This has been, without a doubt, the most exciting Period 1 of World Cup that I’ve ever had! It’s had it’s little ups and downs in the weeks between the races, but it’s been so much fun being part of a team that’s killing it both on the race course and off. And it’s hard to believe that we’ve been over here for a whole month already!
We arrived in Lillehammer after some delays and extra flights. Honestly, I was relieved that I’d managed to not kill my little plant that I’ve been traveling with since Beitostølen. Curiously enough, no eyebrows were raised in customs each time I marched through the airport clutching this bundle of little white flowers and green leaves…but the flight attendants seemed to really love it.
We like to make sure we have fun team things to do that have nothing to do with skiing. So mid-week we secured a meeting room in the huge hotel and had our “joy of painting with Bob Ross” night! As a bonus, we ended up with sweet hotel room decorations to make us feel less like we’re on the road. Or maybe I was the only one who saved mine? I hope not!
When it came time to race, I was excited more than nervous, and in a really happy place. I hadn’t done a Skiathlon in quite some time, and it’s such a cool race format with the exchange from classic to skate mid-race. It’s different than our usual sprint-and-10km weekends, which was also a great change of pace.
The classic skiing in Lillehammer was maybe as good as it’s ever been, and as I was racing I had a sudden burst of confidence in knowing that I could get up the long grinder of a climb without wasting energy at all. With Therese out in front with a gap, I started to push the pace, and after the exchange it was just me and Heidi rounding out the podium. We exchanged leads, pushing each other to race faster and create a sizable gap.
I love skiing with other racers who understand how changing leads and helping each other by leading where your strengths are can result in a much better race for both athletes. And we did just that! By the time we were about 1.5km from the finish, I felt like I had just a little energy left in the tank, and pushed really hard over the last pitch of the long climb, getting a little gap. Because I always work my way into the season, coming into the finishing lanes in Lillehammer in second place felt like a big moment for me, and I soaked up every second of it, knowing that you can never take a podium for granted because you’ll never know what your body and your wax will be doing the next weekend!
Then, of course, the 4x5km relay came around. You KNOW I had the socks and face paint all lined up and ready to go! Relays are such a special thing for our team, because it takes such all-out effort from so many different people to make it come together. As I was warming up and keeping an eye on the jumbotron showing the race, I was so proud of Sophie, Sadie and Rosie for their fighting spirit and was inspired to follow up their efforts with everything I had.
I’ve been anchoring the US Women’s 4×5 since I was 19 years old. I’ve seen every manner of race play out before me, and had the entire range of race experiences in this one race format alone! But every single time, crossing the finish line and hugging it out with my teammates – whether it was our best day or our worst – is the single best feeling in ski racing that there is. When I crossed the finish line in Lillehammer, I plowed right into the group hug (and managed to slobber all over Sophie’s jacket). It was the second time in history that we’d finished 2nd in the relay, and we enjoyed that special moment together!
Maybe it was too good to be true, because the next morning I woke up with the start of a cold. By the time we got to Davos and I put myself to bed, I had a little fever and chills, couldn’t breathe out of my nose, and was completely miserable. But I went through 3 boxes of tissues, drank about 20 cups of tea with honey per day, got some sunshine on the deck, and read 2.5 books over the next few days. I walked around on my skis to get some fresh air, and did my best not to worry or think too much about the upcoming races. Stressing over an outcome I cannot change wasn’t going to help me get better faster!
Luckily, I was feeling back to normal by Thursday night so I could join in the best night of the whole year…our annual team Secret Santa! It’s embarrassing to read a poem or sing a song about you in front of the team, but it also brings more laughs than the week put together and brings the team closer. I drew Coach Matt, and the poor guy had to sing, because of course we were going to make all our coaches sing in front of the team! Scott drew me (literally), making a really cool portrait.
I also love being in Davos because we always stay in the Kulm hotel, and the ski trail goes right up to the hotel door! You can ski right down to the other end of town and up the different valleys, and take a bus back home if you really start making poor timing decisions. It’s always so easy to hop on a bus and go down to town to get a waffle and a coffee, and it’s Switzerland, so you KNOW they’re going to be running on time.
By Friday afternoon, I knew I was set on racing, and I felt healthy again, kicking the tail end of the cold out the door. The sprint on Saturday was nothing special for me in terms of results or what I knew my body was capable of, but coming off a cold, it felt like a gosh darn miracle! I was happy with my day and immediately started getting ready for the 10km skate the next day.
One thing I love about this team (ok, it’s like the 139th thing that I love, but let’s add it to the list) is that we make sure to celebrate every small victory along the way. It’s easy to get excited over podiums and wins and historical “first-ever”s, but those won’t last forever. If we forget to celebrate every step on the path to getting those breakthroughs, we are suddenly in danger of taking those moments for granted. So after every race we acknowledge every sort of victory out there, whether it was the techs nailing the wax in tough conditions, someone’s first points, first World Cup start, first time in the sprint semis, or first podium.
And boy, did we ever have a lot to celebrate this weekend! Hailey Swirbul got her first World Cup points by making the sprint heats in Davos. We were in the first heat together, and it was fun to be part of something so special. It brought to mind the sprint in Quebec when Julia Kern made the heats for the first time, and I was also in her heat. I think I’m the luckiest old lady on the team ever, because I got to witness the excitement and look at their faces as they lined up to start the heats for the first time. You don’t get to see that kind of pure excitement, joy and inspiration every day! Then of course, seeing Sophie smoothly ski her way onto the podium was the incredibly satisfying and delicious icing on the cake. Rosie Frankowski also scored her first World Cup points the next day in the 10km skate, and we had 5 girls in the top 30 (myself, Sadie, Julia, Hailey and Rosie). The positive energy and confidence going through the entire team was a tangible thing!
As for my race, that 10km skate felt incredible. The course here in Davos is so tricky to pace, as it winds its way up the valley in one long grind where you are constantly working. Then it roars back down in a working downhill that never gives you as much rest as you think it should. But my body was rested, I executed my pacing strategy well, we had good skis and I fought my way to the podium again for my 3rd individual podium of the season! For a girl who loves high-speed sledding as much as I do, I was pretty stoked to get one of those cute mini-sled trophies in my hands.
A special shoutout goes out to our new US Ski and Snowboard team partner, Land Rover. I’m one of their athletes, and Land Rover arranged for us to have a car over in Europe to help the team out with transportation! Not worrying about the snow coming down hard while driving to the race venue was a huge relief, and I’m extremely grateful for the added freedom of mobility while traveling on the road for 4 months! Because of course I would give cars names, we gave it some thought and dubbed the car “Discovery Dwight”.
Now I’m staying here in Davos over the Holiday break, training and looking forward to spending some quality time with my family! My Mom, Dad and sister Mackenzie are all coming to spend a week with me, and I’m excited for some family skis, baking Christmas cookies, and decorating a tree together.