Today was the third race for the World University Games here in Trentino Italy. It has been an amazing journey watching fellow teammates racing, prepping for and racing our own individual races, and of course the year-round training. Watching and competing has been such an amazing experience. Being able to watch the different countries and my own friends competing has been more exciting than I could have ever asked for. Today was a very unique experience, combining both competing, and watching my teammates race all in one. Because of the nature of relays, we were able to race, tag-off, watch our relay partner race. We were to each do three laps each, alternating ever-other one. We had two teams competing in the mixed team sprints (one male and one female racer), and I was fortunate enough to be on one of those teams.
Heart pounding. Adrenalin pumping. Breathing heavy. Looking down at my skis as I slide them back and forth (in true Nordic fashion) to try to calm myself down. I am lined up with nineteen other guys all waiting for the sound of the start gun to fire. From the back of the pack I look up, only to see the massive field of men from all over the world with our 1.2 kilometer sprint course is the backdrop.
Everyone begins to settle as the count to the start begins. Breath-by-breath the seconds fly by. There is not a sound coming from the stadium filled with people. No breeze, nothing but the cool air touching my face. The steam from my breath floating up into the sky. Pure serenity. BANG. All hell breaks loose. Simultaneously all of the men begin the race, getting faster and faster all through the start lanes. Skis, poles, arms and legs now up to full speed. Trying to slow my breath and relax into the quickened pace we come the the first rolling hill on the course. Still in the back, I manage to work my way up into the group passing two men as we crest. Getting to the backside over the roller, we all settle into a tuck. Breathing heavily now to recover as much as possible before the big hill. This hill has been ascended by countless racers, many of which have been world cup skiers and Olympians (whom I have watch countless times on this very hill on you-tube). It is now our turn to climb. Standing up and breaking into the hill with as much momentum as possible, I am able to maintain most of my speed. Calm, cool, and relaxed I work my way further towards the front of the pack. Pole, glide, pole, glide all the way to the top. Legs aching, lungs burning, the pack has slowly spread by the top. Feeling exhausted, the downhill tuck is nothing short of painful, filled with desperate grasps for air. Coming into the corner leading to the next up-hill my breath calms and I am prepared to hit the hill hard. Coming out of the tuck and "throwing the hammer down" I pass one of the many guys in front of me. On the the next down hill I tuck in for more grasps for air. Coming back over the other side of the rolling hill, I hold my momentum as best as possible before the last flat to the tag zone. Keeping my distance in front of those who were behind me I sped through the flats and into the tag. Searching for my partner as I skied into the tag zone I finally spotted her. Elise began moving down the track as I quickly tagged her with sheer exhaustion. Elise flew out of the gate to continue the race. And just like that, the first of my three laps were done.
As I watched Elise burn through the course, I couldn't help but give hugs to my two amazing coaches from all the excitement. I didn't need to say anything for them to know how great it was out there, I could tell they knew. I too could tell how excited they were for me, glowing even brighter than they usually do. Smiles beaming we were all feeding off of each-others excitement. Oddly enough, even though it was only a third of the actual race, it was
an experience that I will never forget and one that I will cherish for the rest of my life.