SOLDIER HOLLOW — When Rosie Brennan's mother suggested she take up cross country skiing in eighth grade, the Park City native suspected the sport might be something akin to cleaning her room — a lot of work but not much fun.
So she resisted until winter boredom got the best of her.
"I was reluctant, but I ended up really liking it," said the 24-year-old who earned her second U.S. Cross Country Ski Championship medal in two races with a win of the women's 10K individual start Friday morning at Soldier Hollow with a time of 29:12.3. "So I guess she knew better than me. It seemed like a lot of work, and a lot more fun to go downhill than uphill when you're a kid."
She couldn't have been more wrong when she judged the sport boring.
"I liked it right away," she said.
Her affection turned to passion as she progressed, and it eventually led the Park City High graduate to ski for Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.
"I had only had one or two teammates in Park City, so skiing at Dartmouth was the first time I was on a full women's team, and I loved it," she said. "It's great to have teammates to push you and support you."
When she graduated from college, she decided that she wasn't quite done with her education — or cross country skiing. So she looked around the country at the very few club options available to skiers who are not on the U.S. national team and chose Alaska Pacific University's Nordic Program.
APU is home to the world's current World Cup Sprint leader, Anchorage native Kikkan Randall, and several of the country's best male and female athletes.
Skiing with the best female cross country athletes in the world was a double-edged sword. "It was both (intimidating and inspiring)," she said laughing. "I was coming off a few years of injuries, so it was really challenging. I was getting crushed every day at training. So to pick yourself up and go back out and ski the next day was really hard. But it's really paid off."
The APU women's team competing in the U.S. Championships is so deep, they've won five of the six available medals at the U.S. Championships so far.
Brennan led her teammates in a sweep of the podium Friday morning, edging teammate and national team skier Sadie Bjornsen by 11 seconds.
Her coach, Erik Flora, said Friday's victory wasn't exactly something they expected but it certainly fit with the direction Brennan's been headed since she began training at APU two years ago.
"It's something we could see was possible, but to have two medals in two days, yeah, that's fantastic," said Flora smiling. "She's training really well, training a lot, and you could see through the fall that she's just made one step after another. And being on her home course, that doesn't hurt either. It's wonderful."
It was a nice day on the men's side for Alaska Pacific as Erik Bjornsen won the men's 15K individual start with a time of 37:02.7. He beat Tad Elliott, Snowboard Club Vail, and Matt Gelso, Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation.
"It was a reach," Flora said of Bjornsen's win. "But it was definitely something we could see coming. It was fantastic. He came to us about two years ago as well, but as a sprinter. So today being a distance result is fantastic. It's exceeded his expectations, I’m sure."
Bjornsen was shocked even after standing on the podium and accepting his award.
"I can't believe I just won nationals," he said. "It's so amazing. My race was unbelievable. I've never been in the top 10 in a distance race at nationals, so to win it was pretty crazy."
He said it was the race's third-place finisher who helped him ski the winning race.
"I was kind of dying the second lap, and then the last lap I pulled a couple of times for (third-place Matt) Gelso and just felt like we were hammering that last lap."
Then it was just a matter of staying upright.
"Coming down that last hill, I was just thinking, 'Don't fall; don't lose it!' because my legs were so filled with lactate," he said. "Then I just hammered into the finish and I couldn't believe it."
The U.S. Championships continue with sit-ski adaptive races at 2 p.m. Saturday. Sunday, Brennan will race again in the Classic Mass Start, which begins at 10 a.m. Women ski a 20K race, while men ski 30K.
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