by Thomas O’Harra
When this season started, back in November, I was so excited to race. There’s something in the air in the early season, everyone pumped up and excited. I got so nervous before the races back then, I could barely eat breakfast on race morning. And sure, I still got really nervous before my sprint race in Kazakhstan, and my sprint race in Switzerland, and some of the races at Junior Nationals, but the further into the season that I got, the more comfortable I felt before each event, and about racing in general.
That isn’t to say, however, that I was less excited about racing. I love racing. I have a lot of fun traveling and racing and repeating. I do think that after Kazakhstan I kind of “made” my season, posting one of best results so far—and I could’ve done even better, racing smarter!
I think that the level of enthusiasm went down throughout the season because I got progressively more tired. It can be hard to stay excited about something when you feel so run down. But I managed to hold it together and post some good results in the end, after four months of racing. I think that was the most important thing that I learned this year: even when I’m tired and a long ways from home, I can still do the right things and be professional enough to maintain a high quality of performance.
My season began in late November in West Yellowstone and then took me to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Kazakhstan, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Truckee (CA), and Sun Valley (ID). I spent more time away from home than I ever have before, over two months on the road, through most of the spring semester. But time flew by as I met so many really cool people and raced with a lot of good friends.
It is my goal to be traveling like this, and maybe more, in the years to come. Because this year was a huge learning experience for me, I’ve come away with several important lessons. For starters, I packed too much stuff. My bags (ski bag and duffel) were about 50 lbs. each. This gets troublesome when you have to carry everything (ski bag, duffel and carry-on with all of your textbooks, camera, and laptop) a quarter mile through an airport. On that note, I need to get a wheeled ski bag. That quarter-mile jog at 5:00 AM was not fun, and I do not wish to repeat it.
I’ve also learned that traveling, it’s almost impossible to avoid stress. I need to roll with the punches, because not every little thing will fall into place. In Kazkhstan, I almost got stuck in the country. In Munich, I showed up at the wrong ticket counter, and then almost didn’t make my connection in Paris. I’m hoping that with more experience I can avoid stupid stuff like that.
Now I am back at home, going to school for real. My first week back, with about a month of school left in the year, was definitely a little bit surreal. Going to math class was the first time I had stepped foot in a classroom in about 11 months. After working on my own while on the road and doing a lot of things on my own time, getting back into a class schedule with definite due dates and the like was a little bit difficult. It’s hard to focus through a two-hour in person class. Online classes are a little easier, because I have been taking them a little bit longer. Living at home is nice, though. Eating real food and having my own space are probably the best parts.
In all, this was a very important building season for me. Going into the summer, I do not plan on changing much, except that I will be training harder than ever. The way I see it, the more I chase my older, faster teammates around and try to beat them, the more quickly I’ll adapt and get stronger—even though it’ll make me supremely tired. I think it’s worth it, and I’m willing to give it the old college try. What is there to lose?
Thomas O’Harra is a full time student-athlete at Alaska Pacific University. Growing up in Anchorage, he spent a lot of time outside and in the mountains—hiking, skiing, and generally having fun. He now races and trains with the APU Nordic Ski Center while taking a full course load at the university. Currently, Thomas is on a two-month trip for racing, starting in Kazakhstan, then traveling to races in Czech Republic and Switzerland before returning to the U.S. to race at Junior Nationals in Truckee, CA and SuperTour Finals and Spring Series in Sun Valley, ID at the end of March.