I’ll never forget the way my eyelashes plastered into frosty semi-circles as I trekked to the Andover Nordic room. I arrived at the same time every day in the winter, my toes comfortingly numb by the time I opened the door. Skis and poles jutted out of the cramped cubbies lining the walls, and the room smelled like paraffin and stale granola bars.

I won’t forget the way wax dripped from my iron with a therapeutic rhythm as I prepared for my next race, and how the surface of my ski seemed to soak up the stress wound tightly within my exhales. The Nordic room was where my coaches and I had contests to see who could come up with the wittiest puns, and where my teammates and I could shake our spandex-clad tail feathers to “Don’t Stop Believing” without facing too much judgement. It was also a place where I could breathe deeply and let go, a refuge where I gathered my strength and honed my focus. I thought of the Nordic room when a half-finished history essay blinked back at me from my computer screen in the small hours of the morning, or when biology class twisted my brain into pretzel-like shapes that I didn’t know existed.

Usually my face was so numb when I crossed a finish line that I couldn’t feel the snot running down my chin; my lungs’ desperate need for oxygen trumped my vanity. Nordic is not glamorous, it is hard. It’s a graceful yet brutal kind of difficult that often made me wonder what kind of nutty life-choices I made to find my feet strapped onto two brightly-colored pieces of fiberglass— my body zipping down some random trail in New Hampshire, or Vermont, or really wherever we could find some snow.

I’ll remember that the roots of my determination are embedded within nordic skiing, in the sport taught me that each pole stroke propels me forward despite the throbbing in my arms, and each crunching glide of my ski steadies my heartbeat. I never won a race or broke a record, but I developed an ability to push myself. I learned to value not so much gold medals or time splits, but rather to cross any kind of finish line—be it the red tape on a ski course or the final draft of a history paper— knowing that I’d given it my best. Nordic made me comfortable with being uncomfortable, a skill that gave me not only the courage to leave home and come to Andover to begin with, but also the confidence I use to take on each day.

I may say goodbye to nordic ski racing after grauation, but I won’t forget the frost on my lashes or the numbness in my toes, or the throb of my pole strokes or the snot on my chin. I’ll bring along the dance parties and the smell of paraffin, and the echo of my skis crunching against the snow. I’ll remember that I wouldn’t be the athlete, student, or friend I am today without the Andover Nordic team.

_Elana King-Nakaoka is a three-year Senior from Ketchum, ID. She co-captained Nordic Skiing and ran for Varsity Girls Cross Country._