Highlighted by her fourth-place performance in the senior freestyle sprint at U.S. Nationals, 17-year-old Corey Stock (Cambridge Sports Union) earned her first trip to Europe with the U.S. Ski Team’s (USST) World Junior Championship squad this coming February.
It’s difficult to determine the most remarkable part of that statement. For starters, Stock’s age would normally make her a candidate for the J1 trip, and yet as the top junior finisher in the skate sprint in Rumford, she skipped that step and is headed for a major championship stage with her inaugural trip to Europe.
Even more impressive, however, is what Stock has managed to accomplish despite the less-than-ideal path she’s had to take. Two years ago, doctors diagnosed pain in her legs as compartment syndrome. She underwent surgery in the summer of 2010, and recovery was slow going.
“All the time her leg was injured, she was on the Ski Erg,” CSU coach Rob Bradlee said.
Upper-body work was all Stock could do to keep in shape.
After her surgery, the pain didn’t completely go away. She had been looking forward to competing at U.S. Nationals in 2011, but she and Bradlee decided not to sacrifice doing lasting damage for the sake of a trip to Europe and skipped Rumford entirely.
For someone of Stock’s competitive nature, a lengthy injury could have easily brought her down psychologically. When all she could do was double pole on a machine, she conceded that she definitely had her low moments. But she also saw the bright side.
“I know in the long run it’s been a good thing,” Stock said. “With athletes, it’s inevitable that you’ll encounter obstacles. I learned how to deal with them, I guess.”
Forced to adjust, Stock set her sights to one year into the future. Despite being held back over the summer, she went on last season to win two out of three individual races at Junior Nationals in Minneapolis, Minn., earning herself a spot on the National Training Group.
A trip back to the doctor in the spring revealed that the return of pain in her legs was not compartment syndrome — it had been a trapped nerve all along. Stock underwent surgery for a second time, and this time was able to bounce back and start training again in full.
Healthy again, Stock reentered a normal training plan from square one. Bradlee said he had to be careful not to bring her back up to speed too quickly, fearing overtraining.
“My big goal for the year was to do a reasonable amount of training, but not break her,” he said. “It would be so easy to overdo it.”
Bradlee described Stock’s fourth-place finish at her first U.S. Nationals race as the product of smart training and perfect timing. When Stock started showing signs of tiring at the end of the summer, he scaled back her intensity work and had her focus on getting enough sleep and recovery.
After winning the sprint qualifier at the Eastern Cup in Craftsbury, Vt., by over six seconds at the end of December, Stock put in another week of work. This was just enough time, in Bradlee’s opinion, for her to be ready to roll in Rumford.
“When she killed that opening sprint race, it was a big sigh of relief,” said Bradlee. “I though we were doing the right thing, but I didn’t know for sure.”
Natural speed and hard work haven’t been the only factors at play in Stock’s success. Her mental toughness, explained Bradlee, is exceptional.
“The tougher the race, the calmer she gets,” he said.
After every race, Bradlee has his CSU athletes go around in a circle and talk about their day. When it was Stock’s turn to describe her experience moving through the heats, she explained that she’d enjoyed herself as the competition got progressively tougher.
“She talked about how her heats were so much fun, duking it out with these really big girls,” said Bradlee. “That’s not something I taught her, you have to arrive with that, I think.”
At the end of the day, Stock was still processing her fourth-place finish, which for her was a surprise.
“It’s slowly sinking in,” said Stock. “I’m realizing how much I learned throughout the day. For every [heat] I learned a lot about tactics, and how exciting it is to ski with so many amazing skiers.
“I saw my confidence in my skiing; I definitely felt better on each heat, more peppy and sharp, and it worked out well.”
As a member of the USST’s National Training Group this summer, Stock had the opportunity to join the training camp in Alaska, and skied on Eagle Glacier with the fastest women in North America. More than anything, said Stock, the experience gave her the self-confidence to believe she belonged in a race against the likes of U.S. Ski Team members Jessie Diggins (CXC) and Ida Sargent (CGRP).
“I realized how these amazing women, who I look up to so much, are actually just real people,” she said. “It helped when I raced them today; it wasn’t as intimidating.”
After opening nationals with a bang, Stock went on to ski to 33rd in the senior 10 k freestyle and then second in the junior 5 k classic.
With the completion of racing in Rumford and the naming of the World Junior team, the moment she’d been looking forward to for so long had finally arrived. Stock was understandably thrilled.
“I’ve been getting advice from athletes who have already been,” she said in Rumford. “I know it’s a big step up the first time you race in Europe, but I’m excited, too.”
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.