Erika Flowers: US Cross-Country Ski Team
Erika Flowers, native of Missoula and Bozeman Montana, is now a racer for the United States Cross Country Ski Team. While she trains for the upcoming season, which will take her around the country and globe to compete for a spot on the world tour and, hopefully, a future OIympics. The Dartmouth grad races for the SMS T2 Team. This season she will compete on the U.S. tour early season, hoping to earn a spot in the Canadian World Cup Tour and the Europa and Continental Cup come February and March. You can follow along on her website: http://erikaflowersski.blogspot.com/
* * *
RailRiders: When did you first start skiing? Do you do both downhill and Nordic?
Erika Flowers: I first started downhill skiing when I was 3 or 4 at Marshall Mountain just outside of Missoula, MT. I didn’t actually start cross-country skiing until I was almost 12 when my family moved to Bozeman, MT. I think my parents signed me up for the local Nordic ski team (Bridger Ski Foundation), hoping it would help me make some friends in a new town. I still downhill ski for fun, but between races and training during the winter I only end up alpine skiing a few times a year. I just started to get into backcountry skiing though and I am really excited to do more of that in the future!
RR: How early did you start racing? How long did it take for you to fall in love?
EF: I started racing in early middle school and I fell in love with the sport during a one-legged partner relay at my very first practice. At the time, the local Nordic club had a group of about ten girls my age, all training and racing together. Ski practice basically entailed playing in the snow with my best friends and charging up the hills as fast as we flew down them. I started skiing a little later than many of my teammates so I was definitely not the fastest racer. I spent so much time chasing my friends around though that eventually I learned how to keep up with them and eventually beat them. I think I wrote my first training plan when I was 13 and would run laps around my block or do jumps in my driveway after practice. I loved the challenge and I think that still drives me today.
RR: What was your favorite part about racing in high school/college?
EF: Team. Although skiing is often considered an individual sport, the team aspect has had a huge impact on my development as an athlete and on my love of the sport. In college, you actually compete for points as a team both at the regional and NCAA level. I was lucky to attend Dartmouth College along with an incredibly strong group of women (3 of my former teammates are now on the U.S. National Cross-Country Ski Team and 2 race for the U.S. Biathlon Team). We had a ton of fun but we also pushed each other really hard every day. We weren’t there to just participate, we were there to compete and we wanted to be the best both as individuals and as a team. That bond helped us all become better athletes and better teammates.
RR: Did you always want to become a professional racer or is it something that just happened?
EF: When I was 10 years old, I remember saying I wanted to be an astronaut, an actress or an athlete. I think I always daydreamed about being a professional athlete but it took me a while to believe I was good enough to make that a reality. I was pre-med in college and as a junior I traveled to Guatemala to work in a rural health clinic on the shores of Lake Atitlan. We worked in villages that were only accessible by boat. We carried medicine in suitcases and set up shop in old abandoned buildings, treating patients for everything from jaundice to scabies. The experience was incredible, but I found myself thinking about ski racing the entire time. I would run laps back and forth along the shoreline, trying to prepare for summer training and make up core circuits to do before work. The experience really crystallized my love for ski racing and made it painfully obvious that skiing was my passion.
RR: At what point did you think that you could make competitive Nordic skiing your livelihood?
EF: I think I am still trying to figure that out haha. No, I think I just realized that ski racing is really where my passion lies and it is what makes me happiest. My mom passed away when I was in high school and I think there were two major lessons she taught me:
- You can do anything you set your mind to
- Do something you love
My mom was an artist and absolutely loved her work every day even if she didn’t always make a ton of money doing it. I had some success racing as a junior skier but in college I think I finally realized that I could compete with some of the best and that I loved trying. For me, medical school would have almost been the easy route. The steps to becoming a doctor are pretty clear: study hard, pass the MCAT, go to medical school, become a doctor. Ski racing is a lot harder. There are a million variables and no guaranteed success. It is the ultimate challenge.
RR: Can you give us a little insight onto what being on the pro racing tour means? What is your offseason day-to-day like?
EF: Training for cross-country skiing is year-round with only a short break in April after the end of the race season. Although racing lasts from November to March, the bulk of our training actually takes place during the summer and fall. As an endurance-based sport, training for cross-country skiing includes everything from mountain biking, running and roller-skiing to weightlifting and swimming. During the summer we train 20-30 hours each week, usually with two sessions a day and one day completely off each week. The day-to-day schedule varies but a normal week includes a mix of strength, speed work, intervals, and a lot of distance training to build a strong aerobic base. Between workouts we stretch, foam-roll, refuel and rest in order to get the most out of each session.
