Collegiate Racing: From Cross-Country Skiing to the Marine Corps by Andrew Egger
May 3, 2018
In January of 2014, I finished a 10k skate race in Itasca, Minnesota in minus ten degrees with a bone-shattering wind chill. The race was tough, but as I limped to the chalet, I knew the real pain was yet to come. My toes, fingers, and face were frozen solid. As I sidled inside and plopped myself down to ready myself for the incoming suffering, my LNR teammate, Scott Harrison, also came in. He finished shortly after me in the interval-start race, and by the way he limped slowly toward me with his head down, I could tell that his body was frozen too. He sat down beside me on the couch grunting, “I’m frozen.” “Me too,” was all I could muster in return. Within five minutes the pain hit as our digits began to warm up. As blood made its way back into them, each toe and finger throbbed as though it had its own excruciating headache. We were in utter agony, and Scott, one of the toughest guys I knew, was moaning loudly- not to say that I wasn’t, I was probably groaning even louder. So there we were, two 6-foot-something seniors in high school, rolling around on the couch in the Itasca chalet, nearly in tears from the pain of simply warming up.
Colby teammates Adlai Sinkler and Andrew Egger, November 24, 2017 (Photo: Adlai Sinkler)
Last summer, I graduated from the United States Marine Corps Officer Candidate School (OCS) with the top physical fitness grade in my class of 200. It was not until Officer Candidate School that I realized just how many benefits the sport of cross-country skiing reaps. This sport breeds unique athletes; no other sports require athletes to train year-round in all weather for both 1.5k sprints and 50k marathons. Rain, sleet, snow, minus ten or 100 degrees, you can count on skiers to be outside embracing the grind.
At OCS, crawling under barbed wire, negotiating obstacle courses, climbing over fences, carrying peers through the woods, swimming through swamps, pull-ups, dips, push-ups, running, and food and sleep deprivation are all aspects of training. Ninety percent of my physical preparation for this school was simply my regular cross-country ski training consisting of long runs, hill intervals, agility, and lifting. I began doing these types of workouts in middle school with Loppet Nordic Racing and the Benilde-St. Margaret’s ski team, and I continued them collegiately with the Colby College ski team.
Cross-country skiing workouts generate a mental toughness that is not found in many other places outside of our sport. Skiers have extreme mental endurance- and even more impressive to me- they have an ability to retain a positive attitude, despite how tough the training or weather may get. This mindset begins to develop when young middle school and high school students decide they want to spend their summers training for success in the winter. An example of this is seen in Loppet Nordic Racing, which has hundreds of young athletes waking up at 6:00am, 5 days per week, to train together. These athletes will finish two workouts before their non-skiing counterparts even wake up.
The mentality of the cross-country skier is further developed with some of the seemingly stupid-hard workouts, often found at training camps, that each competitive skier has to go through. Whether it’s a foot race up Sugarloaf Mountain, a 25-mile run in sleet on the Birkie trail, skiing up alpine mountains, or the Loppet’s infamous eco-challenges, these workouts breed mental toughness and tenacity. It is these types of workouts that harden skiers to do morning workouts in sub-zero temperatures or race in conditions in which they will most certainly get frostbite. The mentality developed in our sport pushes skiers to excel on the racecourse, and also in anything else they decide to pursue.
Classic sprints at US Nationals, January 2018 (Photo: Karen Brown)
As I reflect on the cross-country skiers that I know, I am very proud to be a part of this sport. Not only are skiers some of the most insane athletes out there, many of them are also the most well rounded people that I know. You will be hard-pushed to find a collegiate skier who is not also devoted to academics and other extra-curricular activities. Furthermore, many collegiate ski teams stop drinking for the entirety of their season. For Colby, this means nearly 5 months, and we are the only team at my school to do this. Skiers are devoted to attaining their highest potential, whether it is in the sport or outside of it. It is quite incredible to be a part of a community like that.
While I could probably write a book praising our sport, I will finish this piece with one last reason OCS has made me incredibly thankful for this sport: skiing has given me a love to exercise and be outside with friends. Most people see exercise as a chore, but despite the freezing fingers and toes, brutal workouts, and tough racing, cross-country skiing has brought me immense joy. It has taken me to the West Yellowstone Plateau, the Holmenkollen ski track, to the rolling hills of Sjusjøen and Lillehammer, through the jagged mountains of Switzerland, and yes, thousands of times around Hyland and Wirth parks. Nearly all my workouts have been done with friends and teammates, and my best stories, experiences, and laughter episodes involve gliding across the snow.
My peers at OCS often asked me what I did for physical training to prepare. I told them the truth. Some asked me where they could buy roller-skis, and others wanted to see my training plan. OCS is the most mentally and physically rigorous thing that I have done, but largely due to the sport of cross-country skiing, I managed to find success in my time there. The school made me realize the immense physical and mental benefits of our sport, and I think it is important to keep this in mind, particularly if you are not obtaining the results you shoot for. It is not all about finishing first. Of course it’s great to win. We all want to win. But what really matters is that when someone crosses the finish line in our sport, they tested the limits of the human body and spirit.
While the next years of my life will be spent mostly in regions where the white fluffy stuff does not fall, skiing will always be a large part of my life. Whether it will be live streaming World Cups or the Birkebeiner, feverishly checking BART Timing and Skinnyski, skiing on the beaches of Florida or rolling skiing in the Arizona desert while southerners rub their eyes to check if they’re dreaming, this sport will hold a special place in my heart. To all involved in it: thank you.