Mariners on the Homer High School Nordic ski team didn’t let their last home invitational go by without a bang.
The meet held Friday and Saturday at the Lookout Mountain Trails on Ohlson Mountain road started off as one would expect: lots of ski wax and spandex. Saturday was when all the stops got pulled out. Skiers from Homer, Kenai, Soldotna, Seward and Nikiski were all invited to don costumes on the meet’s second day. SoHi skiers took this to the next level, with the entire team showing up as a matching gaggle of gnomes.
Not to be outdone, Homer’s Jacob Davis flew down the trails in a polar bear onsie, while other team members sported crazy colors, hair and various costumes.
The Homer varsity boys team placed second overall with a combined time of 2 hours, 19 minutes and 10 seconds. They came in behind the victorious SoHi boys team, with a time of 2:1:27, and ahead of Kenai at 2:32:36. For the varsity girls, Kenai came in first while SoHi claimed second.
The invitational was broken up into a 5-Kilometer classic ski race on Friday and a 5K skate race on Saturday, with adaptive sit ski races both days following the individual events. Sit skiing is a sport in which those who are injured or have lost the use of their legs ski while sitting on a chair that is raised off the ground and attached to their skis. Homer’s team has been practicing this sport since Angelica Haakenson, who lost her legs in a car accident three years ago, joined their ranks.
Davis had a particularly good weekend, finishing second in the boys’ classic race and third in Saturday’s skate race. For the girls, Katia Holmes took third in both events.
“I slid in right where I wanted to, right where I thought I was going to,” she said.
Holmes was in second place approaching the finish line, but fell right at the last hill of the course, at which point Seward’s Ruby Lindquist passed her.
“They did incredible,” said head coach Cole Talbot of the team’s Friday performance. “It’s pretty fun to have them on their home course. This is the course that we ski every day after school.”
Talbot said the course at the Lookout Trails can sometimes be tough or intimidating to visiting skiers.
“It’s the hardest 5-kilometer course in the state, I would say, based on skiing in Fairbanks and Anchorage and Soldotna,” he said. “And that’s why our kids ski so well on downhills and uphills, because they’re practicing on it every day.”
Both Davis and Waclawski had photo finishes on Saturday, battling skiers from Soldotna for third and sixth place in the skate race, respectively.
“Soldotna just has a real fast team,” Davis said. “And they’re real competitive, and it’s nice.”
He and Waclawski said events are more exciting when races are close and there’s something to lose. Waclawski nabbed sixth place in the skate race from SoHi’s Jode Sparks by sticking his ski across the finish line less than a second before his competitor. The pair were going so fast at the finish line that Waclawski skidded to a stop that landed him on the ground.
“I always like to do that in intervals when we’re doing our sprint loop,” he said. “And I always make sure to get my foot forward because like, that can be the difference. It was a fun race because I was trolling that dude the whole way up. … Because I knew that I had the advantage on the way down, and I managed to hold onto it, which was cool.”
One of the highlights of the invitational was Saturday’s adaptive sit ski relay race. Teams of four from Kenai, Soldotna and Homer raced each other in four legs that started with a male sit skier, followed by a female standing skier, a male standing skier and a female sit skier. Haakenson, Homer’s sit skier for the girls, crossed the finish line well ahead of her competition to bring Homer the win.
She said she enjoyed the race but “was also really scared because I lost track of Denver for a second there.” Waclawski was the standing skier who came up behind Haakenson to tag her after completing the third leg of the relay.
Haakenson anticipates that sit skiing will become a more regular and permanent part of the ski season, at least for Homer.
“I like it,” she said. “I like that people know what it’s like.”
Waclawski and Davis called the sit ski “a blast.” Davis described maneuvering as a new challenge for him as a standing skier, and commented on the amount of arm and core strength it requires. Both skiers also said they look forward to more sit skiing in the future.
“I’m really excited for that,” Davis said.
“We have the three-team sit ski, so it’s a really cool opportunity to be able to try this like, fun new thing,” Waclawski added. “… I didn’t even know it was a thing before this year.”
Assistant coach Alison O’Hara wrote in a recap of the weekend invitational that it’s been exciting to come up with challenging races that incorporate sit skiing.
“Angelica’s love and passion for the sport has been infectious and luckily we were gifted two other loaner sit skis so other team members who are injured (or not) can use them to zoom around with and challenge Angelica,” she wrote. “The other teams on the Peninsula have rallied and had their team members enter the sit ski races as well.”