About Jennie Bender

A professional cross country skier from the East who joined CXC spring of 2010.

The land of many children

By Jennie Bender

Our two week camp in Utah was some of most fun I have had during a training camp. The workouts themselves were great, but my theory is that having relaxed and humurous training partners enhance your body’s response to the workload. A stressful environment and tension surrounding athletes is unnecessary, especially when you are dependent on your body recovering in its’ natural state.

The highlights included two backcountry adventures with Dave Knoop, Canadian Thanksgiving with Sara Hewitt, Andrea Dupont, and Daria Gaiazova, lots of dancing and singing on our off time, and creating part 1 & 2 of our three part Nordic Spoof videos. If you haven’t seen it already, here is Part 1 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BT7x3GREQfI

My heart fluttered once again when I saw mountains on our flight in. It was actually clear the whole way, and I had a great view of what I am pretty sure were the BadLands in South Dakota.

Most of the girls half way through our over distance on Saturday. We classic skied up a mountain for two hours, then ran at the top for one more.

Dave, Santi, Carolyn, Waylon and I on our way up in the Wasatch mountain range. The adventure ended up being about 5 1/2 hours of hiking, sliding, slipping, and bushwhacking. The guys took the challenge to rock climb up some extremely sketchy terrain at the top to achieve max “Rocky Mountain High” potential.


Goodbye Utah for now. It’s time for the last of fall training in the Midwest before (hopefully) great November skiing in Montana!

By Jennie Bender       Over the…

By Jennie Bender
      Over the past couple weeks, I have enjoyed hearing, watching, and participating in sporting events that are different from my usual.

During training camp at Telemark Lodge in Cable, WI, I had the opportunity to meet a handful of wonderful women from the group “Ski and Tea”  who came for a ski walking clinic lead by the CXC Women’s Team. We did some mobility drills, intervals up Telemark Mountain, and yoga. As implied from their name and part of the group tradition, they gather afterwards for tea, coffee, and biscuits.

     When meeting an athletic group of twenty for the first time, you never know what sort of stories will arise. Many ask questions, and most share their enthusiasm for training. At one time, I was discussing the pros and cons of reviving an old NordicTrack. The problem for serious skiers, is that it does not teach effective kick, and at most might address rhythm and arm motion. I suggested the Concept2 SkiErg as an alternative, since it is more specific for competitive training. This led to a discussion on rowing, which then brought up a whole new sport I knew nothing about, called Dragon Boat racing.

     

     Lo and behold, the head of Ski and Tea, Linda Cook, is also a member of the Wiki Wiki Wahine Dragon Boat Team who won the Premier Women’s Division at the Dragon Boat USA Championships in Chattanooga, TN. Although many sports cross paths, each one has its own culture, so it was exciting to stumble across this diverse group unknown to me.  They are between the ages of 16-72 and made history by being the first women’s team in the 10-years of the Lake Superior Dragon Boat festival to take home medals from the Gold Division Finals. They are headed to the World Championships in Hong Kong July 4-8, 2012.

       Did I mention that Wikiwikiwahine is Hawaiian for fast, fast, women? You gotta love witty names! Check them out at wikiwikiwahine.org. You can also read more about them on my future post at http://www.concept2.com/us/company/blog/default.asp.

        My last day of our two week September training camp was capped off with an adventure – my favorite. I drove up to Duluth to partake in the Inaugural Northshore Rollerski Marathon race. What I didn’t know, was that there would be over 2000 people blading in the partnering Northshore Inline Skate Marathon (http://northshoreinline.com/).  My eyes were wide and mouth a huge grin as I watched the Elite inline skaters take off the start line followed by wave after wave of athletes. It’s an amusing cross between road biker attire and speed skating technique. I had no idea there even was a race culture of inline skating, much less carbon fiber soled skates.

Thank you SkinnySki for taking great pictures and video!

      When I think of swimming, I picture sun, not sinking, and floaties…I usually avoid swimming in frigid water while it rains with people kicking at my face. This is the culture of triathlons. I love biking, and I love running, but swimming just ain’t my cup of tea. Sunday, I ran around the course and watched Lee in the “Last Tri” triathlon near Stillwater. I couldn’t help but to give my two cents and volunteer directing participants the right way on the running course, while people looked at me wondering why I was so jittery. I was more nervous then Lee was for pete’s sake. When spectating, many of you will empathize when I say I find it hard not to wish I were in the event. Other than having no aspirations to swim, I was basically warming up for my imaginary race the whole hour.

