Already a state champion several times over, Harwood sophomore Ava Thurston is taking her act to the international stage.
Thurston, a star in both cross-country running and Nordic skiing, has been named to the U.S. national cross-country skiing team that will compete in the Under-18 Scandinavian Championships and Junior World Championships later this month in Europe.
Thurston was one of a handful of athletes named to the U.S. U-18 squad. She made the team based on her performances at the U.S. Ski and Snowboard National Championships in Houghton, Mich., earlier this month. Six boys and six girls were named to the U-18 squads; skiers qualified based on their finishes in two of three races held in Houghton.
Other locals named to the U-18 team include Finn Sweet of Waterbury, who skis for Craftsbury Nordic Ski Club, and Montpelier’s Brian Bushey, who attends Green Mountain Valley School.
The U-18 Scandinavian Championships begin Jan. 24 in Falun, Sweden. Thurston is leaving this Sunday to get acclimated, begin training and get acquainted with the Falun courses.
In Falun, Thurston will go up against only other U-18 skiers. In her two sports, Thurston has dominated high school events in Vermont and New England for the past two years, but she’s not putting any pressure on herself for the international competition.
“I don’t really have much in terms of result goals,” she said. “Obviously I want to race the best I can, but I don’t really know. I’ll see how I stack up. The U.S. usually does pretty well at these events.”
“It’s just going to be exciting to experience a new culture. I’ve never been to Scandinavia or Europe, and I’m really excited to get the chance to race over there,” she said.
Thurston earned her spot on the U-18 squad while competing against some of the nation’s top skiers, including several Olympians, in Michigan. Skiing with athletes much older and more experienced than she is, she finished 52nd in the 10-kilometer skate, 40th in freestyle sprints and 11th in the 7.5K classic junior race.
Thurston said one of her best finishes came in the 10K race.
“I don’t think I’ve ever raced an individual 10K skate,” Thurston said. High school races are typically 5K, but she got a chance to ski the hilly Michigan course ahead of time to get acquainted with it. And, with staggered starts, she found herself skiing with some older, veteran skiers who had started a lap ahead of her, which helped her stay motivated and finish strong.
In the end, Thurston was the sixth-fastest U-18 skier in the event.
Thurston’s final event was her strongest, though, she said. On the final day of racing, she skied in the 7.5K classic mass start race, which featured only younger skiers. She was seeded high for that race, and credits her wax with helping her conquer all the hills on the course in good time.
“I would say that was probably my best race there that week,” Thurston said; she was the fifth-fastest U-18 girl in the event.
Thurston expects to compete in three events in Falun — a 5K classic, a longer skate race the next day, and then relay races on the final day of competition.
She’s been resting and recovering since nationals, but is still competing in high school events like the Tour de Chittenden, where she finished third in one race and first in another.
“I took some time off,” she said, but will be “building more volume this next week,” and getting in more hours skiing before she leaves for Sweden.
Whatever her results in Falun, Thurston plans to be competing for Harwood again by the end of the month, in time for some regular-season races before the Highlanders compete for the state championship.