Will there ever be a more thrilling Senior Women’s race and finish than that between Amber Cullen-Ferreira and Cheryl Paulson? Coming out of the woods and into view, heading down the long thick-with-snow hill toward the finishing climb, neck and neck, with Cheryl leading, a possible win in sight, youthful Amber pressing — the exciting conclusion promised drama. Many spectators rushed down to glimpse over the peak of the hill’s first up, to watch them race it, and in doing so nearly blocked the racing lane leading to the finish. The expert-race speaker system worked its magic; the crowds parted as if Moses himself were announcing, and here they came.
Cheryl, capturing a National Team membership at the 2009 Mt. Hood Championships, raced the first qualifier of the new season, a tough one, Pazzo’s Pedal Power Holiday 10km, to a second place. Amber, qualifying at the famous Sidehiller Snowshoe Race in Sandwich, NH, won the women’s class. Cheryl, snowshoeing’s supermom and racing for Atlas versus Acidotic’s star, Amber, just back from a top ten finish at the Rock and Roll Mardi Gras marathon. Young versus not as young going at it as women snowshoe racing warriors.
I caught up with Cheryl back in Colorado. Here is the way it was at the front of the pack:
“The race was a pretty fast start from the beginning. This included me, Amber, Michelle Weiler, (Lynnann Lorenz, Christy Runde, and Ann Rasmussen). Amber was clearly strong from the gun, and after jostling with Lynnann and Michelle for a couple hundred feet, I decided to go with Amber who was gaping us quickly. This was about the 3/4 mile mark when we crossed a road the first time.
From there Amber led with me on her tail never more than 15 feet the entire race. I almost immediately spoke with her and encouraged her to keep the pace going to prevent anyone from catching us from behind. I figured the more time we put on those behind us the more chance we could hold them off. Amber led most of the race, but it became clear I was stronger on the down hills and she on the uphills.
This meant I lead on all the downhills, and she would catch and pass me on the uphills. This happened throughout the race. When we entered the last single-track section at about 1.5 km to go, Amber took the lead. I told her this was the point in which we should just go for it as I was still thinking I did not want anyone to come up behind us. I knew that I did not have enough gas in the engine to go for it myself. We stayed tight and when we came out of the woods, we both pushed it. My plan was to pass her on the downhill since that is my strength.
Cheryl describing the exciting finish, “I passed her as decisively as I could. I feel I gaped Amber pretty good on the final downhill and therefore got a good lead going into the uphill. It felt like about the 75-yard mark to go that she passed me. It took all I had just to keep the pace I was going, and she went by me going significantly faster and pulled away to the finish and win. I am guessing that she knew going into the home stretch that I would get her on the downhill and that she would have to come around me for the win, since this is what happened a couple of times in the race. This was a mental advantage for her — I was not mentally prepared for this. I pushed to the top and was happy with my best snowshoe race finish ever.”
Turning the corner, heading up the long climb, Cheryl leads, giving way to Amber’s stronger pursuit just before the mountain’s two-step hitch. Then, the final scramble up to the Auyer’s Race-Timing clock, ticking seconds away. Those seven seconds separating the two at the race conclusion were the cost of the thrill as Amber won the gold, and Cheryl won the silver (see picture), the closet finish in the history of USSSA Senior Championship Racing. No doubt speaking for both of them, Cheryl reflected, “It was an amazing day.” Further, she gave “thanks to my coach and friend, Melody Fairchild from Boulder, who encouraged me to ‘Shoot for the Moon,’ and in doing so, I landed among the Stars. I made a quantum leap today, and it felt like nothing I have ever experienced racing before. It was a life-moment and life-day I will never forget!” Atlas Teammate, Adam Chase, noted, “Cheryl really impressed me with her grit (and) determination, and good for Amber for powering up that final climb the way she did!”
Cheryl provided a somewhat different take on the course for the flatlanders among us, commenting, “Overall I thought the course was rather flat compared to Colorado racing, but we are not used to races finishing on such a significant uphill. We in Colorado definitely have an altitude advantage. I live at 8,236 ft.” Coach Cheryl offered this one racing strategy for snowshoers concerned about who is back there, gaining on them: “I never looked back the entire race.”