Before the start,the swimmers got to listen to the many young lifeguards shriek and holler as they had to wade into the cold water and float around without wetsuits. As I was thinking of how entertaining this was to watch, I remembered I occasionally sit in freezing water with floating ice chunks to soak my legs, and definitely make those exact same noises.

On that note, I leave you with this – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q4royOLtvmQ

          Sunrise on Lake Superior in Duluth

VT and Reality Blog Verdict

By Jennie Bender

Time sure does fly. Summer is kicking up its heels as it runs the other way. I was lucky to be able to go home to visit family and friends for two weeks in between training camps. Although the concept of home stirs up anticipation for relaxation possibilities,  I  had a schedule the whole time I was there so that no precious time was wasted, especially since I was working around a big training week. My big goal was to hike as much as I could, since that is one of my usual East coast activities that has been lacking these days.

Climbing mountains are a great way to get in a fun over distance workout. Especially with some crazy hiking buddies. If you have never been to the Adirondacks in upstate NY, you must go.  You might come out covered in dirt, but with a clear head.

Pushups at the top of Mt Marcy? Why not! Might as well make it a full body workout.  It wasn’t even my idea…. And  yes the guy in the back is wearing a sport kilt. I never knew there was such a thing.

It was good to be back with my club coach Fred Griffin and his up and coming crew of highschool athletes. We had a classic and a skate day, each two hours filled with technique. I feel that I have spent so much time trying to figure out how to change my own form, that I get really excited passing on my “light bulb” to others. It’s not “do as I say not as I do”, anymore. I finally can ski the fundamentals that have been explained to me many times in many different ways. There is never a time you don’t think about technique when you practice, and if you do it enough, someone someday will describe it to you in a way that makes sense. I have realized that the biggest factor is learning what muscles to use, teaching them to activate, and pushing through until that motion is natural.

The Mt Mansfield Nordic Ski Club has a training group at the Jericho firing range, with a star group of coaches, and pile of kids eager train. I came as a guest coach and took the girls out for some downhill practice  and no-pole intensity work. Sometimes it takes a person who isn’t normally around to push you out of your comfort zone, and we made good progress on the hills!

I love the big smile! No pole work teaches you to actually use your legs instead of passively falling from side to side. (Something that I am still working on!)

Reality Blog Verdict

I feel that I need a conclusion for my attempt to explore the everyday life of a professional skier when they are not at training camp. A while back, I wrote a blog describing my non-training life first year with CXC, and the responses were hot and cold. I had a few great replies, both of personal stories that wished to be kept secret, and those of encouragement towards writing more on the topic. However, I heard from some that it sounded whiny, and as though I didn’t appreciate my blessed life of an athlete. This was not at all written with that tone in mind, although I realized that when writing about living standards in your twenties, it’s hard for the description to not sound lacking or haphazard, even if you are having the time of your life. Some individuals fluctuate more towards one end or the other of the Richtor Scale, but I suppose it’s the whole adventure of being young.

When I was in school looking at post college ski teams, I tried to figure out how exactly these skiers made it work! Were they working? Were they sponsored by businesses or donors? Do their parents help them financially or did they take out loans? Are they extremely thrifty?  Is the team funding quite a bit or do they cover most expenses? The answer is an individual convoluted concoction of yes. I have observed that there is only so much ski support to go around in the US, and athletes might feel that divulging secrets may affect their personal connections. Most of all, you can’t follow someone else’s path, but can only find your own, because we all have different “ingredients” to work with for our life “soup.”  That is my wisdom dispensed for the day.

Summer…What do YOU… DO…? Share the nitty gritty.

In case you don’t read the whole post (“Ick! Words!”), I challenge you, elite Nordic athletes, to write just one blog about the “reality” part of your life. If you don’t know what I mean by that, no need to read anymore.

