Victoria Jacobsen
The Bulletin

It is a common refrain from expert skiers: “I’ve been on skis since I could walk.”

But at the Fast and Female Champ Chat at Central Oregon Community College on Sunday, U.S. nordic ski team member Rosie Brennan reminded the crowd of girls and parents that there is no one trajectory to becoming a star athlete.

“I didn’t learn to cross-country ski until I was 14, which seems like a long time ago now, but I felt like I was really far behind when I joined the ski team,” said Brennan, a native of Park City, Utah, who is now 27. “I remember my first day of practice, they gave me roller blades instead of roller skis, and I was still half an hour behind the rest of the group. They asked me if I’d gone the same way as everyone else.

“But it was really fun, so I kept going back. And it made me determined to catch up with my peers, so I spent a little extra time learning how to ski, and it led me to great places.”

It was a welcome story for Lea Brody-Heine, 16, who competed with the Summit High nordic ski team this winter.

“This is my first real season of skiing competitively, and I thought it was really inspiring because we have kind of similar stories,” Brody-Heine said.

The event, which drew 71 girls from ages 8 to 18, was designed to get them excited about sports by introducing them to accomplished female athletes.

Thirteen “athlete ambassadors” — which included several members of the U.S. nordic ski team, local elite runners, Bend alpine skier Laurenne Ross and 2016 Pole Pedal Paddle winner Zoe Roy — started the afternoon with icebreakers and then led the girls through obstacle courses, soccer games and dance and fitness stations.

During the question-and-answer session, girls asked for advice ranging from how to stay motivated while recovering from injuries to what they should eat before a race. (One member of the U.S. nordic team admitted she had such a penchant for maple syrup that she would pack it when she traveled around the world to races — which led to some very sticky suitcases.)

Annie Hart, a nordic skier who competed for Dartmouth College and now races for Vermont-based SMS T2, told the girls they should never, ever be afraid of the weight room.

“My body feels like a tank, and I love it,” Hart said, after describing her new dedication to strength training. “Who doesn’t love being strong and being able to take care of themselves?”

Ross said she first participated in a Fast and Female event in Vail, Colorado, during the 2015 world alpine championships.

“It was at one of the elementary schools there, and they had a bunch of the alpine athletes come and hang out and talk with the girls,” Ross said. “And since then I’ve been joining in as many as I can, while I’m in the right place at the right time.

“I always walk away from these events feeling really inspired myself — I don’t really come here expecting to inspire all of the girls. It’s such a short time, but I definitely feel that the more positive and energetic and fun these events are, the more beneficial it is for the girls and myself.”

While the children enjoyed activities with the athletes, parents and coaches attended presentations by Jenny Cruickshank, an assistant professor at COCC who discussed sports psychology and positive coaching methods, and Julie Downing, the COCC nursing department chair who described the dangers of overtraining syndrome and how to prevent it in adolescents.

Pamela Brody-Heine, who accompanied her daughter Lea to Sunday’s event, said she was excited to hear Cruickshank discuss “double goal coaching,” in which instructors balance the importance of winning with helping children master skills needed to excel in their sport.

“I thought was fascinating, because it’s been like a pendulum — first it was all about winning, and now people say, ‘oh, kids should get the participation trophies,’” said Brody-Heine, 54.

But Brody-Heine and Kathy Schoderbek agreed the main draw was the athletes.

“I’m a huge fan of the U.S ski team, and I thought it was so cool they were here in Bend,” said Schoderbek, 49, whose two sons are still competitive athletes.

It is a sentiment that children and parents alike could agree on.

“It’s just fun to come and talk to people who used to be like us and now are pro athletes,” said 14-year-old Juliette Boyd.

— Reporter: 541-383-0305, .