On a day described by medalist Roddie Larson (more on her later) as “Hawaii on snow,” snowshoers competiting in the 2007 USSSA National Championship saw bright blue sky, cloudless sun, and lots of snow. USSSA Executive Director, Mark Elmore, announced to the crowd gathered on the outdoor plaza of the Elm Creek Park Reserve’s phenomenal chalet facility, “This has been the largest Nationals ever . . .and on a beautiful day.”
Who would have ‘thunk’ it a few short weeks ago when nature’s snow was questionable (the park can make snow, a wonderful insurance policy to have in the back pocket if you’re the head of the organizing committee), citizen interest was slack since all they saw was brown, and qualified racers were seemingly waiting to sign up en mass on race day.
That all changed as Committee Chairperson, Cynthia Brochman, awarded Snowshoe Magazine’s 2007 Person of the Year during the medals ceremony, pulled some strings with Mother Nature who stirred Old Man Winter and provided a record snow over two blizzard weeks. Motorists and retailers complained (in a rarity Mall of America closed for a day after the second storm, sentencing 1000’s of school kids to a day at home), but the mood lightened considerably among the hardy who supported the local committe’s volunteer effort. This year’s setup also provided the National Association with a strong onsite organizing committee model for future year’s championships.
Citizen 5K Race participation leapt and the Kids Kilo had an ambitious group snowshoeing their hearts out, winners all.
With word spreading of plenty of snow on the ground to add to the spirit of the race, qualified racers’ entries picked up and a very competitive field of Junior and Senior Women and Men lined up on Saturday morning.
First race of the day was the Juniors 5K Championship, with both guys and gals combined enjoying the best course conditions of the day. The groomed snow trails were perfect as temperatures pushed up past freezing, but no mush had yet formed. Several observers felt some in this group hindered their own performances by overdressing for the conditions. It’s hard to break the ‘cold’ mindset when warm Spring conditions like today’s appear. Christian Thompson won the male trophy at 20:14, some 14 seconds over Zachary Rivers. Carolyn Campbell won the female class at 26:25, comfortably ahead of Michayla Heil.
An hour later for the 10 AM start, Senior Women were ‘cannoned’ off the line for the 2 lap 10K Championship race. It blasted like a cannon, it smelled like a cannon, I never actually saw the cannon, but there was no questioning that the start was underway. This course layout was perfect for racers and fans alike as it encompassed a 2K loop to the East, and returning to the starting ‘bridge’ area, went to a 3K loop to the West, circling back to the bridge. So spectators could keep up with the action all during the race. Each finisher was at the start/finish line 5 times during the 10K effort, so the action of the leaders and all of the races back in the pack could be enjoyed.
As I wrote in the Snowshoe Magazine article “Is Snowshoe Racing Ready for Prime Time,” having a course that is fan friendly, meaning you can watch the race unfold, and not just see the start and finish, is critical for our sport’s growth. The Elm Creek course, combining XC Ski trails and newly laid single track, fit the bill perfectly. One could also see racers on the course off in a distance adding to the anticipation of them coming by, once again, the pedestrian bridge at the start/finish. It would have been perfect for television but local media was too involved on a Saturday morning with cartoons and cartoonish programming to wake out of their stupor.
An emerging sport needs returning champion winners, like John Force has become a dominant personality in NHRA Drag Racing by winning 13 Championships and putting the poor cousin of NASCAR on the map with big time teams and budgets. In the Senior Women’s Group that person is emerging as Nikki Kimball of Bozeman, Montana, winning her 4th USSSA National Championship title in 7 years. She led from the get-go and finished pulling away with a stiff 48:20, 43 seconds ahead of Keri Nelson of Grand Junction, Colorado.
Senior Men’s 10K starting at 11:30 AM saw the earlier speedy snow start to slush up from the 40 degree and rising temperatures and blazing sun. Shades of the Bolton, Vermont, race and their nice temperatures, too, with a reminder with that comes wet feet and wet socks and more ‘unsprung’ weight. Such details didn’t seem to matter at all to front runners Jeff Beck, a 2:14ish marathoner, and returning USSSA Champion Greg Hexum. One of the delights of this course as a competitor is one could see the leaders, even though well ahead, as the tracks circled back in several places.