This is about the real life chapter, from which we can escape during the race season, until it comes to say “hello” during the spring, summer and fall. You don’t need to divulge all of your secrets; many things are better left unknown. If anything, it’s to clarify to younger upcoming athletes how to make life work as a professional skier. If you don’t want to share with the world, you can send it to me at (jbender12@gmail.com) and I will take the random anonymous facts (your work, housing situation, school or no school progress, vehicle type if it represents you, whatever you want to say about your financial situation, etc) to compile a report for Faster Skier. Do you live easily or do you struggle daily? It is an unspoken fact that a large percentage of us have parental financial support.  Either way, I would really love to hear what you all have to say.


Reality Blog Jennie Bender: Work

Nordic skiers. We’re weird. Ok, I’ll speak for myself. We have already started training for when next winter comes, and it’s not even summer yet. It boggles the minds of non-athletes. Non athletes who I  depend on to employ me when I am on my “off/training season”.  It’s very sad. Why can’t the meaning of professional skier mean the same as professional basketball, hockey, golfer, baseball or football player, where the term “professional” means a hearty income? Oh that’s right, it’s because we live in America. One of the fattest countries in the world, where our hypothetical fans would much rather sit on a couch at home and watch their sport on tv than go outdoors. Hey I won’t judge, that sounds great, but unfortunately we don’t get Nordic skiing televised in the US unless you know the secret channels/websites/day of year/password/or pay for it.

I work when needed at The Fix Studio (an endurance performance center in Minneapolis). They have been very nice to help teach me what college lacked; how to actually USE my major, Exercise Movement Science, in an occupation. This however, is sporadic work, so I have applied to many jobs since end of Spring  Series. I am drawn to waitressing, because I like the blocks of time, and how my desire to please turns into good tips.  (Insert joke here.) Although they may not call you back, restaurants are always willing to take your application. Thus far, this has been my luck, so I have been hitting up Craigslist, where I find myself questioning my moral values more than I would like to.

All of the above, so far, is not making me very much dough. In the winter I gave some ski lessons, so I have been promoting rollerski lessons for anyone interested during the summer. I just moved somewhere in the Midwest that is surrounded by lakes, and more boats than you can imagine. With the experience of Lee, who  worked many years at a marina back in the East, and my ability to clean, I decided to take matters into my own hands and make a mobile boat detailing business. Why not! Check us out – SwankyAnchor.com (sweet name huh?)! Come hell or high water, this will work! I have been going around the area marketing to businesses who do not already offer boat detailing, and trying to figure out how else I can get the name out. After turning down an extremely dubious customer phone call (“Hey, I found you on facebook, you’re pretty good lookin…”) I landed my first legit cleaning  job. Eight hours of scrubbing work, and two boats later, I had finished my first business deal. I learned not to hand scrub with certain chemicals (it will turn your skin white), that bending over for eight hours in the sun equals painful sunburn tramp-stamp, jamming your fingertips into dirty boat crevices makes them extremely sore, and always to keep a cautious eye on that one garage worker staring at you when he thinks you won’t notice. It was tank top weather, but with all my bending over I decided to go long-sleeved pull-over that would, *cough*, cover more up.

Entrepreneurship – I’m into it. Hopefully, there is more business to come.

Reality Blog Jennie Bender: Car

Everyone, and I mean everyone, I talk to who finds out I am from Vermont, asks the same question.  “Uhhh, why the heck did you move out HERE?!” “Isn’t there snow in Vermont, and like, hills?”  After stumbling over the question, and trying not to get into my life story with dozens of strangers who aren’t looking for a long answer, I finally came up with “Well, you live out here don’t you?” which usually ends it. Most importantly, I tell people, “You never know where life will take you.” Which is A) is true, and B) usually gets a slow nod and thoughtful furrowed-brow gaze from the questioner.

All throughout high school and college I drove my signature 1992 Toyota Corolla. It was deemed unsafe to drive out of the State with its rusting floor and sides, broken inside door locks, crank windows, lack of airbag, occasionally activating seatbelts and purple UV tinted rear window stick-ons. It gave me freedom; therefore, it was my first love. Before heading to the Midwest, I inherited a 1996 Toyota Camry. It used to be my grandmother’s, and luckily the only dent in its side panel is from her (wow, that sounds bad, I mean she put it there while driving).

Why am I telling you all this? Because I have come across too many people in just one year who think they have me all figured out once they hear “professional skier” or “travel”. You don’t want to know how many times I have washed my laundry in the shower with me. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, just trying to make my point.

