Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Events, Clinics, Talks = busy!

It's great to have a mid-winter break at home!  Being in Alaska gives me a chance to sleep in my own bed, hang out with my husband, make sure my friends don't forget who I am (!) and coach folks that I've been working with all spring, summer, and fall.  Training for World Champs is priority number one but luckily I have some time leftover to participate in some community events.  As an athlete, I've received a lot of support from my community and I love the opportunity to give back via sharing my experiences and knowledge.  Heck, it always ends up being a lot of fun!

A bunch of these things have an option for Alaska-based folks to participate so please spread the word! Here is the quick list:

  • Participating in Alaska Public Radio "Faces of Alaska" family genealogy project.  Show will air 1/26 on KSKA and 1/27 & 1/29 on television
  • Thursday evening, 1/27 I am giving a free informational talk about the Tour of Anchorage at REI. Come learn all my secrets - Tour fever is starting to spread throughout Anchorage! 
  • Saturday, 1/29 Kikkan and I are leading the third annual, Alaskan Fast and Female at Chugiak High School! 
  • Tuesday, February 1st Kikkan and I are the key note speakers for the Rotary event, "Pillars" at the downtown Sheraton.  This is a luncheon for local high school students and tickets are available to the public as well. 
  • Saturday, February 5th I am offering TWO FREE SKATE SKIING CLINICS at Kincaid Park, compliments of one of my greatest sponsors, Rhyneer Clinic, Specialty Orthopedics.  The clinic will feature both on-snow and inside sessions. I'll talk about my experience at the Olympics, injury prevention, and how you can make the most of your own skiing. A clinic t-shirt and refreshments are included!
Here are more details and links to all events: 

Faces of Alaska

Weds., Jan. 26

2:00 pm & 7:00 pm

on KSKA FM 91.1
Thu., Jan. 27

8:00 pm on KAKM
Channel 7 TV

Sat., Jan. 29

9:00 pm on KAKM 
Channel 7

Get Ready for the Tour of Anchorage with Olympic Skier
Holly Brooks
Jan 27th at 6pm
New t-shirt design and poster for 2011!

Event Co-Hosts

"Pillars" is a program sponsored by the Rotary Clubs of Anchorage.  Every 
year Rotary brings inspirational presenters to a luncheon for upwards of 500 high school 
students.  This year, Kikkan Randall and I are excited to be the key-note speakers.  We will 
talk about our individual paths to the Olympics, the value of teamwork, the importance of 
healthy lifestyles, and encourage folks to pursue their dreams - and even find work in an area 
of their lives that are important to them!  This event is also open to the public. If you are 
interested, it's February 1st at the downtown Sheraton Hotel. The event starts at noon and 
tickets can be purchased at the door. 

If you've been wanting some pointers on your skate technique 
or know someone who does, please join me for this FREE
clinic, compliments of one of my generous sponsors, the 
Rhyneer Clinic!  Pre-registration is necessary but it's totally 
FREE! I will offer two sessions on Saturday, February 5th. 
Email to register! Go to to learn more about the clinic and
Dr. Rhyneer and his staff! 

Monday, January 17, 2011

USOC article: From ski coach to Olympian

Peggy Shinn, a contributing editor for the USOC tracked me down after the skate sprint in Rumford to conduct this interview.  She waited patiented outside of drug testing for me to provide a sample.... (thanks Peggy!)  If you'd prefer to read the article through the official link, I've provided it here.