The race for the final three National Team members was hot as Minnesota’s Erin Ward, finishing fourth as a 2007 team member, took the third slot today in 56:20. She told me, “This was a tough field and course but enjoyable.” Erin won the February Snowshoe Shuffle Qualifier in Minneapolis for the second year in a row. Michelle Weiler, NY, trailed by just 14 ticks after chasing Erin up the finishing “Suicide Hill.” Kellie Gregoire, NY, rounded out the team with her 57:42. Kellie, back from Vancouver’s excitement as a gruesome tune-up for these Nationals, told me, a position with the USSSA National and a “team title . . . has been fun getting.” With six children this ‘domestic’ engineer has her own Kids Kilo Team. Three members of the USSSA team won their National Team victory for the first time today.
Kristin Miller, MN, won gold in her age class, just missing the National Team by 38 seconds in a first National showing. Ann Rasmussen, NH, almost caught Kristin, for the gold but the seven seconds difference won her the silver. Janice Morra, NJ, and Christy Runde, WA, followed a few ticks behind, both finishing under one hour, taking the gold medals for their respective age class.
Lynann Lorenz, NY, rounded out the top ten, winning her class gold medal. A past National Team Member, she noted the “middle hill was not as steep as the finish but was much longer.” Lynann was a bright spot at the Nationals, always friendly, always there.
There were many close finishes — and races– throughout the day in this group of 71 women, such as Chelynn Tetrault, MA, taking the twelfth overall slot, winning her age gold, just nipping Ashley Krause, MA, by under two seconds. Ashley won silver in a different age group. Myra Klettke, OR, crossed less than a dozen clicks later, which at this finish means she saw Ashley all the way up the hill. Myra won a class silver.
Nancy Kleinrock, NY, with a 1:02:48 took the last medal in her class and edged Tina-Marie Poulin, NY, by only four seconds at the finish. Tina-Marie won her class silver with the effort.
National Team veteran, Laurie “I love life” Lambert, was the lone star for the Lone Star State and just missed the last medal for her class by a few breaths as New Hampshire’s Lisa Ransom took the honor and will, no doubt, retain it in a ‘Granite State.’ 15 ticks later Florida’s sunshine girl, Cecilia Walker, finished. Cecilia trained by snowshoeing — on the beach! (Private Note to USSSA Sports Director, Mark Elmore: Couldn’t Florida host a qualifier on the beach if the sand was . . . Snow White? Perhaps Disney just might go for it.) Blondie had to hustle those final seconds across the line as Carissa Stephien, NY, trailing by only a dozen paces, likely thinking her bronze age-class medal was in jeopardy. Carissa won her medal as the two were in different classes.
Next, one of the most interesting finishes of the day: Samantha Hawn, NY, won gold for her class, became the 21st finisher, and was the youngest (22) to the finish at that point, 1:05:52. Less than a minute passed when Erika Gates, 20, won, the same class silver. Thirty older snowshoers, 13 above 50 and one north of 60, finished before California’s Amelia Forney claimed the 20-24 bronze to round out the class. What’s the lesson here? This sport called snowshoeing must be doing its share to keep the vigorous USSSA women young at heart and fitness fine.
Karla Eisch, NY, didn’t medal, but her 1:10:10 finish clock, ten by ten, can’t go by without a mention.
Sharry Heck, NY, crossed at 1:10:55 and over the next 43 seconds, Cindy Cain, CO, Mary Lucas, WI, “This was a good test,” and Marcy Schwam, MA, pushed one another under the timing banner. Marcy snagged the 55-59 class gold for the effort.
Elizabeth Bianchi, NH, won the 40-44 silver with a 1:13:56 time. The medals were all gone for Sandy Rasco’s (NY) class, completing the day less than a half-minute later and the same for Pennsylvania’s Bonnie Stoeckl’s 1:14:59.
Mary Ross-Mortenson, MN, captured the last medal in the 40-44 set a few seconds later. A veteran at these Championship races, Mary was observed receiving a congratulatory buss after her medalist finish, simultaneously sending the busser — Kelly Mortenson — off to his race for an eighth place finish and a class gold medal. Maybe affection is the key to medaling in one of these Championships? Sure is in the race of life . . . .
In perhaps the most exciting 37 seconds all day, five racers finished in the 77th minute: Susan Light, NY, Andrea Kinzey-Wheeler, CO, and Erika Kikuchi, CA (sure to endure her to RD Patty Jo Struve, Jazz Trak Qualifier Erika was one of the few all day to say, “This was easier snow than California,”). Then, Maxin Stent, VT, (the state’s first woman finisher), and Marcia Geary, NY.
Toast a cup of nutmeg for Connecticut’s Kathy Furlani for winning gold as the most senior finisher to this point, the 60 – 64 group. Later, Tina Oberheide, CO, took the silver and last medal for this group.