More to come, and please feel free to join me on this skier blog quest about life during the warm six months.

By Jennie Bender Alright Pipe Line don’t fail…

By Jennie Bender

Alright Pipe Line, don’t fail on me now.

This past February I went on my last U23 Worlds trip. Since I have been back, some of my elders have all said a similar line. “Beware, now the game really gets tough.” Great.  Suuuuuuper.

World Juniors my first year 2006/2007
My first time to Europe – Scandinavian Cup Trip

I didn’t realize how cool it was to have the Junior Olympics in Minneapolis until I was strapping timing chips on ankles the day of the sprint. MAN I miss being apart of this! Oh wait, how many years ago was my last JOs? *first pang of where-did-the-time-go* occurs. Oh yeah that was end of high school….and college was in between now and then…..*second pang of -where-did-the-time-go.

Blast from the past - first Junior Olympics in Lake Placid 2004

Meanwhile, if only I had been born a year younger,  I would be racing NCAAs right now *third pang* ON MY HOME COURSE at Trapp Family Lodge. It frosts my biscuit (huh?) that I am missing this, you have no idea.

First NCAAs in Montana 2007/2008

Recently,  I had two random talks with completely unrelated  friends about living life to its fullest. We all agreed that if you don’t have something to strive for in life, what good are ya anyway. I don’t mind having where-did-the-time-go pangs, because I know that the time was well spent with good memories attached. These experiences, although full of ups and intense downs, will stick with me forever.

Which brings me to growing up. In reality, as fun as that end of the week dance IS, if I was still doing JOs, it would probably be kind of old by now. Instead, look where life has brought me in only a year. I am living in a different part of the country, have had an exciting jump in ski progress, have met a whole new group of skiers, and have traveled more than ever.  I even won my first 54k classic Birkie in front of a big crowd on a main street which was pretty cool!

Classic Birkie - 54 really cold k

So to any of you youngens reading this, don’t worry if this is your last year racing in an event or age category, because the future can be just as exciting. It is what you make it to be.

I am on my last phase of races right now for the season, which include Canadian nationals in Canmore, and Spring Series in SunValley Idaho. I have always heard that Canmore is amazing, and its all true. The mountains are some of the best I have seen to surround a world class nordic venue. I am racing the 5k skate, 10k classic, and classic sprint. Maybe the 30k but we’ll see.


Joke of truth by a few sarcastic Canadians – “Why the heck do they call it Junior Olympics?!” “Probably because the USA likes to think that they are the only country in the world…”

Common, you know it’s kinda funny…..

Don’t judge a book by its cover: Latvia

By Jennie Bender

For those of you who like to read blogs, this one’s for you. For everyone else, I included pictures.

Living large in Latvia –

Wow, this place is cool. I never thought I would find myself here, but that’s what I like about life.  If I were to just drive through Latvia, I would think “Eh”, but spending even only three days in Madona , I can say that we have been treated magnificently. We got hooked up with this bed and breakfast type house (called Janis), where the food that they cater in is amazing, and the rooms are painted warm colors with lots of woodwork interior.  The twelve of us took up the whole house perfectly, and everyone who worked there was suuuuuper nice, despite our lame inability to speak any language other than English. (Side note – I asked one of the workers at U23s how many languages he spoke. He said “Oh not many, you know, about seven.” A majority speak at least three.)

 

Perfect table settings every night, yeah, we dine classy

 

The Training Venue –

Apparently this is the first big race (or race ever?) to be held at our venue. Might I say that, as the theme of this blog goes, I definitely would never have known this fact.  They had to make some snow to fill in the 3.3k and 1.1k loop, but the trails were at least world cup standard width or wider. Along with the athlete warming houses, podium arrangement, rockin tunes, wax trailers and jumbo result screen with a calming spring pictures slideshow, I would say they are well underway to top notch.

