Competing in the Olympics is often considered the culmination of an athlete's career - definitely a highlight and the realization of a long-seeded goal. After what what can be years of obscurity, finally everyone cares about your sport. Along with being named to an Olympic team comes letters, emails, and requests from people like the person you sat next to on the school bus in second grade. I'm not saying this is a bad thing - it's actually quite the opposite. The Olympics represent a time for us, as athletes to share our passions and show the rest of the world how cool our sport is. It's our time to shine and pull dividends from the thousands of hours of roller skiing in the rain.... it's an opportunity for us to advocate for and share our message.
As a cross country skier I've put in over 800 hours (annually) of training over the last four years in preparation for and anticipation of the Games in Sochi. The path along the way has been full of highs, lows, and everything in between. When you throw yourself into a passion without abandon you never know what will materialize but luckily I'm focused on enjoying the process (the small steps, the everyday) in addition to the big outcome goals such as performance at the Olympics.
Sometimes you hear athletes reference their "team behind the team" and the people that have supported them over the years. I'm frightful to mention specific names, organizations or businesses for fear of forgetting someone but I am so thankful that I need to share and give credit where credit is deserved.
My parents & family have of course been huge. My mom and dad got me into the sport in the first place taking me out roller skiing in Seattle when no one else did, driving me to Junior Olympic qualifiers, investing in a family cabin up at Snoqualmie Pass that we skied into on the weekend between working as ski instructors at Ski Acres. (Check out my parent's instructor coats in the pic below) - I had one too that went below my knees... At the ripe age of 9 I was an "assistant instructor" for the five year olds!
It's really, really cool that of a team of 14 (total) 5 athletes are originally from Washington state - more than any other state including Vermont (a close second) and Alaska (where many of us live now). I think that people who grow up skiing in the Cascades develop a special passion for snow sports - the community is small, tight knit and passionate. Yet at the same time, it isn't always easy to be a skier, especially cross country. While skiing in the Methow is accessible I know that I had to work for it as a young skier. Snow was far away and none of my school friends in Seattle even knew what cross country skiing was. While it wasn't always easy it made me incredibly resilient. I skied on weekends and occasionally on Wednesday nights at a mid-week time trial. Wednesday nights there were upwards of 75 people participating and at the age of 13 my "training partners" where always women in their 30's, 40's and 50's! A favorite moment from that time period was stopping by the gas station on the way home and getting Cheetos and Cream Soda for the ride home. (A little junk food for kids never hurts?!)
Next is my husband who is undoubtedly my best friend. I initially moved to AK to be a coach and coach I did. However, I met Rob along the way. Many adventures and thousands of "on-snow hours" later he convinced me that I was a faster skier than I thought. As a competitive racer himself, having just missed two Olympic Games ('98 & '02) he knew the level of dedication and talent that it takes.... This whole racing thing was his idea and although I'm know he occasionally regrets it when spending long winters at home alone he's my biggest supporter. Rob's presence in Sochi was never in the plans due to $ & logistics but a few months ago Rob landed an official position with NBC as the Assistant to the Assistant Announcer for Cross Country Skiing! It's still really unclear how much I'll get to see him but I'm excited to know that he'll have a context for my stories from Sochi - as well as his own!
Here is a FasterSkier article about Rob in Sochi that was published a few months back if you're interested:
Rob and Buggz the cat pay a short "house visit" during one of his many 24 hour shift working for the Anchorage Fire Department.
Next is Erik Flora who I would call one of the most passionate and dedicated coaches in the World. Funny thing is that for the first six years of our relationship Erik was my boss, not my coach. Four and 1/2 years ago I sat Erik down and timidly told him that I wanted to make a run for Vancouver. Instead of laughing (which would have been an understandable response) he encouraged me and he's been there ever since. There are few people in this world that love skiing more than Erik does and he conveys his passion to all the athletes he coaches. It's paid off in that all of his athletes continually improve and Kikkan Randall, my teammate and Olympic Gold Medal hopeful have been nurtured by him for many, many years.
