Two Maine snowshoers won multiple medals at the Dion U.S. National Snowshoe Championships, held March 15-17 in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon.
University of Maine sophomore Carolyn Stocker, 20, won gold in her age group, 20-24, and finished third overall in the women’s race, earning a spot on the U.S. National Snowshoe Team. The team, made up of 16 of the best snowshoers in the country, will compete in the 2014 World Snowshoe Championship in Sweden in February.
“I definitely want to go to that,” said Stocker, who is on the UMaine track and cross country teams. “I’ve never been to Europe. We’ll see with track season, though. It’s in the middle of track season.”
In the men’s race, Peter Keeney, 46, of Bar Harbor won a gold medal in his age category, 45-49, for the third consecutive year at the nationals, though his time did not qualify him for the U.S. national team.
At the event, 200 competitors represented 25 U.S. states and Canada at the Virginia Meissner Sno-Park in Bend, Ore., where the challenging, hilly, 10-kilometer course started at roughly 5,000 feet above sea level — quite a change for Stocker and Keeney, who trained at lower elevations in Maine.
“I do a lot of uphill running,” said Keeney of his training regimen. “One of my favorite runs is running up Cadillac Mountain. Last year, I ran up Cadillac Mountain 105 times — usually twice a week. I think it’s 8.4 miles from where I park off Eagle Lake Road.”
“My coach at UMaine is awesome because he lets me snowshoe,” Stocker said. “I do a track workout, but then for my other workout, he lets me do a snowshoe or a tempo run because he knows I love to snowshoe.”
The 2013 nationals open was two laps around a 5-kilometer loop course that travels up and down a steep hill.
“I thought this course was the toughest out of the three that I’ve been to,” Keeney said. “About three-quarters of a mile in, you have a hill that you climb maybe 600-700 feet … Then, there was a really straight downhill. It was really technical. And the weather was in the 40s, so it was really slippery.”
“I’m a mountain runner, too, in the summer,” said Stocker, “so I love hills. The worst part for me was going down. We were the last race, so by our race, it was all melty and slushy.”
Stocker ran the 10-kilometer race in 1 hour, 2 minutes, 52.8 seconds; and Keeney ran it in 1:05:53.5.
Both were battling physical challenges. Stocker had a cold going into the event, and Keeney had spent the previous four weeks recovering from a calf strain.
“I just try to run my best race,” Keeney said. “I try to just have a clean, open slate, an open mind. If I run a good race, it doesn’t matter who I’m running against.”
Keeney attended the national championships with the Dion Snowshoes Team, which he has been a member for about three years. One of his favorite aspects of nationals is spending time with the team and talking to junior athletes about the sport.
“It’s a great workout,” Stocker said. “You do run slow. It does hurt, though — it’s one of the most painful things ever. If you think about it, it’s like doing high knees the whole time.”
Encouraged by her father’s enthusiasm for snowshoe running, Stocker began racing during her senior year of high school in Westfield, Mass., and progressed to compete in the 2011 nationals held in Cable, Wis.
“I like it because it’s all in the woods,” Stocker said. “I’m definitely an outdoor girl … and the people who do the race are all just happy people.”
The following year, while studying nutrition and sustainable foods at UMaine in Orono, she was unable to attend the 2012 nationals due to an injury.
This year, Stocker attended the national championships with her father, Wayne Stocker, who was second in his age group (54-59), and her sister, Lauren Stocker, 23, who won the women’s 5-kilometer citizen race, which is open to anyone.
Coincidentally, Keeney also began snowshoe racing in western Massachusetts, where the sport is highly celebrated.
“The Western Mass Athletic Club puts on a [snowshoe race] series, and then in New Hampshire there’s a series,” Stocker said. “Unfortunately, Maine doesn’t have a set series, and it’s hard because it’s three hours to travel to some of the races in Maine.”
Since moving to Maine in 1997, Keeney has become one of the key people promoting the sport in Maine. He is the lead organizer of the State of Maine Championship Snowshoe Race held in the Great Pond Mountain Wildlands in Orland, a race that became a qualifier for the nationals in 2012.
Next year’s nationals will take place at Prospect Mountain in Vermont.
“Just go out and try it because it’s so much fun,” Stocker advises people who might be interested in the sport. “Don’t go out too fast because it does hurt, and it’s a long race — just have fun in the snow.”
To see the results of the 2013 National Snowshoe Championships, visit www.snowshoeracing.com/national_championship13.htm.