Ever popular Denise Dion wore her name on her snowshoes as she led a group of seven finishers in the race: Donny Barnard, NY, then Wendy Lubell-Snyder, District of Columbia. Wendy gave birth this year to daughter, Sage, and qualified six weeks later! Just a note, there have only been nine weeks in the year at Nationals time, but who’s counting? Levi, her bubbling son, raced the kid’s kilo. Wendy is the only Washington, DC, entrant ever at a USSSA National Championship.
Following was silver class medalist, Jeanne Herrick, NY, in the 55-59 group. Only Sarah Dzikowicz, NY, and 28 seconds separating Jeanne from Sharon Barbano, MA, and the class bronze. Christine Glass, Victor(y), NY, took a 1:21:27:11 clock.
Then, Sarah Phillips finished out the 25-29 class medals by claiming the bronze. Note the earlier silver medalist for this class, Kristi Speer, is from Phillips, WI. What does this mean? If you name is Phillip Smith, this is as close to a medal as you get, that’s what.
You think the racing is over for the women? Not a chance. Look at these competitors, dueling on the final climb after racing the course nearly 90 minutes:
Mary Rivers, NY, (a veteran, raced Mt. Hood’s 2009 Championship), followed in a few ticks by Pennsylvania’s Denis Pangborn, just beating Maureen Roberts, NY, over the line by one tiny tick, not even enough for a tock.
Michigan’s only woman competitor, Lauren Johnson, nailed a finish, along with Idaho’s only woman entrant, Channa Snyder.
Congratulate the only medalist in the 65-69 set and oldest finisher in the Women’s group, gold medalist Carolyn Kriesen, NY. Think that’s easy? Just wait until you get your turn in that age class.
“Sam” Lewis did Colorado proud as she and mom travelled to this Championship . . . and found Gold! She finished the 5km course in 35:14, commenting, “I’m very happy!” New York’s Courtney Tedeschi won the silver and multi-year National Team member, Michayla Heil, Wisconsin, took the bronze. Catching up with Michayla, she told me, “Vancouver was harder, but this was really tough and fun.”
News & People:
Two-Time National Team member, Laurie Lambert, is taking a role with the USSSA by managing the Regional Qualifying Calendar.
How about Peg and Judy from the Syracuse Convention Offices manning the display and offering cheery advice all day long.
A new Record, as 30 states (and the District of Columbia) were represented at this tenth anniversary edition of the USSSA National Championship. Care to guess which state had the most entrants? A clue: Mark Elmore’s home state. That’s right, New York, with more than half the field. States sending double digits of entrants included Vermont (16), New Hampshire (15), Minnesota and Pennsylvania both with 14, Colorado (12) and Wisconsin (10). Thirteen states (and D.C.) were represented by one hardy snowshoe entrant. Particularly of note are the non-snowbelt states represented here like Florida, Texas, Tennessee (a first year), and Georgia.
Closing out the Weekend, Adam Chase said, “The race was very well orchestrated. Chary did an admirable job, as did the wonderful volunteers who made the whole weekend run smoothly. In addition, of course, Mark was his tireless self out there, throwing all his passion for the sport and its participants from near and far into assuring that everyone got the most out of the Championships. I was so proud to show off the event to my sons, to be able to use it as an example of athletic prowess and good sportspersonship.”
Mark Elmore told me, “The 10th annual PowerSox United States National Snowshoe Championships were our biggest and, by many accounts, our best ever! Much of the credit goes to local event director Chary Griffin of Cazenovia, NY, the Syracuse Convention & Visitor’s Bureau and the Onondaga County Parks Department for all the time and effort they invested in bringing this event to well over 300 participants from 30 U.S. States and Washington DC! Mother Nature blessed us with some of the finest weather we could ever have wished for. Not to be outdone were the athletes who pitted themselves against one of our most demanding courses and some of the softest snow conditions we have ever faced. It was a championship caliber event in every sense of the word! Congratulations to all who participated. The sport is poised for another amazing decade ahead of growth and recognition. We believe everyone involved in this event will one do point to it and say it was a turning point in our sports’ history and the USSSA is glad you were all a part of it!”
Comments on the Nationals? Email me, email@example.com
Photos: Top, Ryan Kann Leaders Group Photo: Scott Mason
Last Two: Phillip Gary Smith
For more photos of the USSSA Nationals, visit http://www.scottmasonphoto.com/galleries