By Skyler Kenna
Over the past eight years, competitive Nordic ski racing has taken me to some incredible places. Three years ago, it brought me to Alaska. More recently, the sport took me to China to compete in the Tour De Ski.
In January, I raced in one of the coolest cross country ski events the world has to offer. The race series is not as prestigious as events like the Olympics, World Championships, or any World Cup Race. But what makes the Chinese Tour De Ski race series different is the strong sense of community built with other skiers from around the world.
Often at international races, each country sticks together and cheers for their fellow teammates. But, for the Tour De Ski China, I raced as a member of the World’s Team. My teammates were skiers from Norway, Sweden, Finland, Italy, France, Czech Republic, Austria, and Venezuela. Everyone was there for the same reason: to ski fast and have fun.
The Tour consisted of six races at four locations in ten days. Any day that we weren’t traveling, we were racing. Some of the skiers competing this year were former National Team Members, National Champions, World Cup skiers, Olympians, and High School State Champions. I fit into the latter category, so there was no way I was going to win any of the races, or even come close to standing on a podium. I focused on making the most of my time in a foreign country and having fun, while skiing as fast as I could.
I had some of the best races of my life.
I qualified for heats in perhaps my weakest discipline, skate sprinting, but unfortunately never making it past the quarter finals. I skied a strong 50 Kilometer (31 Miles) race, and had one of my best finishes in the 5 Kilometer (3.1 Miles) race a few days later.
Though we were there to ski, we also got to see some pretty amazing parts China. The race series went to numerous locations, allowing us to see a large swath of the country. Evening runs were filled with curiosity and wonder. We explored each new area with the same excitement as the first day we arrived. We ran through markets, up buttes, along dirt roads near North Korea, through congested cities, and even on the Great Wall at night. We traveled to different regions, and saw what each new place had to offer. I saw some of the most amazing views I’ve ever seen, and met people that I will never forget.
Many people have asked me about my time in China and I have a hard time coming up with a good description to give them. The closest I could ever come to explaining the trip is: “it was the time of my life.”