In March, Junior Race team member Maya Abraham, 15, was Nelson Nordic Ski Team’s sole representative at this year’s Canadian Cross-Country National Championships in Whistler. Maya, who trains very hard year-round, performed characteristically well, placing fifth overall among U16 Girls in her Interval Start Free Technique race, and finishing less than one second off the podium. This is her story of her trip to Whistler and what she learned from the experience. Maya was also recently named to the provincial Development Squad. Congratulations, Maya! We are very proud of you!
From the moment we arrived at the trails to the very last time I looked at them, it felt like each and every one of the people there were part of something special, something that all of us will remember for a very long time. I experienced many new elements of our sport at nationals, things I have never felt before, and that are now integrated into every race I will do in the future.
My races at nationals started off on a high, getting fifth place, something I had not been expecting, before immediately crashing to an all-time low on the second day after a big fall (in the Interval Start Classic Technique race).
Regardless of the placing however, each race taught me something new. I learned the importance of managing my nerves, expectations, and mindset before, during, and after a race. I learned how to be happy for others even when I was having a terrible day, and how to be a good friend to someone going through the same thing.
The first race taught me not to underestimate my abilities, because I could surprise myself at any moment. It also taught me that visualizing my course can be a superpower, because when I raced through that course, it felt like I had skied it a million times before, and I felt like I had wings on my skis.
After the joy of the first day, the second day took me down a notch. But sometimes, failure can teach you the most about racing. The Classic race taught me the importance of pacing, and of keeping a positive mindset throughout a race, no matter what happens. With negative thoughts and feelings of stress, your performance spirals until there is no hope for saving your race. After my crash, I felt stressed and angry, and then continued on to gasp and barely drag myself up the hills, which I had glided up with ease just one lap before. But I was proud of the way I collected myself to race again while keeping these important lessons in the back of my mind.
Day 3 was a sprint day (Classic Sprint Heats), and I learned the power of recovery and of having a team that day. My qualifier was fast, and I felt exceptionally happy, because improving on my sprinting was my season’s goal, and it had been achieved. Then, there was an intermission that lasted several hours. Unfortunately, I felt too busy to make the proper recovery choices that would dictate the day’s future races. I ate little and drank even less. I walked around instead of putting my feet against a wall and relaxing, and then I did a forty-five minute warmup which completely burned up all my energy. By the time my first heat rolled around, I was exhausted.
But then I saw Teslin, Tara and Andrew waving madly in the crowd, and was overcome with new determination to perform for my cheering squad. Without them and my awesome dad, I would never have done so well. In the end, I managed to squeak into 13th place.
On the fourth day of racing, the pressure was off. I was just doing one 90-second sprint qualifier, before watching the others compete in a team sprint. My qualifier was one of the faster ones I have ever done, and therefore I was pleased, although disappointed that I was stuck on the sidelines for the rest of the day. While watching the others compete however, I realized the importance of being a team, being loyal to each other, supportive, and having good communication. Even though my team was at home in Nelson, each one of them helped me get here with their love and support, and in future I look forward to racing the team sprint together, dressed up in glitter, costumes, and our Nelson Nordic gear.
The final day was rough. I had a position at the back of the mass start race (free technique), and had to fight for every position, while rainwater ran down my back and dripped off my chin. We were the last racers to go, and the conditions were the most treacherous I have ever seen. The officials changed the course during our race because they deemed the course too dangerous. Every few kilometres, there was evidence of carnage: a broken pole here, drops of blood from someone’s nose a little ways on, a girl crying with a broken ski and her bib turned out. This race separated the flexible, positive, determined and brave skiers from the faint of heart snowplowers. And while many of the brave skiers paid the price of crashing, so did the snowplowers. For me, this race taught me the importance of putting my head down, hoping for the best, and grinding it out. It was not a fun race, but it taught me a lot about the importance of character and positivity in an athlete.
Nationals, for me, were a range of highs and lows, but the one consistent thing was new experiences, friends, and memories that I will cherish and hold on to throughout my racing career. I can’t wait to represent our club alongside my teammates in the future, and my message to all Nelson Nordic athletes is that nationals is not just about racing, but about learning skills for the rest of your life, making friends, and discovering just how far you can push yourself. No matter how you place, ski racing is worth it, and I look forward to showing all younger athletes the magical experiences of racing alongside 700 other people who share your interests, feelings, successes, and failures. It is a week I will never forget, and I want to thank all the people who helped me get there.