Chelsea Holmes took some time away from competitive cross-country skiing as she mulled over the next phase of her life. The two-year hiatus made Holmes realize what she walked away from was exactly what she wanted to pursue.
Holmes, of Girdwood, is one of several local nordic skiers who returned to Anchorage this week for the U.S. National Championships and SuperTour Finals. Skiing in front of family and former coaches is a rare treat for the 2005 Dimond grad, who competes with the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation in Idaho.
"Seeing people that I haven't seen since I skied Mighty Mites at Alyeska is really fun," she said.
Holmes, now in her third season with Sun Valley, gets stronger every year, said Colin Rodgers, who took over as Sun Valley's Gold Team coach the same year Holmes joined.
"She's really progressing at an amazing rate," he said.
A two-time winner of Canadian national championship races, Holmes won her first U.S. national championship medal when she took second in the 20-kilometer freestyle in Utah in January. Holmes finished sixth in Saturday's SuperTour Finals 10-K freestyle, edging two-time Olympian Holly Brooks by 1.2 seconds.
"I was very happy with that," Holmes said.
Competing with Brooks and the other Olympians who are in town is an added bonus for Holmes.
"I have the utmost respect and admiration for them," she said. "To race with them is quite an honor."
Skiing at the World Cup level is one of Holmes' goals, and an attainable one for the 27-year-old, Rodgers said. She just needs to focus, he said, an attribute Holmes already possesses.
"As soon as she decides to put her mind to it, she generally makes it happen," Rodgers said.
Holmes also has an unparalleled drive, he said.
"Chelsea is a fierce competitor," Rodgers said. "She can push herself as hard as anybody I've ever met."
Holmes was an alpine racer until age 14, when she started to dabble in nordic skiing. Her attention to cross-country skiing became more serious during her junior year at Dimond.
After graduating from high school, Holmes attended the University of Nevada-Reno, where she skied all four years and earned a degree in health ecology. Holmes was living in California after college when she decided to get back into racing. She was familiar with some of her Sun Valley teammates and Idaho was a good fit for Holmes and her husband.
"I'm happy doing what I'm doing and pursuing my goals," she said.
Holmes is one of just six on Sun Valley's Gold Team. The small group has become her second family, she said.
"We've all become really close friends," Holmes said.
Holmes, who plans to remain in Idaho and continue her skiing career, is competing in Friday's 30-K classic race, the final event of the U.S. National Championships. Holmes said there's no better way to end her season than on Hillside's familiar course.
"It will be a great way to cap the year,'' she said.
Reach Mike Nesper at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
U.S. National Championships
10 a.m. -- Women's 30-K classic
Noon -- Men's 50-K classic
Follow the race via Twitter: @FasterSkier
By MIKE NESPER