SNOWSHOE MAGAZINE FEATURED ARTICLE:

Annika Rogers Conquers More Than Mashed Potatoes Snow at the WSSF 2018 Championships

The snow that was tossed madly by fierce gusts “mirrored a scene from the Himalayas,” said Annika Roger’s mother, Johanna. During the difficult conditions that were rustled up by the mountains to stifle competitors struggling to complete this challenge, a thought may have crossed Annika’s mind: I’ve overcome much worse.

Annika charging to the finish at the 2018 WSSF Championships

Crossing Spain’s 2018 World Snowshoe Federation Championship finish at some 9,000 feet, Junior Class racer Annika Rogers,18, completed what is widely regarded as the toughest WSSF competition course to date. It challenged all. Her time, 49:48, mattered; in fact, as it turned out, it mattered a lot.

Annika recalled the race day. “We took a cable car almost straight up the mountainside (Masters Class medalist Cecilia Muldoon (Walker) called it ‘scary’) to get to the race site in the mountains with the wind blowing a gale. The course (the 5km distance for the Junior Class) was the most difficult I have ever been on. There were very few flat portions of the course. Almost the whole way was either straight uphill or a steep downhill. Even the best snowshoers in the world had their hands on their knees power hiking on some of the uphills.”

Cecilia agreed. “The course was tough. Not a runner’s course, more of a climber’s course. It was a lot of relentless up-and-down, not much flat. The snow was like chunky mashed potatoes. Just 300 meters into the race, you were faced with a quad-holding climb.” {Video of the Race with Annika No. 201 while Michael Wert No. 207 wore a GoPro}

Those uphills refer to the behemoth Picos de Europa Mountains National Park, Fuente De’ in Cantabria, known for the dramatic scenery and treacherous trails. With the park celebrating its 100th year, the stunning scope of these high altitude landscapes combined with snow cover pushed the exertion factor to a max 10.

All championship competitors and citizen racers rode the cable car’s four-minute journey to the racing site, offering panoramic views up and down the mountain. The capacity of that system limited the numbers of Citizen Class entries, which quickly filled to its 400 limit. Oscar Sebrango, the Picos Xtreme race director/manager, explained, “The capacity of the cable car if we added more people, they would have had to wait a lot to get down.” A unique feature of the Citizens Class race is that, “The cable car opened just for us at night. It was the first time that a snowshoe event was made at night at the top of the cable car.”

L-R Myra Klettke, Cecilia “Ceal” Muldoon, Johanna Rogers, and Annika Rogers pose during their travels (at lower altitudes) prior to WSSF Championship Race Day

“The docking station was cold, damp and crowded,” recalled  Johanna. “So crowded you could only walk in one direction towards one corner set up for athletes to change, check backpacks, talk and laugh nervously.  The focus was on the weather and what clothing to wear or not to wear.  The start of the championship was approaching, and again movement was in one direction, this time outside, towards the start and finish area.  The scenery was stunning; snow-covered mountains with high rock peaks, the wind was so strong, and the snow was blowing.  There was a sea of athletes; all gathered together all moving in an attempt to warm up.  It was intense.

I was standing with Annika and when I glanced over; I noticed tears rolling down her cheeks. I was nervous with intimidation, was she?  She shook her head, and without hesitation, tears were rolling down my cheeks as well.  Despite the pride I had for Annika at that moment, I was overcome.  It was at that instant I decided to start behind Annika and follow her on her one loop, the first of my two loops (for the Senior and Master Classes).  What I did not anticipate was the number of athletes snowshoeing and power hiking on the same path in same footprints; passing was arduous, and once you had secured a spot in the line that was your spot in the line.  The snow was deep; the ascents and descents were both long and steep.

The breath-taking view down while traveling up the Picos de Europa Mountains National Park

The course was challenging, so challenging. I had never trained or competed in an environment similar to Picos de Europa National Park.  I questioned the long hours of running on roads, trails, grass, ice and sometimes snow.  I even questioned myself as an athlete.  As with all races, the finish was a welcome sight, and the moment I crossed over it, Annika was there to celebrate my arrival.”

A record for the WSSF, 400 citizen racers bought out the available race slots for that competition. 190 competed in the world championship distances for the Junior Class (under the age of 20) and the Seniors (age 20-39) and Masters (age 40 and above). The largest World Snowshoe Federation Championship ever awaited the onslaught of snow lovers on these steep up-and-down trails at altitude.