Holly Brooks: From ski coach to Olympian

Peggy Shinn January 11, 2011

Photo: Peggy Shinn
Caption: Holly Brooks leads the quarterfinals of the women's freestyle sprint at the 2011 U.S. Cross-Country Ski Championships at Black Mountain in Rumford, Maine.
RUMFORD, Maine — Most Olympic athletes were child prodigies in their respective sports. Or at least offered glimpses of future greatness — like a podium finish at nationals.
Not Holly Brooks.
The 28-year-old cross-country skier finished in the latter half of results through college. Not once did she qualify for NCAAs, and her best finish at the U.S. Cross-Country Ski Championships in 2004 — the only year she competed at that level during college — was 49th.
“I would look from the bottom up on results lists to see where I finished that day,” she says. “I was really mediocre.”
Now, Brooks could be the hero for middle-of-the-pack athletes who harbor Olympic Dreams.
“I never made world juniors, I never made U23s, I never made the Scando trip, nothing,” she says. (The Scando trip is an annual rite for developing cross-country skiers to compete in the Scandinavian countries.)
Six years after she graduated from college — and after only five months of full-time training — Brooks made the Olympics.
Now, fresh off her first national crown — the sprint classic title which she won on January 2 at 2011 U.S. Cross-Country Ski Championships at Black Mountain in Rumford, Maine — Brooks wants to represent the U.S. again, this time at the 2011 World Championships in Oslo, Norway, in February.
So how did Brooks go from mediocrity to Olympic athlete in the span of six years?
Her story starts on Snoqualmie Pass, east of Seattle where she grew up. Her parents were Nordic ski instructors there, and they put Brooks and her triplet siblings on skis when they were two or three years old, recalls Brooks.
Competition wasn’t as much a part of the Brooks’ family plan as enjoying the outdoors and teaching others to enjoy it as well. At night, they would ski to the family cabin, spend the night, and ski out the next day.
“It was only three kilometers (to the cabin),” says Brooks. “But when you’re a kid, that’s a big deal.”
By age 12, she was helping her parents teach skiing.
“I had this instructor coat,” Brooks says. “I still remember it. I was so proud of it. It was royal blue, neon pink, and neon orange, and it came down to my knees.”
Skiing was limited to weekends and an occasional weeknight. In high school, she started racing, and when she entered Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, in 2000, she joined the soccer, track, and ski teams. At the time, Whitman skiers competed in the USCSA (U.S. Collegiate Ski Association), not the NCAA.
Before Brooks’ junior year, Whitman’s ski team joined the NCAA and began competing against the best college racers — many recruited from Europe, such as Olympian Katrin Smigun from Estonia.
Against this stiff competition, Brooks’ best result was 20th. She never qualified for the NCAA Championships.
Brooks graduated from Whitman in 2004 with a degree in sociology and environmental studies and moved to Anchorage, Alaska. Although she did not want to compete, she loved to ski and wanted to stay involved in the sport. When her college roommate’s mother got her a part-time job as the Nordic ski coach for West Anchorage High School, she took it.
The program was billed as “small,” but Brooks discovered she was in charge of over 100 kids.
To pay the bills, she also took another part-time job at an environmental consulting firm.
Through coaching, she met the who’s-who of Alaskan Nordic skiing, including her future husband Rob Whitney, who’s a former U.S. Ski Team member, and Erik Flora, a former NCAA All-American.
In 2006, Flora was hired to run Alaska Pacific University’s Nordic Ski Center, started a decade ago as a regional Olympic development program. APU skiers have included World Championship silver medalist Kikkan Randall and 2010 Olympian James Southam.
Flora hired Brooks to help coach APU’s extensive programs. She was thrilled to have a full-time job coaching and was assigned the juniors, masters (adults), and women’s-only programs.
The job consumed her time, but she skied every day along with her charges.
“I’m not one of those coaches who stands on the sidelines,” she says. “I like to coach my juniors by following them on an interval or having them follow me.”
When she accompanied the juniors to races, she skied even more.
“Coaches ski test (at races) and probably put in like 40 kilometers a day,” she says, laughing.
But she had no idea how fit she had become. She was just doing her job.
Whitney, who was a favorite to make the 1998 and 2002 Olympic teams but fell short, knew Brooks could keep up with the best and urged her to compete.
“I saw her talent, and I’m like you can do this,” says Whitney, who is now a firefighter in Anchorage. “She’d say, ‘No no no.’ It almost got to the point where I was pestering her.”
In March 2008, Brooks entered the Tour of Anchorage “for kicks.” She competed in the 50k freestyle event and won, beating Kasandra Rice, a two-time NCAA All-American cross-country skier.
The following February, Brooks entered the 2009 American Birkebeiner, a renowned 50k cross-country ski race in Hayward, Wisconsin. She was in a photo finish for first with 2006 Olympian Rebecca Dussault (Dussault won by a toe-length.)