So, I see Jeff leading Greg through the 1st single track section a little further than the 1K mark. They started the first time through the 3K loop the same way, as a single track leads to the woods just before ‘the climb.’ Greg put his mountain racing form to good use and slipped by at about the 3K post . He maintained a 10 second lead finishing the 2k loop for the second time, an area where Jeff would be more likely to pressure him. Back to ‘the climb’ for the second and last time, Greg added some cushion and won his Second National USAAA Championship in a time easily eclipsing his 2006 record run with a 39:29, 42 seconds ahead of Jeff.
Maybe it was these two speedsters and the other Senior Men leaders burning up the course, but for the remainder of the pack the deep snow was definitely becoming mush pie in places. The WD-40 sprayed on the bottoms came in handy in keeping the slush off of the snowshoes. Maybe I should have tried that on socks?
I wish I could have talked to everyone, but here are a representative few, along with other observations.
Mark may have missed his calling, becoming instead a professional sports announcer. He expertly called the races on the P.A. system which added flair to the event and perspective to spectators on the competitors who were racing by the pedestrian bridge.
He handled the awards ceremony with equal flair and worked through the few medal glitches with a minimum of fuss. The crowd gave him a well deserved ‘applause of appreciation’ during the presentation. One nice thing about the USSSA setup is there are plenty of opportunities to take home hardware.
Assisted by Senior Women’s Medalist, Carol Klitzke, Tim did yeoman’s work not only on race weekend and the days leading up to it, but also in the month’s prior when he was ‘volunteered’ for the esteemed position as Race Director. Their home became a temporary warehouse for huge boxes of merchandise, snowshoes, medals, magazines, all part of the race packets and registration materials. It took a caravan of minivans to get it all transported to Elm Creek.
Carol took it all in stride and provided a great meal for those who helped set up the race packets. Instantly envious of their property’s location, one can see how they snowshoe (and run) right out the back door to woods, hills and golf courses.
Bob wore his own Dion Brand snowshoes to win the gold in his age group. His wife, Denise, also medaled.
Antonio drove up from his home in South Carolina to qualify at the Minneapolis Snowshoe Shuffle Race during the 1st blizzard last month. He continued his strong International Representation as a Mexican Citizen Winning 1st place in the International Division. He’s also a very polite, nice snowshoer, a comment which can be applied as far as I can see to everyone who attended this weekend’s event.
Continues to place in the 65-69 group and races with the ability to pick up his pace as he goes further.
Dennis set up a nice display inside the chalet, and business seemed brisk especially for the kids’ snowshoe models. Their stores provided many of the prizes to the medalists.
REI AND HOIGAARD’S
Both had tent displays at the start/finish line and along with Sportsman’s Warehouse helped provide the atmosphere that this was, in fact, a U.S. National Championship Event. Flags, banners, it all reflects that something is going on, I wanna be a part of that.
REI also provided Championship jackets that quickly became the envy of the crowd. CHRISTINE and CONRAD HOIGAARD finished the 5K Citizen’s Race.
Raced in shorts and a sports t-shirt and still got hot. It was that kind of a day.
Took the 5th and last spot on the National Team and generally brightened the mood whenever she showed up with her smile and vivaciousness. I nicknamed her ‘Miss Texas’ for her home state.
‘HEY THERE, GEORGI GIRL’
When Georgi Northdurft, Eyota, Minnesota, placing in the Women’s 50-54 group and wasn’t there to get her award, it was hard for the assembled mass not to break out in song.
The only woman in the 70+ category to qualify for the 2007 Nationals, Roddie raced about a month ago at the Tartan Terrific Qualifier with a near -40 chill factor. Today’s +40 was quite a contrast for her, “totally opposite,” she said.
Roddie runs ridges (sorry, I liked those ‘R’s) in the summer, but snowshoes about everyday in the High Cliff State Park near her home in the vicinity of Lake Winnebago, Wisconsin. She wears TUBBS ’10K’ brand snowshoes for her races and also neat snowshoe earrings. Do I sense a new jewelry trend? Showing style and class, Roddie said she is “doing what I want to do.”
