On February 9th, I attended the NENSA Annual New England Women’s X-C Ski Day at the Bethel Inn and Nordic Center in Maine. If you’ve been reading this blog since the beginning, you know that my re-discovery of cross-country skiing was emotional. I raced as a teenager, and pushed myself to my limit (at least that’s what I told myself at the time), and I gave it up in college. I got out a few times over the years, but when my boots finally fell apart, I gave it up altogether. Then, a few years ago, I borrowed skis from a friend and stopped at Bretton Woods on my way to a meeting in Vermont. After a few hours on the trails, I hopped in the car to head to Montpelier and started to cry; I was head to toe happy. Since then, I’ve picked up some Fischer Racing Cross classics, and I get out whenever there’s snow. A side benefit is that I can build up lung strength and give my running legs a rest in the winter months.
At last year’s NENSA clinic, I got on skate skis for the first time. It was rough on my ankles, which seemed mysterious until I learned that skate skis have a right and left, and mine were on backwards. This year, in spite of having skate skied once in my life, at last year’s clinic, I decided to sign up for the advanced Uphill Downhill Skate. The instructors, Kathy Maddock and Beth, were inspiring—strong, patient, and clearly in love with the sport. Though I had a few moments of feeling the rhythm of uphill skating, it was largely will and brute force that got me up the hills. It also seemed as if I was working harder than anyone else. I could tell that there was a groove to be had, and I wasn’t hitting it. Photographer Carol Savage was there, shooting pix of the NENSA Women’s Day, and she captured a few moments of my struggle: Uphill Skate
Over lunch, there was a raffle and a number of presentations—including a recorded video from the U.S. Women’s Ski team in Sochi. There was also a talk by Leslie Bancroft-Krichko, who competed in the winter Olympics in Lake Placid and Calgary. She mentioned the shift in the culture of the Olympics from 1980 to 1988: it “went Hollywood.” In Lake Placid, she recalled trying to walk next to speed skater, Eric Heiden, during the opening ceremony as a strategy for getting on TV. Heiden was a rising star in the 80s, who ended up winning gold in all 5 speed skating events. Krichko went on to say that as they walked by Vice President Mondale, the U.S.team tipped their cowboys hats in unison, at which point, the significance of the moment hit her, and she started to cry.
Seeing the tears, her friend leaned over and whispered, “Good job, now we’ll be on TV!”
Leslie told the story of how her skiing career was launched. It was her senior year of high school, and during a race, a “goofy” spectator blurted out, “who’s that moose on skis who’s beating my daughter!?” After the race, the man found Leslie and asked about her future plans. She answered that she was hoping to attend Middlebury.
“Why Middlebury,” he asked?
“They have the best ski team in the States,” she replied.
“Actually, I think I have the best ski team in the States,” he shot back. He was coach of the U.S. Ski Team.
That was that; after getting up the nerve to tell her parents, she decided to put off college for a few years in order to compete. She began training for the 1984 Olympics, but she progressed so quickly that she qualified for Lake Placid in 1980. After an injury, in 1983, she retired, or tried to. She ended up working at a ski shop a few days a week, and one day the manager approached her, saying, “You know, you outsell everyone else in the store. You love this sport so much, I’m worried you might regret giving it up so early.” She took the manager’s advice and started back slowly; she “didn’t feel ready for the circuit,” but after placing well in her first race, she began to get serious and ended up qualifying for, and competing in, the 1988 Olympics. I got choked up listening to her story, if only for knowing what it feels like to give up something that you love, and then to find it again.
In the afternoon session of the NENSA event, I joined a guided tour with a mixed group of skate and classic skiers. I was so happy to be back on the classics that I didn’t have patience for the stop-and-start pace of the large group. I borrowed a map, and took off with a skate skier who also wanted to cover some ground. We headed for the Corkscrew, which wasn’t groomed for classic but was still a blast to ski. After an hour on the trails, I cruised up the last hill to the Inn; I was whooped but elated.
I packed up the skis and headed for the Tavern to wrap up the adventure. At the bar, one of the instructors mentioned the Bretton Woods Nordic Marathon and Half Marathon on March 8th. I’m contemplating. It would be my first x-c race since 1985…