the last first day.


Tomorrow, I will begin my senior year at Dartmouth College and with it my final season of collegiate ski racing.

Although winter sports teams can’t hold official practice until the first day of fall classes, the reality is that we are all deep into our training seasons.

Training started in April for me. I began lifting weights in the gym and going on short runs and long easy rides on my road bike. Even though I grew up in Lyme, there are corners of the Upper Valley which are still unfamiliar, and my bike is the best way to find them.

In May the runs lengthened to one or two or hours, often in the hills of Norwich with teammates and friends. We watched the deciduous trees leaf out across the valley from the top of Bragg Hill Road, and we tried to stay dry while negotiating the mud and streams on the trail from Tilden Hill to Beaver Meadow Road.

Summer came and while the sophomores stayed on campus and practiced daily with Ruff, the men’s coach, the rest of us scattered across the country to places like Park City, Utah; Morrisville and Orleans, Vermont; Crested Butte and Durango, Colorado; Worcester, Massachusetts; Bend, Oregon; and a large, green bus or a slim bicycle criss-crossing the United States.

My teammates told me stories from camps with regional development teams, practices with high school teammates and coaches, and visits to see each other.

There is a book titled The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. I haven’t read it, but it must describe my training pretty well, because I never had a partner.

I worked 40 or more hours a week on my senior thesis project, time spent outside observing and measuring plants. It was stressful to be responsible for my own research and results.Training was one of the things that kept me sane.
I’d rollerski out from Crested Butte along Highway 135, starting in the cold at 6 a.m. before the sun came over the hills and before the cars were on the road. The coffeeshop was my reward for getting out of bed, and I’d finish with a mocha before scrambling off to work at 8:30 or 9.

Those early mornings gave me time to think about things at a slower pace, to organize my life, and to maintain an emotional existence instead of becoming a research robot. In the field, the plants had all of my attention; training gave me the time to plan weekends and trips, and to get over it when my boyfriend broke up with me.

Eventually, we started coming back to Hanover, one at a time, to lead freshmen trips or to move into apartments before taking one final vacation. Only a few of us have been here consistently over the last few weeks – those of us with lab or office jobs to pay for rent, tuition, and new skis.

We train in small groups, rollerskiing out along Route 10 after work, or on our own, hitting up our favorite running trails before official practice dictates our routes.

Tomorrow all of this will end. Not only will we spend the day in classes, exercising our slightly musty minds – I’ll be learning about the environmental applications of GIS (Geographic Information Systems) – but at 2 o’clock, we will all assemble in Robinson Hall and do the same workout.

Just like classes, practice means tests. You can no longer fool yourself into thinking that you’re in better shape than you actually are. There are time trials and strength testing, especially in the first week. Maybe you’re right where you want to be, or maybe your teammates are leaps and bounds ahead of you – now you get to find out.

Before the first practice of every year I get little butterflies. I feel like I have to prove myself in these early weeks and I’m nervous for our first time trials. Sometimes I want so badly to do well that I sabotage myself. I know that for me, staying in it mentally is 90% of the race, but even knowing that doesn’t make it any easier to stay tough.

My teammate Minal Caron said, “I was nervous freshman year. But testing just is what it is, and you’ll always have excuses, so I don’t worry about it that much anymore.”

Yes, I’ll always be able to make excuses if I do poorly. Most athletes could take up side careers as professional excuse-makers. But nervousness is another degree of excited, and I’ve always thought that if you aren’t at least a little nervous, then there’s something wrong.

So I’m ready, senior year. Bring it on, butterflies and all.

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