RR: What about your in-season day-to-day?
EF: In-season training calls for less volume and more intensity. We scale back the training hours as we approach the race season and increase the speed work and hard interval sessions. During race season, we still work to maintain and sharpen fitness and lift a few times a week but around big competitions the motto is often “race and rest.” A typical week often kicks off with a travel day on Monday to that weekend’s race venue. We do intervals and strength on Tuesday, speed work on Wednesday, easier distance on Thursday, a good pre-race workout with a few harder intervals on Friday and races Saturday and Sunday sometimes followed by strength Sunday afternoon. By Monday it’s time to hit the road again!
RR: What are the biggest challenges and biggest rewards of racing professionally?
EF: Biggest Challenges:
- Being injured or sick: Skiing and racing is your job as a professional skier. When injury prevents you from doing your job, taking the time to rest and recover and not getting discouraged can be really hard both mentally and physically. As a skier, I spend a lot of time pushing my body to its limit, so learning when to back off and rest is often harder than the training and the racing.
- Living out of suitcase: Although I actually love traveling around all winter, after a few months on the road I really start to crave home-cooked meals and a washer and a dryer. I also don’t see my family or close friends for much of the year and sometimes miss out on birthdays, weddings, or other celebrations due to training or racing.
- Funding: I am lucky to be a part of the SMS T2 professional team, however the team only covers part of my training and racing costs so finding ways to fund my season is often one of the biggest challenges of being of professional racer. At present, Nordic skiing in the U.S. relies entirely on private supporters and donors, unlike the government-sponsored teams of Europe. Even at the professional level, races in the U.S. offer minimal financial incentives (race winnings, sponsor support), and funding at the development level is limited. Support from sponsors, friends and family is crucial to performing at the highest level and is one of the reasons I am really psyched to represent Rail Riders this year. I am thrilled to have them as a sponsor and partner for the 2015-2016 racing season!
- The people: My teammates and competitors are also some of my best friends and supporters. I feel incredibly lucky to pursue a sport I absolutely love alongside some of the most amazing and inspiring people I know. Skiing also offers a really cool platform for reaching out to the next generation of athletes. As a Fast and Female ambassador and Women in Sports Foundation grantee, I am particularly passionate about encouraging female participation in sport. I believe participating in sport has the power to inspire self-confidence, leadership skills, and help women succeed both on and off the field. As a professional skier I have the opportunity to encourage, connect with and inspire younger women and girls to dream big and then get out there and make it happen.
- The travel: Professional skiing has taken me all over the world, including Slovenia, Switzerland, Norway, and France!
- The challenge: In my mind, ski racing is the ultimate challenge. The path to success is non-linear and depends on more than just hard work and determination. Ski racing is the hardest thing I can imagine doing and although I may not be successful in it, I believe the rewards earned from trying are well worth the risk of failing. I think having the courage to fail as well as the courage to win is one of the greatest rewards I have earned from professional ski racing and will continue to serve me in whatever I do.
RR: What are your personal and team goals for the season?
- Recover and re-build my arm strength after fracturing my elbow this fall
- Race my first World Cup races and qualify for the Canadian World Cup tour
- Race into the top 10 overall for U.S. Ranking
- Win the team relay at U.S Spring Nationals
- Qualify the entire team for the Canadian World Cup Tour
- Expand our Summit Sisters program and community outreach
RR: What else are you involved with in the community?
EF: I founded Summit Sisters two years ago in Stratton, VT which is a local hiking group for women aimed at encouraging females of all ages to get outside and stay active during the summer while connecting with elite athletes and other women in the southern Vermont areas. I also help coach the local chapter of Girls on the Run in the spring and am an active Fast and Female ambassador and advocate for the Women’s Sports Foundation. As a team, we run T2-sponsored community events centered around physical activity for local youth and help coach the Stratton ski camps during the summer. I have also done a number of school visits focused on topics such as mindfullness and goal-setting and help with Ski with the Stars events during the winter.
Follow Erika on her blog: http://erikaflowersski.blogspot.com/. She is always looking for new sponsors and support and the season kicks off in just a month or so! Let's go Erika!