On the first day of the national cross-country ski championships, Anchorage's Rosie Brennan broke a pole and raced two kilometers before getting a suitable replacement.
On the second day of racing, amid a storm that dumped several inches of snow in Houghton, Michigan, Brennan broke trail as the first racer on the course.
Brennan, 26, turned both of those bad breaks into medal-winning performances. She is the only skier at the national championships with two medals, the leader of an Alaska Pacific University women's team that owns four of the six medals awarded so far.
Brennan captured the gold medal and teammate Becca Rorabaugh took the silver in Tuesday's classic sprint. On Sunday, Brennan overcame a significant setback -- that broken pole -- to claim the bronze medal in the 10-kilometer freestyle, joining teammate Chelsea Holmes, the silver medalist, on the podium.
Tuesday's sprints yielded strong results from the Alaska contingent, which went 7-8-9-10 in the men's competition and produced two medalists in the junior competition -- UAF's Ann-Cathrin Uhl won the junior women's final and APU's Thomas O'Harra placed second in the junior men's final.
"I was plowing through a lot of snow," Brennan said. "I must say I was shocked when I pulled into the finish line and saw that the clock was well over five minutes."
The course was 1.5 kilometers, but the heavy snow made times about 90 seconds slower than usual. In the finals, Brennan finished in 4:52.72, about seven seconds ahead of Rorabaugh to secure the second national championship and eighth medal of her career.
"I had really fast skis and I was able to get a reasonably big gap halfway through the course, and I used that to my advantage," Brennan said in a phone interview. "I made a surge up the last big hill."
Brennan said Rorabaugh was in the silver-medal position, because she got a glimpse of a blue APU race suit behind her.
"I thought, 'Oh, that's awesome -- but, oh, I better keep going,' " Brennan said. "I put my head down and pushed hard in case she was coming.''
In the men's race, four Alaska men made it to the B final. Logan Hanneman, racing for UAF, won the heat to secure seventh place and was followed across the finish line by three APU skiers -- eighth-place Eric Packer, ninth-place Lex Treinen and 10th-place Reese Hanneman.
APU's Rosie Frankowski made it to the women's B final for a 10th-place finish. In the junior B finals, Travis Cooper of Alaska Nordic Racing won the boys heat and Taryn Hunt-Smith of APU topped the girls, victories that placed them seventh overall.
Brennan said it snowed three or four inches overnight and another three or four inches Tuesday morning during the qualifying round. Packer said there was a break of about 15 minutes before one of his heats, and when it came time to race "there was almost an inch of new snow in the tracks."
The key, Rorabaugh said, was to "stay in the middle two lanes so you don't get lost in the fluff."
All of that snow was a change for the Alaskans who train in Anchorage, which has been pretty fluff-free this winter. But Brennan, who had to resort to roller skiing over the holidays in Utah because of lack of snow there, said she's ready for anything.
"I've been racing long enough now that I've encountered lots of conditions, and you can't stress about them," she said.
If there was ever a time for Brennan to stress, it was early in Sunday's 10-K freestyle. One kilometer into the race, at the top of a long downhill where she hoped to build momentum, she instead put a pole between her skis and crashed to the ground.
"I face-planted and broke my pole," she said, "but I didn't realize I broke my pole, so when I went to use it I face-planted again."
This happened on a part of the course where there was only one person watching -- a very tall person, who gave Brennan a pole to use.
"So the pole was taller than me, and I went two (kilometers) with that pole before I saw my coach," she said.
Once APU coach Erik Flora saw that she was in trouble, he sprinted to get a replacement pole and then sprinted to catch up to her, Brennan said. By then she was about three kilometers into the 10-K.
Without about two kilometers to go, Brennan willed herself to a top-three finish.
"I said, 'I'm not going to be happy with myself unless I give it my all,' and I had a really solid finish that got me on the podium," she said.
The medals in Houghton continue a strong season for Brennan, who earned a spot on the World Cup with her December results and will soon join APU teammates Kikkan Randall and Sadie Bjornsen, and the rest of the U.S. Ski Team in Europe.
Brennan, who is in her fourth season with APU, came to the national championships after dominating the SuperTour race series that kicked off the domestic season. After placing third and fifth in the first two races, she won the last four races to earn the World Cup trip that goes to the SuperTour leader.