Presque Isle, ME -
Owl stand by you,
Owl Ski with you
2018-2019 University of Maine Presque Isle Skiing Preview
UMPI newcomers share common background as being adopted at young ages
The University of Maine Presque Isle Nordic ski team enters the 2018-2019 season in a position of optimism surrounded by new beginnings and great opportunity. While several factors in recent years have resulted in a temporary reduction in overall numbers, the close knit group of eager athletes who have signed on to compete in the Sederquist/Currier inaugural campaign are in a unique position to forge a competitive, cohesive, and successful culture for future generations of Owls. While Sederquist and his wife, Christie are transplants from Minnesota and Colorado (their nearest relatives are a quick 26-hour drive from Presque Isle) who have felt the welcoming "adoption" by both UMPI students and staff and Aroostook County neighbors (Christie teaches in Fort Fairfield), their relocation story is dwarfed by all of the members of his own team. Two of the three Owl Nordic ski athletes, Freshmen Irina Norkin (Fryeburg Academy, Maine), and John Agosti (Shenedehowa Central High School, New York) were adopted and brought to America as infants from Russia (Norkin) and South Korea (Agosti), and the third, Leinani Farnsworth (Portland, Maine) was born in Honolulu, Hawaii before moving to Maine. As the season progresses, Sederquist hopes that this backstory can be a source of connection that strengthens everyone's relationship through the ups and downs of a long season.
"We have already been through a bit of an emotional and physical rollercoaster as a team and coaching staff, and there isn't even snow on the ground yet," commented the coach, who together with his wife desire to someday adopt themselves and were certified foster-care parents in Colorado through an organization called Hope and Home, providing respite care in the high need San Luis Valley region. "Unpredictable challenges are the norm in the life of someone who has been adopted – I think that experience, especially being shared by two of our athletes, is something that is actually a special gift this team has been given, particularly given the nature of where our program is at, with everything being so new for everyone. I choose to view this situation as an incredible opportunity for our athletes, coaches, and entire athletic department."
Norkin, who is also a member of the women's cross country running team, is a very spirited, excited, and passionate teammate. Her joy for the sport of Nordic skiing is something Sederquist says he has seen in very few people for any aspect of life.
"My first conversation with Irina consisted of her talking a million miles per hour about her experience at the SMS (Stratton Mountain Ski – training group of Olympic Gold medalist Jessie Diggins) junior camp," said Sederquist about his pre-season individual athlete meetings. "She whipped out her phone mid-conversation and started flipping through photos, giving 15 details about each picture…when she stopped at one of Sophie Caldwell midstride and said, 'look at that position with the hips forward – isn't that incredible form and glide?' I knew I was in the midst of someone special."
Irina was adopted as a very young child from Russia. She has not met her mother, but hopes to return to the country to meet her someday. She grew up and attended Fryeburg Academy in southwestern Maine, and was a key member of the ski team which won the Class A Maine State Cross Country Championships during her senior year. Her competitive drive led her to a 4th place finish overall in the classical 5k (first for her team), and 5th overall in the freestyle portion at Black Mountain last February. When she gets into a race – or just a spirited set of pull-ups or hard intervals – she enters another realm mentally and physically: beast mode.
"Once I get in beast mode, I'm in beast mode and there is no way you're getting me out of it!" She exclaims when talking and thinking about sprinting up hills and chasing down opponents. Her excitement is contagious to teammates as well – she lists making friends as one of her strengths.
"I can make people comfortable around me and I can make them uncomfortable," she says, in reference to how her honest, open, and vibrant nature can both make some open up while simultaneously intimidate others. Perhaps, however, her most valuable attribute, which shines through it all, is her ability to self-reflect and desire to care more for others. When asked by her coach what her non-ski related goals for the year were, Irina spoke of learning to be a better listener, something he describes as being as likely to see attached to a millennial as a VCR attached to a modern day television.
"I want to work on being a better listener; asking more questions to the person talking and not just waiting for my turn to talk. I don't want to always be looking for ways to bring the conversation back to something I can relate to," said Norkin in an interview last week.
While the culture Sederquist hopes to establish at UMPI is one where skiing is the vehicle by which tools to pursue true success on the snow and off are intentionally taught – like setting goals, having a purpose, being a great teammate, and being intensely disciplined (as embodied by the group's "SKI IT" creed, which stands for Strive for true success, Kick with a purpose, Integrity, Intense focus, and Team) – he also has his athletes thinking about the nuts and bolts of this most technique-heavy winter pastime, and Norkin is fully dialed in on what she hopes to accomplish there as well.
"I have a lot of stuff to work on! Technique in both skate and classic, especially getting a little more glide on the uphills (in classic). I don't want to resort to just double poling everything there. I need to improve my balance – having a well-balanced ski – that is huge," she analyzed with fervor.
If the energy behind Norkin's love for the sport is as obvious as the shimmering of a diamond – the savy knowledge and quiet analytical approach taken on by John Agosti (Freshmen, Shenedehowa Central High School, New York), is more like the Rosetta Stone– a depth of information that requires time to truly appreciate.
