Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

How Anchorage Fell in Love with Olympian Holly Brooks

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

How Anchorage Fell in Love with Olympian Holly Brooks

Article excerpt

Olympic cross-county skier Holly Brooks became an honorary hometown girl in Anchorage, Alaska, after coaching local skiers and sweeping them up in her improbable push to make the US 2010 team.

Holly Brooks isn't a favorite in today's Olympic cross-country 15 km pursuit race. But back home in Anchorage, she sure is.

That's no small feat for a Seattle native in Alaska, where locals refer to the rest of the United States as "Outside." But Brooks did the near impossible: became a hometown girl. A coach of more than 100 local cross-country skiers, from young teens to professionals, she swept them up in her improbable push to make the 2010 US Olympic team.

While every Olympian stands on the shoulders of scores of people - from parents to second-grade friends to elite coaches - Brooks' story is particularly poignant.

Never a contender in her earlier years, the 27-year-old had burst onto the US skiing scene this year with performances so dominating that people were already buying their tickets for the Olympics. But on a cold day last month, Brooks cracked under the pressure, finishing seventh at one of the last selection races - endangering her bid for one of the five spots on the team.

"All these people that I coached, all my friends, everyone was there," recalls Brooks, who was devastated. "They all think I'm going [to the Olympics], and then I go and have this horrible performance in front of my hometown crowd."

'Go Holly!' T-shirts

There was freshman Amelia Hennessy, who skipped school to watch and spearheaded a trip to Michael's craft store to make "Go Holly!" T-shirts.

There was "snowplow queen" Joanna Menaker, part of a masters group Brooks had nursed along - skiing with them, embracing them, inspiring them with her workouts in the dark Alaskan nights after her three daily coaching sessions.

And then there was her husband, Rob, a former international racer who had gotten the idea in his head that his girl had the mettle to make the team.

Their cheering having long faded in her ears, she headed out on the barren trails of Kincaid Park that overlook the ocean, feeling sorry for herself.

But then she ran into Ase Haugen, one of the women she coaches. …

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