Back in Alaska, Brooks entered the 2009 U.S. Distance Cross-Country Championships and finished fourth in the 15k. In the race’s wax cabin, U.S. Ski Team coach Matt Whitcomb asked, “So Holly, are you going to make a run for the Olympics?”
“I was like, ‘Yah, right,” she remembers. “It was such a joke.”
“It’s the end of the season, everyone’s tired, this is a total fluke,” she thought.
Then came the Mt. Marathon in Seward, Alaska, on July 4, 2009. It’s a brutal three-mile running race that climbs over 3,000 feet in 1.5 miles, then descends down cliffs and waterfalls back to Seward.
Brooks was leading the race — ahead of Kikkan Randall — when she passed out and collapsed four blocks from the finish. Brooks woke up in the emergency room and was diagnosed with exertional rhabdomyolsis, an uncommon condition where the cell membranes in the muscles break down, and the muscle cells’ contents are released into the blood stream. The result: her legs stopped working.
Lying in the ER, hooked up to an IV, Brooks had a thought.
“This sounds really corny, but I had this vision that I was going to try to make the Olympics,” she admits. “I had come close to doing really well in this big race. That lit my competitive drive and got the athletic fire started over again.”
First, though, she had to finish the Mt. Marathon. Only finishers can enter the following year, and Brooks wanted to compete again. So she checked herself out of the hospital, hobbled across the finish line, then checked back into the hospital.
Also on Brooks’ agenda that summer: A wedding. She and Whitney married on July 11, 2009.
After the Mt. Marathon, she took off eight weeks to let her legs heal. Then Brooks sat down with Flora and told him her plans.
“Erik, I think I want to try ski racing,” she sheepishly admitted.
Then she whispered the next part: “I kind of want to make a run for the Olympics.”
Rather than laughing, Flora nodded and said OK.
When Brooks stated her goal to her husband, Whitney’s first thought was, “Finally!”
“I wouldn’t have nagged her for that long if I didn’t strongly believe she could do it,” he says. “I was so frustrated with the fact that I didn’t make [an Olympic team]. When you see someone who has the potential to make it, you’re like, ‘You’ve got to do it, man.’”
On August 24, 2009, Brooks began training with APU’s Elite team.
Three months later, she entered the SuperTour races in West Yellowstone, Montana, winning the 10k freestyle and finishing second in the 5k classic.
“There I was at age 27, never having won a race in my life really … ,” she says, trailing off.
Over the next month, Brooks won two more SuperTour races and finished on the podium in three NorAms (including one win) in every event from sprints to 10k classic races.
Then came the 2010 U.S. Cross-Country Ski Championships, a de facto Olympic Trials for the nation’s Nordic skiers. Top results would likely lead to an Olympic berth.
Her best race at nationals was second in the 20k classic race behind Randall. While waiting to hear if she made the team, she went back to work at APU. Twenty days after nationals, U.S. Ski Team coach Pete Vordenberg called to tell her she had made the team.
"I think I'm one of the few Olympians with a full-time job,” Brooks told an Anchorage Daily News reporter who called as she drove to work that day.
With little international experience (she competed in her first World Cup two weeks before the Olympics), Brooks traveled to Whistler and competed in five events at the 2010 Olympics. Her best result was 35th in the 30k classic race — not a surprise given that she had peaked earlier in the season in an effort to make the Olympic team.
From coach to Olympian, Brooks says there was no big secret to her success, other than “skiing her butt off” for five years as a coach. But she does credit luck.
“I married the right guy,” she says. “I met Erik Flora. All of these things just fell into place. It was perfect circumstance. That’s what I had without knowing it.”
Now one of the top cross-country skiers in the U.S., Brooks is working part-time at APU and training full-time. She won more SuperTour and NorAms this season. And at the 2011 U.S. Cross-Country Championships, she took the classic sprint title and finished second in the 20k freestyle race behind fellow 2010 Olympian Liz Stephen.
Brooks is in Lake Placid, N.Y., this week, competing in more SuperTour races while she awaits word about who will represent the U.S. at the 2011 World Championships.
“It’s a little bit ironic that most of my international experience comes at championship races,” she says. “But you have to start somewhere.”
Strange to think of a 28-year-old just starting on an international athletic career. But she sees maturity and stability in her life as an asset.
“I have an amazing husband, I have a great job, I have a really solid education, and I’m working toward [a masters in counseling at the University of Alaska-Anchorage],” she says. “With those things in place, I can be at this a couple years.”
Or more precisely, three more years.
“I would love to aim at Sochi,” she says, without a hint of sheepishness.
Peggy Shinn is a freelance contributor for This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