One should not let Agosti's quiet demeanor fool them. He can talk for long stretches about the sport of skiing, recalling old World Cup races he's watched on YouTube, citing different stars from all over the globe, from the more popular Norwegians, like his favorite sprinter, Johannes Klaebo, to lesser known athletes from atypical nations as well. He is a close follower of all aspects, from technique to rules to the specific tendencies of certain skiers. He is also well versed in the local high school, junior, and college scene. His coach sees him as being a student of the sport, already possessing a healthy knowledge and ready to absorb more through continued investigation.
"John is a smart student-athlete – he is someone who will ask why, and he does it with the right attitude in mind, which is the way you get better," said Sederquist.
Raised in New York, Agosti was born in South Korea and adopted by his parents, Greg and Anne, when he was 7 months old. At 16, he went back to Korea to visit his birth parents. The experience was very positive, though there was a language barrier. "They don't speak English, so we had a translator," John recalls about the weeklong visit to the country. His Korean heritage and American upbringing is something that continues to influence him as he plans his future as well. A biology pre-med major, he hopes to become a trauma surgeon in the U.S. Army and serve the country. "It's not about the paycheck, it's about helping people and saving people's lives. I want to help my country – a lot of people risked their lives in the Korean War and without that I wouldn't be here," said Agosti.
While his senior year did not finish the way he would have liked – he broke his collarbone before his final two races while flying off of a jump on his skis, forcing him into a late start to training this winter as well – he is very eager to get back on snow. "I don't know if I'll try any more tricks off jumps," he joked. "I just want to get back on snow and have fun."
As part of a team that gets to establish the new vision of UMPI skiing, John hopes the team values hard work, respect, listening to others, and not ever giving up.
"My biggest strength is perseverance. I keep going no matter what; even when I'm having a bad day, I never drop out. It's not an option. Once you start, the only option is to finish." His aunt, who battled for two years with ovarian cancer before recently passing away, taught him that lesson and another – "that life is short, that you need to keep battling, be in the moment, be positive, and make the most out of each day. I ski a lot of races for her," John shared.
Both Norkin and Agosti believe the opportunity to ski should never be taken for granted, and they hope to instill that as a critical component of the team environment.
"It isn't 'I HAVE to ski,' it's 'I GET to ski.' There is a big difference," said Norkin. As mentioned before, another common thread for the two first year skiers is the ability to listen to others, especially teammates, in order to show that you care, to prevent drama, and to keep the team close.
"God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason," Agosti wisely pointed out when asked about how he hoped listening would become part of the culture as a leader of the UMPI Nordic ski team.
Serving as the lone returning member of the ski team is Leinani Farnsworth, a sophomore who was born in Honolulu, Hawaii before moving to Portland at age 6. She competed for Deering High School, racing to a 17th place finish in the classical event at the State Championships in 2017. She was unable to compete during her freshmen year at UMPI because of compartment syndrome in her shin, an injury that she hopes to have overcome. Much of last season was spent doing double pole workouts, ski erg sessions, and bike rides. This year, she is excited about increasing her fitness, finally returning to skating, and getting back into the usual race routine.
Joining the team a couple of weeks late because of her involvement with the UMPI soccer squad, Irina has impressed both coaches with her strength and power.
"Leinani has a lot of weightroom strength. She is very strong in the lower body and upperbody – you can tell that her training has largely been limited to double poling," coach Sederquist said when speaking to her fitness. "My goal for her is to obviously, first and foremost, be able to train consistently without being injured. If we can do that, working to improve her aerobic strength and continue to increase her power/weight ratio explosiveness in squats, pull-ups, the skierg, etc., I think she could resurrect what was a promising ski career. I have high hopes and expectations for her."
The second year skier will admittedly be leaned on for advice from the two freshmen, and because of this role, has an increased responsibility, coach Sederquist believes. "Lei is going to be setting the standard – it is really important that she buys into what we are trying to set up, is disciplined and competitive with herself, and is a role model with her work ethic in sports and school. I believe she can do it!"
Farnsworth, who competed with and against Norkin in high school races at the State championship meets and as members of the Maine Eastern Championships teams, contributes to the overall ethnic diversity of the ski team as well, as her mother is 100% Japanese. "It is crazy that we have 4 countries represented between our three athletes – Russia, Korea, Japan, and the U.S.," observed Sederquist. "Especially in this sport, that is rare. But I guess it goes along with what we are trying to do. This pursuit of excellence requires a lot of rare qualities," he says, sitting beneath a poster in the ski room which reads: 'Excellence can be attained if you care more than others think is wise, risk more than others think is safe, dream more than others think is practical, and expect more than others think is possible.'
Small in size, but big in dreams – that is what it appears the UMPI Nordic ski team is about. They are also about being a family.
"Cross country runners and skiers and track athletes were always tight in high school; we forgave each other, there wasn't drama, and we were all together. I feel like that is going to happen here," predicts Norkin. "If at the end of the year, we are still close, if we are still grateful for the opportunity to ski, it will be a success," she summarized.
I guess we "Owl" will have to find out.
Information about the team's schedule, recruiting, roster, and coaches can be found on the UMPI athletic website at http://owls.umpi.edu/sports/skiing/index