, I was daydreaming about going for runs through the city. Which would be fairly normal, except that I hate running. The itch to go outside, do anything outside, was becoming unbearable. There was a near-constant ache in my chest for the days of ski camps, where I’d wake up to the sounds of Ella’s laughter or the smell of coach’s oats and then spend the day outside, surrounded by snow and the gentle sound of skis in tracks. I was jonesing for the mountains. In fact, it was the first time in my life I’d ever been homesick.
So when I finally took the treacherous journey through three airports and a hotel to get back to Wyoming, I thought I would feel better. The mountains were there, right in my backyard. I could go on runs (or less torturous activities) to my heart’s content. But the switch had flipped. I couldn’t stand to leave the house. It was more than that initial hurdle to get dressed and drive to the trail. All I could think about was the family I left behind. As the days added up, I thought of my young host sister, who hadn’t left her apartment even for a walk in weeks. Is there a term for guilt about being able to go outside? As I paced my childhood home in some sort of sad solidarity, I only felt worse. But the idea of hiking a trail or just walking around the yard felt exhausting to me. The trauma of March knocked me down hard. I spent the spring trying just to sleep through the night and not gasp for breath every time I woke up and remembered the world was radically changed.
After 6 weeks, my host sister was finally allowed to go for walks outside. Still, the old version of me who spent hours every week in the mountains was nowhere to be found. When I moved back to Laramie for the summer, I was finally beginning to feel like myself again. I wasn’t living out of a suitcase. I slept in my own bed. And when I finally got settled, I woke up one June morning and drove to the mountains. When I reached the trailhead, there was my ski team.
For all those afternoons of Spanish lockdown where I daydreamed about adventures outside, I hadn’t actually been out in the mountains since I’d gotten home. But that summer morning, I remembered what it felt like to be a part of an outdoor community. There was the whole SUS team, smiling at me. There were Christi and Rachel, ready to hear all about the last few months of my life on our run. There were all the other skiers I’d missed.
I took a deep breath. The air smelled like pine and sunlight and home. And I started to run. Slowly, that March girl started to melt away into the woods.
The week of nationals is always a trying time of the year for Nordic ski racers. I have had my fair share of stressful race weeks throughout a 15-year racing career ranging from junior nationals, to USCSA collegiate nationals, and a few endeavors overseas to the world university games. Nationals during the spring of 2020 was a new experience for me though, I would be approaching this week through a new perspective. I was now a coach.
While some races are forgotten almost as soon as they are over, others stick in the memory bank like klister to the base of a ski. I’m unsure exactly what criteria my brain chooses to filter which races are special enough to remember. Maybe it is specific accomplishments in the race, or events that unfolded between teammates within the race, or even such challenging conditions that grittiness plays a bigger factor than any wax ever could. I may never know exactly, but I do know that the 15km classic race in Lake Placed during nationals will forever stay in my mind. One of the few races that has made its way in since transitioning from athlete to coach.
That race started as it always does for coaches, in the wax room the night before. We had tested glide waxes over the racecourse at various times of the day, and finally decided on the perfect wax for the morning. The conditions were supposed to be very challenging the next day. Just about freezing, rain/snow, and as always in the east, very icy man-made trails. We needed wax that was warm, tough enough for surviving being slowly ripped off by ice for 15km, and that had the ability to repel dirt since it hadn’t snowed in a few days. Yellow black wolf was the choice for the day. My fellow coach Bryan and I spent hours in the wax room putting 3 layers of wax on each ski. A warm base wax to help open the ski pores, slightly cooler wax to harden the base, then the black wolf to make the skis rocket fast. The skis all still needed kick wax and structure (grooves in the ski base to help the ski base better repel water and reduce suction), but that was a job for the morning and for the wax goddesses Christi Boggs (snowflake) and Rachel Watson (the cougar). Rachel had been testing kick waxes all week long and had a series of waxes ready for the morning testing to hopefully find the perfect wax for our skiers.
We got to the racecourse about 2.5 hours before the race that morning and got to work. Bryan and I set up the waxing station while Christi and Rachel slapped on some wax and did initial tests on a few of the nearby hills. After they had narrowed in on the wax it was up to Bryan and I to test out some toppers, or the very last coat of wax applied. We went through our normal wax-testing motions. Ski a section of the course, change each ski to the other foot, ski again, trade with the other person, ski again, change skis to the other foot, and finally one person gets the best ski from each pair to hone in the best wax in the group. We are looking for how sticky the ski is, how much glide it has, if it changes drastically with different snow conditions (shady or sunny), how durable it is, and how it does in vs. out of the tracks. We had found what we were sure was going to be the winning wax but there was a problem, it had started precipitating. It felt like half snow half rain and was coming down in a way that we just knew would last all day.
Back at the wax bench we gave Rachel our wax recommendations. I could see a little panic in her face as she was contemplating the wax with the new weather conditions but being one of the most knowledgeable people about klister in the world we all have nothing but confidence for her incredible wax decisions. One of the best things about Christi is how she somehow manages to think of any possible options and have something up her sleeve to handle things as they come. So, while Rachel was thinking about endless klister combinations to give the skis the perfect combo of kick and glide, Christi sent Bryan and I back out to test both zeros and hairies. Zeros have a strip of what looks like sandpaper on the base where the wax pocket is, and hairies are made from roughing up a normal ski kick zone with sandpaper and then adding a hardening substance like silicon so that the hairs on the sanded surface stay standing. Both these options are used when the snow is right about 0 C and there is new snow falling. These options both turned out to have slightly worse kick than the klister, but seemingly better glide. We provided Christi and Rach with our new results and now the coaches race was about to start.