What I've been up too.... OSLO!

First and foremost - I'm GOING TO OSLO for WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS! I got the call yesterday and am really excited!  (More on this later!) Congrats to my fellow teammates, Sadie Bjornsen, Lars Flora, and Kikkan Randall for also making the team. 

Life on the road has been extremely busy lately but I have no complaints.  The APU team is approaching our 9th week together on the road (with a one-week short break for Christmas!) and we're about to wrap up the first period of racing with two Super Tours here in Lake Placid.  I am slightly behind on my blogging as of late due to our travel schedule and just plain being busy.  I plan to write more about US Nationals but I'm saving that as a task for the plane ride home to AK.  The time on the road has been sweet but I would be lying if I said that I'm not excited to get back to Alaska.  My husband, Rob, has been holding down the fort at home and my cat, Buggz is lonely. 

In the meantime, here are some pictures from the last couple of days!

Although it made for an early morning (5:30am after racing 4 races at Nationals!) Fast and Female Bethel was awesome. We had over 130 girls and 29 instructors for a day of skiing, dancing, and yoga.  Here I am facilitating a Q & A session with the girls.  Kikkan and I are leading the third annual Fast and Female in Anchorage on January 29th - if you're an Alaskan girl age 9-19, I hope you'll join us!

The whole group is excited! Thanks to Abby of NENSA for organizing and Gould Academy for hosting

If you've never tried Zumba before it's an absolute HOOT. Think upbeat music and 150 people following an over-enthusiastic dance instructor.  It was super fun! 

Zumba was followed directly by yoga.... from one energy extreme to the next... 

The APU girls team in our Fast and Female instructor sweatshirts with Betty, our "house mom" for the week of nationals.  Good accommodations in Rumford are hard to find so we ended up staying WAY out of town in South Paris.  Betty made the drive worth it by making us feel at home - she made our beds and picked up our crumbs - we are eternally grateful!  

For those of you that wonder what I do everyday that I'm on the road... the last day of racing, the skate sprint involved a 16 hour day with almost 4 hours spent commuting in the car to and from the venue twice. Life on the road requires an insane amount of patience more often than not.

Have you ever seen ski bags on an open-air ferry? This is our team traveling from Rumford, Maine to Lake Placid New York via Lake Champlain. I'm really excited to be in new territory. I haven't spent much time in the East and I love seeing new places. 

Speaking of new places, this is my first time in Lake Placid and the Adirondacks.  Here I am in the Cross Country lodge with my 2010 Vancouver teammate, biathlete Haley Johnson.  She has a cool new article on Fasterskier this morning titled "Creating those Right Connections."  Haley is a great example of how an elite athlete can positively impact communities. We share a similar philosophy.

Here is Sadie giving Billy a congratulatory kiss!

Walking around Lake Placid is almost eerie when you consider the amazing athletic moments that have happened here.  One of the APU condos has TWO copies of Miracle on Ice, the film that accounts the 1980 Gold Medal hockey game.  The arena and rink where Eric Heiden won his Speed skating gold medals is only a couple blocks from where we're staying! 

