/ Articles / A lesson in patience, perseverance and perspective
Headed into the NCAA Skiing Championships in Bozeman, Mont., last week, Will Bodewes anticipated a lot of unknowns. What type of wax would he need on his skis? How would the altitude affect his race? What would the temperature be like?
But the one unknown he hadn’t considered proved to be the most important: Would he even get the chance to race?
Bodewes’ entire collegiate career had come down to these two races — a 10K skate and a 20K classic — and in the end, he was only able to race one.
Despite the letdown, Bodewes was proud of all he accomplished during his senior season.
“It was just such a great way to end the year and to have all of these things that I never thought I was going to be able to do,” he said. “To see them come true was really amazing.”
Getting back on track
Wearing the flame suit of the Lakeland Nordic ski team, Bodewes had a successful high school career. He was state champion in 2015 and competed as part of the Midwest team at three junior nationals. After graduating from LUHS in 2016, Bodewes left for the University of New Hampshire as a rising star.
Adjusting to college proved to be a challenge and in his first three years, he found himself rarely finishing higher than 30th place during regular season competitions, which are called carnivals in the Eastern Division.
After a lackluster junior season due to iron deficiency, Bodewes realized he had a choice to make going into his final season.
“I was talking to my dad and I was like, ‘Alright, I kind of have two options here: I’m either going to go and get an internship, get a job and prepare for my future or I’m going to give it all I have in skiing and see what happens,’’’ Bodewes said. “I’m really glad I took the latter on that.”
Fully committed to his final season, he spent the entire summer training in Bend, Ore.
When he came back to UNH that fall, Bodewes noticed a shift in the entire team’s attitude. He and his teammate Bryce Hartman lead as team captains.
“Everybody had a really good summer of training and then we just kind of continued to build off that and push each other,” he said.
Thanks to his robust summer and fall training, as well as a more individualized training plan from his coaches, Bodewes finished a career-best 11th place in the first race of the season, a 10K skate on Jan. 17 at the Harvard Carnival.
Qualifying for nationals no longer seemed like a distant goal.
For NCAA skiing, schools are broken into three regions: East, Central and West. Athletes are ranked based on their two best finishes in each technique, classic and skate, out of six total races. Each region sends a variable number of athletes for a total of 40 at nationals. The more competitive the region, the more spots are available. This year, the field at nationals for Nordic men was comprised of 15 athletes from East, eight from Central and 17 from West.
“I’d always been hoping to make it, but this year, I felt a real momentum,” Bodewes said.
Despite his overall consistency, he remained on the qualifying bubble.
“Even until after the last race, I finished and people were doing up the numbers and it was close for me not making it in,” he said. “I just kind of got lucky.”
Although he enjoys skating more, the race that sealed the deal for Bodewes was a 9th place finish in a 15K classic at the Colby Carnival on Feb, 1. In addition to his 11th place skate at the Harvard Carnival, a 12th place skate finish and an 18th place classic result secured his ticket to nationals. He qualified in the 12th position out of the Eastern Division.
UNH qualified two other male athletes, which makes up a full men’s team. One athlete from the UNH the women’s team also qualified.
Bodewes knew racing at altitude in Bozeman would present its own unique challenges. To ensure maximum acclimation, he and his team traveled out to Montana about a week prior to the competition.
“In order to race effectively, you kind of have to race a lot slower and smoother,” he said. “A tendency of people that are coming from low elevation to high elevation is to race at the same speed as they would at low elevation, and you just end up redlining.”
With this in mind, Bodewes’ strategy going into the 10K skate race on March 12 was simple: ski smooth and ski relaxed.
“During the race, I was just so excited to be there,” he said. “I just tried to stay to my plan and focus and ski smooth.”
Going into the race with the goal of finishing top 30, Bodewes said he was thrilled with his 27th place finish.
He crossed the finish line with no regrets.
“I skied the race exactly how I wanted,” he said.
After the skate race, Bodewes knew he still had to recover and refocus for the following day’s 20K classic race, but only a few hours later, upon arriving back at the hotel, his coach gave him and his teammates the bad news.
“I walked in the door and our coach was like, ‘Yeah, the races have been canceled for tomorrow,’” Bodewes said. “It was pretty abrupt honestly. I wasn’t expecting it.”
On Thursday, March 12, the NCAA released a statement canceling all remaining winter and spring championships. According to the statement, the NCAA made the decision “based on the evolving COVID-19 public health threat, our ability to ensure the events do not contribute to the spread of the pandemic, and the impracticality of hosting such events at any time during this academic year given ongoing decisions by other entities.”
“I thought it was the wrong decision, especially because everybody was already out there,” Bodewes said. “Everybody was frustrated, especially me because this my last race and my last chance — or my only shot at NCAAs.”
Despite the unforeseen circumstances, Bodewes said he is proud of his performance in the skate race.
“I think, honestly, more so than achieving the goals that I’d set, just the support that my family and friends have given me and just how excited they were for me being able to get lucky and accomplish what I did was probably the best part,” Bodewes said. His immediate family, aunt and grandmother all flew out for the races.
“I’m trying to make the most of it right now,” he said. “I’ve just been hanging out with my family and doing backcountry skiing and just trying to enjoy Montana as much as possible while I still can.”
As of now, UNH is planning to return to on-campus classes starting April 6.
“I’m glad that they’re still looking at it with optimism and hopefully we get to go back and actually graduate,” Bodewes said. He will earn a degree in mechanical engineering in May.
In terms of where he sees skiing in his future, he said it will always be one of his passions.
“I don’t think that I’m going to keep training as far as trying to make the U.S. ski team or nationals, but I think skiing is always going to be part of my life,” he said. “I love it.”
He is hoping to do some citizens’ races next season, but where he will be and what he will be doing in the future is still undecided. He has applied to several graduate programs and is waiting to hear back.
“I don’t know what’s next,” he said. “But I’m sure it’ll be something interesting.”
Delaney FitzPatrick may be reached via email at [email protected]