No way these peaks, some 300 million years of standing tall, would ever imagine a teenager by the name of Annika Rogers snowshoeing its challenges, conquering them like she did, especially when overcoming an enormous obstacle as a newborn infant in China.

Where It All Started: China’s Cultural Revolution

The arc guiding Annika’s life began 47 years ago, decades before her birth, as China’s government produced a roadmap for the reduction in their population growth called a one-child policy. (1)  Two years later, a part of the Cultural Revolution, family planning (read that as reducing family size) programs spread across the country, as well as exorbitant fees if you broke their rules.

By 1978 the government officially set out to slow population growth with the enforcement of a one-child rule. 21 years before Annika’s birth, the limit to childbirth found a voice in the state-controlled media with bribes of more food promised to some who committed to only one child (in Sichuan Province). In 1979, government officials were required to respond publicly with how they complied with such a rule. In Wuxi, a city in Jiangsu province, of the 29 officials, 27 were men, with ten choosing vasectomies while 13 spouses used pills or intrauterine methods. Two did not practice any planning—maybe because of age. The two remaining were too young to marry under the Chinese no-marriage clause restricting that option until one’s late ‘20s. Well, Happy Valentines to you, too. Cash subsidies were offered for abstaining from birthing more than one child. Some actions regarding female newborns by their struggling parents do not need annotation here.

Mr. Li Guoqing (year 2000 photo) director of the Gaoming when Annika was adopted along with Madame Luo Ai Ying, Vice Director.

The emphasis on male infants created selective-gender horrors and later an imbalance of available women for marriage, a massive economic disaster for the country’s economy. Scroll forward 34 years to 2013, when the first timbers supporting this policy disaster collapsed as a resolution passed allowing couples to have two children if either parent was an only child.

In the midst of these policies, down in southeast China on November 1, 1999, Annika Rogers found life in an antiquated train station. Alone. An infant newborn. Abandoned.

Ten months pass as her eventual parents, Georgia residents Johanna and Rick Rogers, saved her by adoption September 3, 2000. The woman who became her mother, Johanna, described the account:

The police were called [to the terminal], and she was brought to the local police station. A report was written, and photographs were taken. She remained at the police station several days, awaiting an orphanage opening.  The Gaoming Welfare Institute [opening 1997 in this busy port city] accepted Annika where she spent the next ten months sharing a crib with one baby and a room with sixty-five others. The crib had no mattress, and each baby was given one towel; miraculously, each baby mastered the art of wrapping the towel around their neck with enough excess towel to rest their head.

The current Gaoming orphanage housing both seniors (1st floor) and infants (3rd) while older children reside on the 4th floor. Included, a kindergarten and play area.

On September 3 in Guangzhou, China we celebrated Annika’s arrival [one of 57 adoptions that year from this institution].  She was in an infant car seat on a bus and delivered to us at the White Swan Hotel [an elegant 5-star facility]. It was the beginning of her life as she knows it now.

Journey to the Picos

Years later, Johanna marvels that, “To travel with Annika to Spain, to represent and compete at the 2018 World Snowshoe Championships as members of the US National Snowshoe Team was epic.

We traveled from Boston, Massachusetts to Bilbao, Spain, where we met up with Team USA.  The team traveled first class in a purple Mercedes Autobus.  Spain and the Spanish people are both beautiful and welcoming.  However, it was the people, our teammates, our times together, sitting in cafes sipping café con leche—bold Spanish coffee mixed with scalded milk half-and-half—and nibbling on Spanish croissants, walking, running, polar plunging in the Bay of Biscay, conversations, and laughter.”

“We visited three cities: Bilbao, Santander, and Espinama. All three were very different, special and beautiful. Bilbao (the 2018 European City of the Year) was an inland city where we visited the famous Guggenheim Museum. Santander was a coastal city where two of my friends and I went for a Polar Plunge in the Bay of Biscay when the thermometer read 36˚F. Espinama was a quaint village nestled in the mountains accented by sheep, goats, and horses. On our way to Espinama, we visited the El Soplao Caves, known for its eccentric, gravity-defying formations and pristine condition. We also visited the Monastery of Santo Toribio de Liebana, which houses the largest remaining piece of wood Christ was crucified on (The True Cross).”