This Hayward, Wisconsin (Home of the Birkie) teacher ignores XC and downhills instead, along with running and biking to complement the snowshoeing. She qualified at the New World Snowshoe Races in Luck, WI. A medalist, Roxanne said of the course “I liked it so well marked, flags every few yards, because I was nervous after having some challenges at a couple of events in getting lost or misdirected.”
A 30-34 age group racer from Curtiss, Wisconsin, Bruce said “This course is very nice, and beautiful. I enjoyed the scenery. . . and the warmth.”
Of Edgerton, Wisconsin, said, “Beautiful layout. The day was quite a contrast weather wise with my Tartan Terrific Qualifier.
From Green Bay, Wisconsin, Dave said that his long sleeve coolmax type shirt was way too much clothing, and he got quite hot in his 58:14 finish time.
Another multi-year champion,Christian racing out of Candor, N.Y., won the Junior Men’s Championship Race for the second year in a row. He said, “This was an awesome course, really fast.”
This Owego, N.Y. snowshoer gave this succinct but definitive summary of the course:”Supercourse, challenging, nice straight-a-ways; Perfect.”
Anyone knowing Bob knows his 1:45 was not normal. What was normal was his absolute determination to snowshoe and complete this race just 2 weeks recovering from a back surgery.
BRADLEY AYERS AND RICHARD BUSA
Bradley, from Frederic, Wisconsin, 72, and Richard, from Marlboro, Massachusetts, 78 (oldest National Competitor, period), finished in 1:41 and 1:25 respectively.
I predict in a few years the 70+ class will be completely filled.
This San Francisco, California, snowshoer and all around super spokesman for the sport, came into town on Wednesday and immediately drove to Tim Zbikowski’s home to start stuffing race packets. He offers wise counsel on how to continue to improve the sport and make all the tough jobs more palatible. My wife wants to know when his club will have the Nationals so she can get to San Francisco while my buns are in the mountains.
CHAD CARROLL AND KEVIN BRINEGAR
These two snowshoe racers took the long course to get to Maplewood, Minnesota from Fairbanks, Alaska, but how that effort paid out! Kevin took the Bronze medal while Chad captured Gold in the 35-39 class. Makes the return journey much sweeter to be 2 for 2. Two weeks ago their qualifier temperature, not wind chill, was -40. Today was +40.
THE SADDEST OUTCOME OF THE WHOLE RACE
The Top 5 Women Finishers did a wonderful job, but long time National Team member, Cindy Brochman, didn’t make the cut this year. All who qualified earned and deserve their spot. It’s just unfortunate that Cindy, whose organizing efforts for this Championship Event, had to sap endurance and certainly she was sleep deprived. She would never complain nor use any excuse, but there should be an opportunity for the USSSA to add auxillary members to the National Team in order to take in account situations like this. You do not want qualified organizers, who often are the leaders in the races, not being willing to step forward because it will ‘cost’ them in performance on Race Day.
Since Cindy was 7th, I would be in favor of adding 6th place SARAH GALL, too. Let’s have 7 women on the National Team this year. And speaking of Iowa finishers, SCOTT GALL, made the Men’s National Team, so it all starts to seem symetrical to me.
RACHEL VAN HALE
Nurse Rachel finished out of the medals but I like knowing she’s on the course. One is always happy to have medical people on the course. She just needs to slow down so I can keep up.
This energetic leader of the East Side Neighborhood Services Non-Profit Organization annually holds the Snowshoe Shuffle Qualifier in North Minneapolis and pitched in at the registration table with lots of time signing up competitors at this Championship Race. She also completed the Citizen’s 5K. http://www.esns.org
Very soon Snowshoe Magazine will have its end of season awards. Be sure to check back — you could be named.
phillip gary smith
**Editor’s Note: Snowshoe Magazine would also like to thank Phillip Smith for his exceptional coverage of the USSSA Champs. He has done a great job this season and has made quite a difference in offering “one-of-a-kind” news to snowshoers. Thank you, Phillip!