Changing of the guard

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

Dylan Williamson of the Durango Nordic Ski Club, in red, leaves the start line last weekend during the finals of the boys J3 sprint race at the Junior Nordic Qualifier at The Nordic Center at Purgatory. Williamson finished fifth.

Herald Staff Report

Every sport has a time when the graduating athletes “hand off the torch” to the younger athletes and, as it turns out, parents of veterans to parents of newcomers.

That was the scene in Nordic skiing last weekend during the last race of the year in the Rocky Mountain Nordic race series at The Nordic Center at Purgatory.

Durango Nordic Ski Club took fourth out of 11 teams in the season-ending overall standings.

More than 200 skiers ages 6 to 18 raced in the two-day event that included a sprint skate race and a distance classic race.

The weekend culminated in the crowning of overall Colorado champions. In addition to the naming of the Junior National team, divisional champions were announced for the younger racers. Durango Nordic J3s Katja Freeburn and Marit May finished the season with the first and third ranking among women in that age class.

And for Durango’s J5s, Wiley Cora capped an undefeated season with the top ranking, Ethan Craig was third. J6 Kiri May took the championship, too.

Great performances were turned in by Rachel Hampton, who earned two golds, Katja Freeburn with a gold in the sprint and Marit May, who dominated the classic race. Cora again blew away the competition with two more golds. Kiri May got a gold in the classic.

Mary Oswald, mother of Lilly, who finished her racing career Sunday, walked away from the Nordic Center late Sunday after the classic race knowing it was her last time being there as a parent of a Durango Nordic skier. Along with Oswald, other parents of graduating Durango Nordic team members are Scott and Mona Kurlander, parents of Levi; Keith and Alicia Hampton, parents of Rachel; and Jane and Mark Katz, parents of Amy.

Hampton, Katz and Oswald will represent Durango at the U.S. Junior National Championships next week in Alaska, along with teammates Hannah Peterson, Kaylee Blevins, Charlie Greenberg and Haakon Sigurslid. Former DNSC skier Cully Brown, now competing for Vail, also will travel to Fairbanks.

Skiers like Oswald, who has been in the program for eight years, put an enormous amount of time and effort into the sport and formed friendships that will last forever. Other skiers like 10-year old Skyler Sands, skiing only her second race ever Saturday, have much to look forward to.

“It really settles in when the gun goes off for what will be one kid’s first race of his life and another’s last race. It really is very moving,” said Sarah Tescher, who coaches Durango’s J5 (ages 6 to 9) skiers.

The local Durango Nordic team saw many of its past graduating skiers have success last weekend. Tad Elliott, now skiing for the U.S. Ski Team, placed 40th in the 50K classic last weekend at the World Championships in Val de Fiemme, Italy. Elliott, who is more accomplished at the 50K freestyle, will race that event at Holmenkollen in Oslo, Norway, later this spring. Rogan Brown will represent the University of Vermont at the NCAA Championships this weekend.

Also among the Nordic faces at the races last weekend were biathletes Tracy and Lanny Barnes, each hoping to represent the U.S. in the 2014 Olympics in Russia. Tracy, just coming off surgery, was gutting out time at the venue Saturday waxing skis and encouraging kids with the other alchemists of wax from Durango. She put in a selfless eight hours.

“Every time I meet new Nordic parents or see a 9-year-old on the podium, I wonder to myself what the future may hold for them,” Tescher said. “Will they be representing Durango Nordic at the National Championships in eight years? Will they be the next Durango Nordic Olympian like Tad Elliott or the Barneses?”

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