BY ELIZABETH ARNOLD
The Anchorage Nordic skiing community lost an inspirational spirit earlier this year. A graceful classic skier, loyal volunteer, loving mother and wife, Ellen Toll left us all wishing to hear her voice on the hill, see her at the finish with a cup of Gatorade, and share in her joy as a proud mother at just one more race. She died Jan. 19, 2015, after a long battle against ovarian cancer.
Through 16 months of cancer, Ellen never so much as paused in her dedication to family, friends and Nordic skiing. She lived by example and taught us all with her strength, passion and conviction. If she couldn’t ski the race, she would set up the course. If she couldn’t set up the course, she would cheer everyone on. If she couldn’t stand on the sidelines to cheer, she’d bring a chair.
Ellen’s commitment to the sport and the Nordic community was extensive and exhaustive. As director of the Anchorage Junior Nordic League for more than a decade, the program grew to provide skis and lessons to more than 600 kids every winter. Many of the Polar Cubs, whose skis were waxed and noses were wiped by Ellen, have gone on to state and national podiums and returned to coach Junior Nordic themselves.
With husband Dave at her side, Ellen organized, set up and ran the Anchorage Middle School races for the last seven years, as well. She helped kids out of snowbanks who had never skied before and handing out medals to some who had never dreamed of crossing a finish line.
Relentless, Ellen also served as an enthusiastic board member and secretary to the NSAA and as a member of the Cross Country Alaska Competition Committee.
An avid skier, she was involved in every part of every citizens’ race, before and after skiing it herself. From setting up the stadium, manning the registration table, organizing the drinks, and putting the last gates on the rack, Ellen was always there after the crowds were gone, with a laugh or a quip about her own race.
Her quiet pride about her own daughter’s remarkable achievements as a skier never displaced her support for everyone else. Standing at the top of Elliot’s Climb, without so much as a start list, Ellen would cheer every high school skier on by name. And as many heard her voice, that last stretch of hill became a little less daunting.
Several hundred of those high school skiers, their families and friends, coaches and Green Grunts wore their Junior Nordic hats and jackets at last January’s high school Skiathalon race. We honored a woman whose commitment, tenacity and pure joy as a Nordic skier not only touched but inspired us and even changed many of our lives.
Ellen did it in so many ways, tirelessly pulling her sled up and down the hill between the chalet and the stadium, making sure we all had drinks at the finish.