Portrait of an Alaskan

by • March 13, 2014 • ToastComments (0)122

With spring skiing on the horizon, ‘think like Kikkan’

Like many Alaskans, I spent a good portion of February planted in front of the television, watching Alaska’s Olympians give it their all in the Sochi Winter Olympics. And, like many, I awoke at 1 a.m. to catch cross-country skier Kikkan Randall, as she attempted to win her first medal ever – it would’ve been the first medal in cross-country skiing by any American woman.

By now, we all know how that went. The favored Anchorage mega-athlete fell a miniscule, five one-hundredths of a second short in her heat, getting bumped out of the race early. If she could’ve heard the collective Alaska voices from all of us watching here at home, it would have thundered like a big, surprised and heartbroken sigh. We shared her pain, through and through.

There is no easy way to work through such a disappointment –Randall has trained so hard, through four Olympics, getting stronger and stronger every year. To watch it disappear in a fraction of a second is nothing short of gut-wrenching.

But to watch this woman’s poise under all of the pressure – and the prerace hype was nothing short of a circus – is humbling. Despite her clear disappointment, she remained a model of what sport is all about.

I remember meeting Kikkan for an interview when she was just a teenager, hoping to earn a spot in her first Olympics in Salt Lake City, and not yet the everyday name she is now. Sitting at my desk, asking my reporter questions and trying to capture just what it takes to “be Kikkan,” I could already tell this girl was going somewhere. There was one enduring thing that stood out: She never said a single negative thing.

Kikkan Randall, shown here at a World Cup race, may have fallen short of her medal hopes in the Sochi Olympics, but her winning attitude and ambassadorship of Alaska’s popular sport of cross-country skiing earns her a gold. By Sarah Brunson, U.S. Ski Team

Kikkan Randall, shown here at a World Cup race, may have fallen short of her medal hopes in the Sochi Olympics, but her winning attitude and ambassadorship of Alaska’s popular sport of cross-country skiing earns her a gold. By Sarah Brunson, U.S. Ski Team

No matter what I asked her – about training, trail conditions, her competition, her family – she answered from a positive point of view. Not once did talk about less-than-ideal performances and place blame on poor wax, or bad trail conditions. Never did she complain about other competitors, or moan about the workload she was taking on to reach her dreams. She just had a can-do attitude about everything – and she was still a kid! That day, sitting in my office is still etched in my mind.

Over the years, Alaskans have watched Randall – and a host of other great Alaska skiers – put cross-country skiing on the American map. Each year she has gotten stronger and stronger, yet each year she has remained the ever-accessible, girl-next door just as likely to show up at a local elementary school or be behind you in line at the Bear Tooth. She’s stayed grounded, which has allowed her to soar.

Yes, Randall did not bring home the much-coveted medal. And yes, I’m sure she has shed her share of tears in private, when she replays those few last moments of the race. But for we Alaskans – at least this Alaskan – she is already a winner, embodying the very thing about sport that makes it so compelling, so very important to the lives of young people everywhere.

It’s not about the wins and losses – although as a journalist, I admit those wins are what make the headlines. If you’re true to the sport – as Randall is – it’s about putting yourself out there in the first place. It’s about falling down, and getting back up. It’s about facing failure and sometimes beating it, other times not beating it. You can’t win if you don’t try. And we’ve watched Randall win countless times.

March brings with it some of the most-enjoyable cross-country skiing of the year. By this time of year, skiers are either relaxing post-race season, or gearing up for their ultimate skiing test. From either perspective, the Tour of Anchorage, SKAN 24 and Oosik Classic races – among other special events this year, including the SuperTour Finals and National Masters – will draw skiers from across the state and country to enjoy this sport that Randall, our hometown here, has put on the map. Read all about these events in this month’s Coast, and no matter what, “think like Kikkan.”

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