An example suite at the White Swan Hotel where infant Annika’s adoption by the Rogers reached its final step.

Annika added, “I traveled with an amazing group of people from all across the country and a few from Canada and Japan. Everyone was so friendly and amazing. I had an incredible time getting to know them and experiencing Spain together. Out of the whole ten-day experience, the people were by far my favorite part. We all had a shared love of snowshoeing, but we were all unique, too; a Nike executive from Oregon, an anesthesiologist from Colorado, an art teacher from Florida, a running coach from New York, an orthopedic intern from Quebec City, plus an ultra skyrunner who lives out of her truck part of the year.”

Bilbao Spain wins Euro City of 2018, home of Guggenheim Museum

The Move

Prior to her journey to the Picos, Annika and her family experienced an event that would alter their lives. In 2005, as Annika celebrated her sixth birthday, the Rogers family up-and-moved from Atlanta, Georgia, to Islesboro, Maine, a 14-mile sliver of land between two channels, the kind of relocation that fills one’s imagination. From a historic metropolis with six million inhabitants, site of the 1996 Summer Olympics and the Georgia Aquarium—one of the world’s largest—home of Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, and CNN, to an unbridged island in the middle of the Penobscot Bay. Population 1000, tops.

Rick explained: “Like many a major life decision, a sequence of circumstances and assumptions brought us to it. In 2000, we had purchased some raw land, by which I mean heavily overgrown with second or third growth forest. It did, however, have some nice waterfrontage and an exceptional view. The plan, eventually turn this into a summer or retirement home.”

Here’s your three-mile “bridge” to the mainland from Islesboro: the Terminal for the Margaret Chase Smith Ferry. Fee for car and driver: $30  (I knew you wanted to know). The ferry lands at Lincolnville on the hour, Islesboro on the half-hour. Also houses the Grindle Point Sailor’s Museum and lighthouse.

That opportunity came to unexpected fruition in the earlier part of this century when Delta Air Lines, coming under financial stress, made Rick’s decision as a pilot to retire a no-brainer; that was the way to save an income stream and retirement benefits. So from McMansions and McTraffic jams to a “small, one bedroom, one bath apartment over a two car garage and storage space”, where the only traffic wait is that for the ferry, the family made its way.

The area remains a lobster lover’s paradise. My brother, Paul E. Smith, posts food reviews from all over the globe at RoadFood known as “The Guide to Authentic Regional Eats.” He told me of “the great lobster” enjoyed on the dock of Young’s Lobster Pound in Belfast Harbor, Maine, which overlooks the island.

Lots of lobster in Maine! Here’s a 4th generation restaurant with “Lobsters caught, cooked, eaten, and shipped 7 days a week.”

“It was a major adjustment,” Rick added. “Until we were able to turn the garage into finished space, our son slept in the heated garage, and our daughter slept in a closet. Downsizing our lives was a necessity.  Opting for what we hoped would be a better quality of life in Maine, especially for the children, was the real reason we moved. With a combination of small class sizes (Annika graduated in a class of six; her older brother, Holden, eight) along with online courses, both have impressive academics.”

This summer Annika studied for a month from a scholarship awarded at Cambridge University, England. and she began at Dartmouth College this fall, where she is competing as a member of the Dartmouth Sailing Team. Holden, her brother, graduated from West Point in 2014. Completing his obligation, he now lives in White Plains, New York, pursuing a career with PepsiCo.

Annika explained, “For the first few years we lived on the island, my mom was the school’s cross-country coach, so I started running when I was in kindergarten. I competed in USATF Cross Country from 4th grade to the 10th. Throughout that time, I raced four road half marathons and two 25ks on trails.” Her final two years of high school found her running track, complementing her four years of snowshoeing.

“Running has always been a passion we shared,” said Johanna.  “However, winters are long, dark and cold in Maine and snowshoeing seemed perfect, running on snow.  In 2015, 2016, and 2017 Annika and I traveled to Wisconsin, Utah, and Oregon to compete alongside the best snowshoe athletes in the United States at the US National Snowshoe Championships.  It was at this event in 2017 at Mount Bachelor in Bend, Oregon, that Annika and I both qualified for the US National Snowshoe Teams that would travel to and compete at the 2018 World Snowshoe Championships.