As the male athletes arrived (they raced first) and started warming up we gave them a few options about their race skis, slightly less glide but more kick or slightly less kick but more glide. It seemed like we had an almost even split of racers wanting klister, zeros, and hairies. We spent the next hour applying wax as fast as humanly possible. Rachel and Christi were applying klister, Bryan and I were preparing the zeros and the hairies while also adding structure to the glide zone of all the skis. As mass start classic waxing always happens, it was right down to the wire. We were finishing the last of the men’s skis as the racers were lining up to start, and I even ran the last pair down to one of our athletes named Leon and got him clipped in with about 2 minutes to go. They were off!
The weather did not let up throughout the men’s race. I believe the conditions that day were the most challenging racing conditions that exist in the world of Nordic skiing. Absolutely drenched from the rain, skiing through pine needles, leaves, and puddles, dealing with washed out icy downhills and chopped up slushy corners, the skiers all fought with everything they had. I have images burned in my mind of Nathan and Silas striding up the hill, both having great days but basically skiing blind from soaked hair in their eyes. Ben and Matthew were each slipping but showing what we lovingly call grit and giving the race everything they had anyways. All our racers from Shanghai, who had just started skiing that year, were looking so strong! Harry smiled as he ran past a racer from another team on the steep uphill I was standing on. Shortly after, Andy came whizzing by on a downhill right behind James and yelled at me “I didn’t fall this lap!”. It was easy to see how much fun everyone was having even though the conditions were less than ideal. A common theme began to appear. Every one of our skiers was actually enjoying themselves, despite the adverse weather, some not having much kick, and poor snow conditions.
Maybe this race stuck in my mind because it was such a hard day and yet all our athletes seemed to truly love being there in that moment. It’s easy to be happy as a racer when your skis are fast, the sun is shining, and you are feeling on top of your game. But is a true test of character to enjoy the race when every external factor sucks. I was so proud to be a part of the Wyoming team! After the guys finished they all changed clothes and got back out in the weather to cheer on the ladies. We went through the same waxing challenges with the ladies skis, but most of them ended on klister after getting tips from the guys. Ella looked strong and poised, Kat was beasting her way up the hills passing girl after girl, and Maddy was looking smooth in her stride, and gave me a confident smile when I cheered for her knowing there was a lot of double pole in this course which is one of her strong suits. The rest of the girls followed the same trend as the guys, each one looked in their element despite the rain still coming down strong.
While I have had very memorable racing days due to similar weather situations, that feeling of overcoming everything stacked against you and still racing to your fullest isn’t really something you can really explain or teach an athlete as a coach. That specific feeling must be earned. I think this day was so special to me because I got to watch each skier find that feeling through the 6 laps on the rain-soaked course. Getting to observe that growth from the coaching view was 1000 times better than any achievement I have had as an athlete. Even though the results from that day weren’t exactly what everyone was hoping for, it is still on of the favorite races of my life.
The hardest part of being on a high is falling back down. Peaking, in a sports setting, is where you take all of your training from the previous year and use it to preform at your most optimal. Peaking can make you feel invincible in your sport, but just a few days later you can feel at your lowest. As we went into our national competition we were prepared to peak, and then to fall off our peaks, but we were met with a new low.
COVID-19 was something so far from our minds as we traveled to Lake Placid, NY. We were giddy with the excitement of competing with our teammates in a much larger stage than we had all season. Our van was full of energy, as we sat with no masks much closer than six feet. Our team got to experience the last moments before COVID changed everything together. That is something that in reflection I am really grateful for, but I still wasn't prepared for such an abrupt ending.
In the middle of our week long competition we got some news that USCSA was canceling our last race, because New York state had declared a state of emergency. I've never fallen of my peak as fast as I did in that moment. My heart sank and my head fell along with the rest of my teammates. I am lucky that I had a close knit group to experience this disappointment with, but soon I wouldn't have them by my side.
After our final race, cut a day short, we packed into a caravan of rental cars and started the long drive from New York to Wyoming. It was a tough drive that spanned too many days for me, but there were some fond memories. I found myself in many restaurants across the nation sitting with what would now be too many people. I got to hug my friends and be in public without a mask. Things still now we aren't able to do. Those were the good memories, but the second we got back home it was different. Our goodbyes were abrupt and rushed. Thinking that we would just see one another next week at practice. We couldn't quite comprehend the fundamental changes that were about to happen. So that day I said a lot of my last goodbyes and it was hard.
SUS skiers and UW skiers alike were about to go their separate ways and hunker down for a quarantine. The freshmen were even kicked out of the dorms and had to return to their hometowns. For a while it felt like I wouldn't see my people ever again, and that was isolating. Going from having twenty people that new exactly how you were feeling by your side, to just a few people that made it into your bubble was a hard transition. And while I do regret my goodbyes not being ideal I try and focus on what was happening right before we went our separate ways. I'll treasures those times and let them warm my heart for years to come.