Holly Brooks came north young, unaccomplished and looking for adventure. She took what was supposed to be a short-term job as a teacher. She left it to travel. That lasted three months. She found herself drawn back to the north. Alaska had infected her. That was in 2005.
Back in Alaska she promptly discovered what many single women discover in the 49th state: "The odds are good, but the goods are odd.'' The oddball she hooked up with was Rob Whitney, who grew up on the Anchorage Hillside and was once the great hope for American Nordic Skiing. They eventually got married and both started coaching for the Alaska Pacific Nordic Ski Center, arguably the best producer of cross-country athletes in the country.
At APU, Coach Brooks, 27, found herself skiing a lot and constantly working with skiers on technique. When not at APU, Coach Brooks found herself engaged in what she describes as Whitney's "death march adventures.'' Some of those adventures in the grand style of Alaska-legend Dick Griffith and destined-to-be-Alaska legend Roman Dial built Brooks' fitness in ways she'd never imagined. And all the time spent working with other skiers on technique helped hone her technique.
Pretty soon Brooks, once a no-name skier for tiny Whitman College near where she grew up in Seattle, was making a name for herself. She won the Tour of Anchorage, one of the biggest citizen races in the country. She came second in a photo finish at the American Birkebeiner, the biggest citizen race in America. In March, she entered the U.S. cross-country championships in Fairbanks and claimed a bronze medal in the 15-kilometer pursuit.
She suffered a setback this past summer, when she fell victim to overtraining (a common problem for highly competitive endurance athletes), but managed to endure the rest required to recover (not an easy thing for highly competitive endurance athletes). She started the 2009-2010 ski season strong on the rebound and kept getting stronger.
At the U.S. Cross Country Ski Championships at Kincaid Park early in the month, she finished second to Anchorage's own Kikkan Randall, who was already Olympic bound. That finish, coupled with past results, put Brooks on the bubble for Olympic selection. She found out Monday that she was going to Vancouver, where she will be joining APU Nordic buds Randall and James Southam on the U.S. Team.