Annika qualifies for her first USSSA Junior National Team as Sports Director Mark Elmore calls out the Mt. Bachelor, OR., race as he has done so admirably every year. He commented, “I remember her crossing the finish line and being so excited that she had finally earned a berth on the national team.”

The 2018 World Snowshoe Federation Championship

Annika’s challenging work was rewarded with a bronze finish in her class, as Annika joined teammate and two-time gold medalist Soleil Gaylord, along with two-time silver winner Esther Molinari, Italy, on the champion’s podium. When Margret Montag of Paul Smith’s College, New York, finished fourth, the U.S. Junior Team then claimed their Women’s Team Gold.

Closing in on a medal near the finish of the 2018 WSSF Championships

With two WSSF medals and one race, which is the most prestigious for the sport on the globe, Annika’s journey from a gut-wrenching start to life in a far-away railway station, where her ticket to a lifelong destination came in the form of the Rogers, now rejoices to:

Home where my thought’s escaping,

Home where my music’s playing,

Home where my love lies waiting silently for me. (2) 

Myra Klettke, a veteran snowshoe racer and member of the USSSA National Snowshoe Team, said, “This was one of my toughest races ever; wind, cold, crazy hills and elevation were all factors.  I truly enjoyed getting to know Annika. My friend Ceal [Cecilia Muldoon Walker] and I got to share an apartment with Annika and Johanna in Espinama while preparing for our big race. Annika is a very nice, humble girl and an awesome athlete. It was a lot of fun hanging out with her.”

Cecilia said, “I really enjoyed getting to know and spending time with Annika and her mom. Annika is a brilliant girl, very driven. I was so impressed with her academic and athletic accolades but most of all with her being just a genuinely nice person.”

Myra finished tenth overall, first in her age group (50-59), second overall Master (40 and over). Cecilia captured a bronze medal in the same age group.  Johanna completed the 10km in 01:32:47, a great position in her category. These finishes keyed the Senior Women’s USA Team to their first-place overall ranking.

Other finishers include Sarah Keyes, who won the US Skyrunning Ultra Distance Championship, becoming the Vertical Kilometer Champion in 2016. From the Adirondacks, she must have found the World Snowshoe Championship’s conditions to her liking, finishing sixth overall in the Senior Women’s class. Along with the 2018 USSSA National Champion Michelle Hummel of Albuquerque (earning the WSSF women’s gold medal as the only finisher under an hour) and Nike’s Myra Klettke, the U.S. women’s competitors won three of the top ten slots.

Junior Women’s 2018 Medalists (L-R) USA’s Annika Rogers, Soleil Gaylord, and Italy’s Esther Molinari

To best understand the grandeur of the 2018 World Snowshoe Federation Championship, click this link and “Look for Adventure,” as this awesome Olympic-like movie short is named. Just like you were there, riding the cable car, racing the event, now celebrate the victory parade along with these talented athletes.

Oscar Sebrango, the Picos Xtreme race director/manager, added, “Both the opening ceremony and the prizes ceremony took place in Potes. They were so impressive.” Impressive, the perfect word for the 2018 World Snowshoe Championship. Impressive just like the snowshoers, the fans, the volunteers, the event organizers, the World Snowshoe Federation, the epic mountains, and . . . just like Annika Rogers.

A reflection on this story reveals how providential for tiny infant Annika that things worked out; incredible. It doesn’t seem plausible the whole situation occurred just because of some random luck. There must have been an angel’s love that saved her at birth then delivered her safely to that railroad station, intuitively knowing she would be discovered and protected.  The angel’s grace continued, destined that the perfect family, the Rogers, take her little basket to the USA. And they did. The world seems better as a result.

Take part in the 2019 WSSF Championships, which will be held on January 5, 2019 and will be hosted by La Ciaspolada in Val di Non, Italy. According to the WSSF, “The course starts with a view of the UNESCO Heritage Brenta Dolomites, and follows an airy gently undulating plateau, that features the Maddalene mountains in the background.” A preview of the event and registration can be found at the World Snowshoe Federation website.

(1) source: NY Times

(2) Lyrics by Paul Simon 1963; written while traveling from a performance in England

Write Phillip Gary Smith: phillip@ultrasuperior.com


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