Interview with Rachael Jennings
RJ: Tell us about the competition.
CB: Junior Nationals were in Cable, Wisconsin this [March], which is a pretty quiet town that boasts to be the home of the American birkebeiner, a big famous ski race with lots of tradition. A nearby town boasts to be the home of the world record muskie, a kind of fish someone caught there. I think it was around 70 pounds. Its an interesting area. The first two days [after our arrival] had no races; they were just training days. The weather was good for skiing, and the snow was some of the best I had skied on all season. As soon as the first race came, the weather started to deteriorate. It was warm and rainy for the rest of the time I was there, resulting in huge loss of snow. Luckily they had brought in 300 dump truck loads of snow beforehand in preparation.
RJ: What was the course like?
CB: The course was brutal. The ski trails went up and down and around an old downhill ski area. On some of the courses, there was a four minute climb, which is just unspeakable. It would have been a great course for me if I had been at 100% because I am a good climber. The longer races had to be two laps and the sprint was a different loop altogether. All courses were not easy and had hardly any flat sections.
RJ: What was the competition like? In which races did you participate?
In my races, there were around 110 competitors from I think six regions of the country. My division is u18, so [that means] 16- and 17-year-olds. [...] The event lasted 10 days. I went as a part of the New England ski team. The team takes six u18 boys plus more depending on how good the u18s are compared to the u20s. We had thirteen u18 boys, which is a huge group. I qualified 4th for the team.
There are three individual races at nationals and one team relay. The first race was a classic 10 kilometer race. Classic is one of two disciplines, the one that would come to mind when you picture nordic skiing. [It’s] kind of like running with a glide phase in between steps. The other is skating: picture an ice skating motion, pushing off side to side.
RJ: How did you fare in each race?
CB: I had a pretty bad race that first event. The long, hard race was not fun with mono. I started slow and slowed down. The grip wax you use to push back was not working for me that day, as well. The schedule of the week was two training days, a race day, a rest day, a rest day, and then three race days, with two travel days on either side. After the first race, I was totally wiped out. I slept for the whole day and didn’t do any of the team training days. I then decided to put all my money on the sprint, figuring mono would have less of an effect on the shorter races. So I skipped the Skate 10k, which would have probably been my best race had I not had mono. After three days pretty much in bed resting, I felt reasonably good for the sprint day, which is much better than I had felt in a long time.
Warming up for the sprint was a challenge. If you are fast, you can race up to four times in a sprint day. There is a preliminary round where everyone races to see who gets into the top 30. The top 30 are split into heats. If you place top two in your heat of six people, you move on. They also take two extra people who had the fastest times of those who did not qualify. Then you race again, [and] the same system decides who moves on. Eventually, you get an A and B final. How you finish there is your final placement.
RJ: How did you place?
CB: I qualified 24th for rounds, making it into the top 30. The times are tight for this race because it is only 1.3 kilometers. 1 second can cost you several places. After about two-and-a-half hours, the rounds started. I got second in the first heat, meaning I moved on. We had about 30 minutes to rest. I got third in the next heat, but had a fast time, so I qualified for the A final. I threw up a lot after that race. We then had fifteen minutes to prepare for the final. I had spent so much energy getting to the A final that I was exhausted, but what was good was that I was guaranteed a top six finish. I pretty much died in that final, but I was happy the whole race because I knew the worst I could do was sixth place, which was still much better than I thought I was going to do.
RJ: What was this like as an emotional experience? What happened when you found out the news of your All-American finish?
CB: Well, when I found out I had I had mono [a few weeks prior], I went home immediately to be by myself. My mom had told me the news at school, and I just had to leave. I was very upset at first. After a while, I felt a sense of relief. I had been so exhausted and not myself for so long. I thought I had just been getting worse at skiing and I couldn’t pay attention in class. It was nice to be able to explain everything so simply. But it was hard going forward because I didn’t know if I would be able to go to nationals. I almost didn’t go. I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t gotten a call from my doctor saying that I was cleared for competition, meaning I wouldn’t injure my spleen if I raced or cause any permanent damage to my body. I knew I wouldn’t be at 100% and I knew I might have to sit out of a race, but I knew that I had the opportunity to have just one good race, and I did.
This experience pumped me up because it got me thinking: what could I have done without mono? [...] Having such a good race while racing at about 70% capacity makes me eager to train this spring summer and fall to have an incredible season next year.