There is surely a THEME to this town! 

And last but not least, here is Fitz driving a bobsled in the Olympic Training Center! 

Two distance races starting tomorrow and then it's home to Alaska on Sunday. Yeah - 25+ hours of travel! 

Thanks for reading/more soon, 
Holly :) 

Friday, January 7, 2011

Three down, one to go!

The last race at 2011 US National Championships is tomorrow!  The girls of South Paris (the small town were many of us are staying) are getting up at 5 in the morning to make a 9am qualifier race. I'm looking forward to putting up a post-nationals post up in the next couple of days but in the meantime, here are a few good shots: 

APU has a huge crew at Nationals: 25 athletes and 5 support staff (coaches & techs)

Yesterday was Lars' birthday but we celebrated today with a cake... nothing like a torch to light the candles! Happy Birthday Uncle Larry! 

More soon/goodnite! 
~Holly :) 

Monday, January 3, 2011

A Picture Perfect Day!

Yesterday was awesome... there is really no other way to describe it.  Not only was it a great day for me, but it was a great day for our team.  Lining up for the A final felt like a regular day at practice with 4 of the 6 girls in the final wearing blue APU suits.  We've done it countless times for intervals; roller skiing, day after day in the rain (34 days straight this summer) to bounding with poles in freezing temperatures come September.  In fact, yesterday turned out so cool, here is my tweet from last night:

Pretty sweet to eat dinner and debrief with the rest of the podium tonight. My teammates rock... APU girls: 1, 2, 3, 4, 9, 10 US 

A great photo of our girl's team at the finish line from

Once again (this morning) the top four Americans (myself, Morgan, Sadie, and Katie) from yesterday's race are sitting around the breakfast table.  We've already had a fantastic morning drinking coffee and watching the men's Tour De Ski live on Eurosport.  We're excited to watch Kikkan compete in the women's race later this morning.

"Cheers!" (w/hot chocolate!)

My first National Championship!!!!!

There are so many great things about having a strong team.... there are so many benefits.  First of all, being on the road is fun. We have endless amounts of laughs. If you don't enjoy the people that you travel with, ski racing can be tough.  We're in tight accommodations for weeks on end training, sleeping, eating, and racing together - sometimes even sharing the same bed. It's priceless to be able to come home at the end of the day and celebrate together.  Even if you didn't have the best day individually, you can be happy for a teammate that did well.  

The APU girls storming the podium (left to right) Kate Fitz, Becca Rorabaugh, Katie Ronsse, me, Sadie Bjornsen, Morgan Smyth

Signing our paperwork

Katie, Holly, Sadie, Morgan

The APU girls team definitely has something special right now. I've been trying to boil it down, put my finger on it, & identify it but I can't..... People have asked me what it is, wanting to create the same thing amongst their team(s) but I don't know that it's reproducible.  Some how we have the right people, with the right chemistry, at the right time. We have great coaches, hard working, professional wax techs, and good attitudes.  We live for hard workouts, we switch leads in intervals, we give each other feedback on ways that we can improve.  Most people view cross country skiing as an individual sport but it can be so much more than that. 

I think that good results and good attitudes are infectious and we have the bug.  Once someone breaks through, everyone else starts doing well. There is a domino effect and it's awesome.

Here are a couple of articles about the day: 

A cool article from the Anchorage Daily News that made the front page of the paper, even when Nationals are 3,000+ miles away. (You've got to love a ton that appreciates skiing, hence, one of the reasons why I moved there!!!)  Thanks to the ADN and Beth Bragg for covering skiing.

Kris Dobie

Also, for all you non fasterskier readers, here is the link to the ski website coverage:

Thanks so much to everyone who has sent words of congratulations, to the coaches and techs for their endless hours of hard work, and last but certainly not least, to the race organizers that are constantly having to battle with weather that is out of their control.  Hosting US Nationals is never a small task and I realize that the operation is a labor of love for many of those working countless, undocumented hours. Thank you.

APU girls team in Silver Star - December, 2010