David Norris winning the 2016 American Birkebeiner
Cross-country skiing isn’t just about the racing. As professional skiers, competition is our livelihood- the main reason we spend hundreds of hours training each year. But it isn’t the only reason. Regardless of wins or losses, this sport offers a community that provides endless support on multiple levels. As a member of APUNSC, I am provided with the resources to pursue my goals of Olympic success while simultaneously earning an MBA. APUNSC also serves as a platform to give back to the community- in appreciation for all the support it gives me. This relationship fuels me to pursue my goals. When racing across the country and in Europe, I not only feel the support of my teammates, but also of APUNSC and the Alaskan community as a whole. Each year, this support becomes more and more apparent; above all the successes and shortcomings last season, it was what stood out to me the most.
Since joining APUNSC in the spring of 2014, I have been incredibly optimistic towards my results for each upcoming season. Being a part of such an incredible team, it seems reasonable to set the bar high. Training amongst a group of phenomenal athletes while under the guidance of one of the country’s most respected coaches, progress is constant- if not exponential at times. The gains I make each summer always give me confidence leading into the next season. Yet I have learned that the mental trajectory you create is not always the one you follow.
When last season kicked off in West Yellowstone, I was disappointed in my results. I made a quick mental rebound and shifted my focus to the following weekend’s races in Sun Valley. Again, I was disappointed in my results. This cycle continued through US Nationals. I had no excuses- I was well prepared, healthy, and my coaches gave me fast skis each weekend; I simply performed below my expectations.
Thanks to the tremendous support from my teammates, coaches, and the Alaskan ski community, I remained optimistic. I found motivation in my teammates’ successes- an attitude we all shared. My teammates were always excited for each other; they never let personal disappointments take away from the success of the team. Because of this, each podium result my teammates achieved last season was a catalyst for another. We built each other up, and were stronger as a team than as a group of individuals.
After US Nationals, I came back to Anchorage to refocus and prepare for the second half of the racing season. The tiny manmade loop at Kincaid became the epicenter of the Nordic community; because of the lack of snow, I was fortunate to run into several of you who are reading this letter. I skied with many individuals that I would not have normally encountered on the usual trails. It was encouraging to visit with so many local skiers, and I was humbled by their support. I saw just how many people were cheering for APUNSC from afar- a realization that helped inspire and rejuvenate me for the rest of the season.
After my training block in Anchorage I headed to Lake Placid to start the second half of the SuperTour series. The first day of racing started with a bang; not only did I reach my first SuperTour A Final, but I won the race. The next day I followed my first ever SuperTour win with another in the distance race. That weekend, nearly four months after the start of the season, everything turned around for me. Weeks after, I won the American Birkie by out-sprinting seven Europeans at the line ahead of a strong field of American athletes. The season concluded with the US National distance championships, where I achieved a 3rd place podium finish after a grueling, sun-scorching, and sloppy 50 kilometers.
It is easy to finish a season only thinking about your most recent results. While I am excited about the way I concluded last season, I keep recollecting the first half of my season. My thoughts circle back to what “team” is all about, and how it has come to influence me as an athlete. Great results encourage me to push harder, train smarter, and continue pursuing my goals. More importantly, however, are disappointing results, which ultimately lead to growth. These results force me to ask myself why I am so passionate about skiing, why I am doing everything I can to reach my goals, and what I can do better in the future. Through both the successes and disappointments of last season, the one thing that remained constant was the incredible support from my peers, coaches, and the APUNSC family. Team.
Despite being frustrated with my racing in the fall, making a Thanksgiving feast on the road with my teammates remains one of the highlight evenings of my season. After winning both the Birkie and Mount Marathon this year, I was rushed at the finish line by my enthusiastic teammates. Within seconds of crossing the line at the Birkie, Lex- disappointed with his own result -lifted me off the ground with one of the biggest hugs I have ever received. Pursuing excellence and performing well is only so rewarding because of the individuals I share these experiences with. With APUNSC, we are a cohesive unit. It is the entire team- from juniors to masters- that makes being on the elite team such a valuable and rewarding position.
Again, I am optimistic going into this 2016/17 season. Without the support from the entire APUNSC family, it wouldn’t be possible for so many athletes to pursue their dreams. To all of you who follow and cheer on APUNSC athletes racing across the country and in Europe, graciously donate to our team’s racing expenses, and encourage us to keep putting it on all on the line- THANK YOU! - David Norris APU Elite team member