While athlete's names are the only ones listed in the results or standing on the podium there is always a "Team behind a Team" we couldn't do it without parents, significant others, coaches, teachers, PT's, massage therapists, friends to watch your cat, etc, etc.
While the list of these types of people go on and on I think it's really, really important to acknowledge one other group of people too and that is, sponsors.
Pursuing Cross Country Skiing at an elite level is expensive - there is no other way around it. While physical and emotional support is priceless, financial support is also necessary and often, extremely hard to come by. Luckily I have a great team of individuals and businesses who have stepped up to help me out. In 2010 I decided to officially resign from my job as a full time coach at APU Nordic Ski Center to pour my energy and time into full time ski racing. I wanted to see how far I could go. It worked in that I continued to improve, breaking barriers and expectations of the traditional development pipeline along the way. My message to others was and continues to be, "Don't count yourself out. Dare to Dream. Good things will come to those that try." In the span of three years I went from full time coach, to overall Domestic Super Tour Champion, to Vancouver Olympian, to US Ski Team Nominee, the making the US Ski Team A team & being ranked #16 in the World for distance racing (at the end of last season). While I may not be a medal favorite I'm ready to give it my all.
Growing up I had no expectation of reaching the top of any sport because I was always middle of the pack. I never won anything and presence on the trails and at events was always because I loved it, not because anyone ever expected me to be great at anything. Years later that passion has paid off and with the help of my Sponsors I'll be climbing on an Olympic charter flight from Munich Germany to SOCHI RUSSIA on Tuesday! I am and will continue to be eternally grateful for the folks who helped me finance this journey because without them, none of this would have been possible. I certainly hope that I can make them proud and pay them back someday through service and/or my actions.
Four years ago Dr. George Rhyneer contacted me and signed a FOUR YEAR contract of support. Any athlete will tell you how rare this is and Dr. Rhyneer's generosity was one of the things that helped me take the plunge into elite ski racing. He provided a little bit of security where there truly is none. He's a fantastic Orthopedic Surgeon in Anchorage who practices new school techniques with old school bedside table manner... (AKA, a Dr. who gives you the time of day, calls you at home and honestly cares about your care, treatment and prognosis.)
The Rhyneer Clinic was also a sponsor for the Oct/ANC edition of Fast & Female!
Second is my current headgear, Carlile Transport. Harry McDonald is an APU Alumni and current Board of Director who uses his business to promote good in the community. Harry has been supporting APU skiers for years now and my teammate Sadie Bjornsen and I are lucky enough to have Carlile (Yes, ICE ROAD TRUCKERS!) as our headgear. Ron Keiswether, the new COO of Carlile is supportive of our Olympic pursuit too. We're both hoping to make the trip up the Alaskan Haul Road one of these days....
In front of a Carlile Truck! (Alaska Pacific University Summer Fundraiser)
Carlile Athletes in Seiser Alm, Italy.
Microcom Communication Systems (Satellite Internet, TV & Phones) came on board for some extra support this Olympic year and I will be eternally grateful! Not only did they help me cover some of my expenses but they also hooked me up with DISH TV which will allow our house sitters to watch Olympic coverage 24/7. Thanks guys!
Kendall Toyota of Ancohage helped me out with a lease on a new vehicle to get me to and from training. After 11 years of driving the same car new wheels were a fantastic (and safe!) way to get to training all summer and fall!
Thanks to BP Alaska for their help!
Also, thanks to Doug Pauly and the Northern Fruit Company, Davis Constructors & Engineers & Alaska Medical Solutions.
Not to forget my industry sponsors: Salmon Nordic, Swix, CLIF bar, Rudy Project, Polar HR Monitors, & the Alaska Club.
To organizations who help athletes with grants: NNF (the National Nordic Foundation), Kongsberger Ski Club, Girdwood 2020 & AWOF - Alaska Winter Olympians Foundation.
Logos and Links to ALL of my sponsors can be found on the right hand side of my blog. Please help me thank these individuals and companies by utilizing their businesses and products!
Last but not least, my two teams.....
APU Nordic Ski Center
And of course, the US Ski Team, athletes, coaches & administrators.
WHEW! That was an exhaustive list and I am so thankful to all of these people and more!