Diggins and her Junior candy flower award

The Last Night –

 

“We go to house, you eat, we have pool party, then who knows!” were the words of the young blonde intern who was working there as part of her hotel management degree. SO, we all piled into our cars having no idea what we were in for, where we were going, who would be there, or really anything. As we were following the intern in the car ahead of us, we started to worry as she took us into the dark wilderness on snowy back roads. At this point we realize that they could be completely ransacking our rooms back at the hotel at that moment, and we would be totally screwed as they pop all our tires in the woods. “Make sure you take your bags” she says to us as we unload into a dark empty parking lot. By the look on our faces, she then follows with “Don’t be scare! It is ok I do not bite!”  A short walk down a snowy driveway later, we are at a big, two story log lodge.  Janis’s “sister” lodge.  Inside there is an amazing dinner set up waiting for us, as well as a few other guests that the intern and owner brought along.  Following dinner we wet sauna-ed it up, drank sauna tea, played some casual pool dodge ball, and headed home all soft skinned and full of joy.  We miss you Latvia.

 

A shot of some typical Latvia scenery

 

Welcome (back) to Estonia -

We just arrived at a Europe version of the OTC in lake placid, but with a whole lot more. All the teams are staying at the venue, partially because we are on the trails, but mostly because there is nowhere else to stay. We are, or so it seemed driving in, a ways from other civilization. Speaking of, stay tuned for some good stories of inter-team socialization. Or you might just have to ask Skyler yourself.

The classic sprint race was today, and I just got back from watching Ida place 5th in the A final after qualifying 14th. For myself, well I qualified 15th, and got knocked out of lucky loser because of my high bib number. I need to work on that. Just didn’t have the energy today. Classic 10k tomorrow, then spending a night in Tallin before we all fly somewhere.  For some it’s home in the US, and for others more racing in Europe.  Wish us luck!

Sadie and I in front of the stadium last day of U23s

LETS GO KIIKING!

LETS GO KIIKING!
By Jennie Bender

Have you ever heard of Kiiking? Me neither, until one of my friends from back home said, “OH you’re in Estonia? Are you going Kiiking?”

Kiiking is a sport that was invented in Estonia by Ado Kosk around 1996. In Estonian language kiik means a swing. In a kiiking swing, the swing arms are made of steel to enable a person to swing 360 degrees going over the spindle of the swing . A person is fastened to the swing base by their feet. To swing the person begins to pump by squatting and standing up on the swing. The swing will gain momentum and will by skillful pumping take a person across the spindle.”

I really wish this was a winter activity, but I have a feeling it would be hard to find right about now.  You must see this to get the full picture – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TWbcsEDrmFE

Let me back up. On Sunday we left our Scandic luxury and construction zone wax area (see photos in past blog at http://jbenderblog.wordpress.com/) for the race venue in Otepaa Estonia . Our travel day consisted of  about five to six hours of driving with a two and a half hour ferry sandwiched in the middle, which needless to say was the highlight of our adventure.

 For less than a 3 hr ride across the gulf of Finland, our low-end cruise ship kept us quite entertained! There was live music and karaoke, internet (although slow), food and coffee, sightseeing on the upper decks (although a very cold activity), free Wii sports, and of course the mariachi band with complementary scantly clothed dancers greeting at the entrance. On the main floor was a large cafeteria like seating area, tons of slot machines lining the walls, and a vacant dance floor in the far back which, perhaps if the boat ride had been longer, might have been more intriguing..…

 

 A couple pairs of us braved the Karaoke microphone. If there is any place to try something new and potentially embarrassing, it’s in a temporary location with strangers in a different country!  The rest of the gang worked on their homework, which was very physically taxing….but they do good work

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Back to the present, our venue today came alive with teams prepping for the first race today. I love the rush as I first enter the stadium of a new venue in my team swag and realize that the athletes around me could be speaking any language in the world. The fact remains, however, that they are still my peers,  and they are doing their thing for the day on skis just like the rest of us. This is my last year as a U23, and when I first began, I couldn’t help thinking ‘do I belong here with these people’?  I wanted to qualify so badly, but then when the time came, I seemed to stress/psych myself out. Years later, I finally put my foot down, slapped my results on the table and asked ‘well who are THEY to be here? Heck yes do I belong! And man if feels good. So although I have some big goals for this up coming week, no matter how it goes, I am excited to say that my ball has just started rolling…..

Where the pristine magic happens

The spill over/shit show room of excellence

Until next time, I will leave you with these last words before our races kick off later this week. We shall race hard, we shall take names, and as we ski by you in flames of fury:

Beware of Descending Boom!