College skier faces a decision at graduation: whether to continue pursuing an athletic career on snow or embark down another, more traditional professional path. As the NCAA is fond of repeating every year during March Madness, most student-athletes “go pro in something other than sports.”
Joanne Reid currently stands at that crossroads. The 20-year-old completed her fourth year of eligibility with the University of Colorado last season and will be finished with her undergraduate degree this December. The Palo Alto, Calif., native had a near-perfect senior campaign, winning eight regular-season invitationals in the Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association circuit on her way to becoming the NCAA Champion in the 15 k freestyle and leading the Buffs to team victory in Rikert, Vt. With that record, it could be argued that no female nordic skier in the NCAA is better positioned than Reid to take the next step in her athletic career.
And yet Reid is unsure of whether to take that step. Part of her uncertainty stems from having other interests — after she completes her undergraduate degree in mathematics she has ambitions to continue working towards a PhD. The way Reid looks at her options, she believes she would be just as capable of dedicating her life to skiing in four or five years, after earning a PhD, as she is now at 20 years old.
“Because I’m so young…I feel like I could continue on to a PhD and continue skiing if I want to,” Reid said. “But if I take a break [from school] in the middle, if you get out of the school groove it’s hard to jump back in, especially with a PhD program.”
Reid’s hesitancy to go pro in skiing goes deeper, however. A year ago, she struggled to find the motivation to continue with the sport at any level. After a life of racing, she started to feel burnt out. Her senior season was unique, therefore, not only because it was so successful — the third-winningest in CU ski team history, in fact. Her success stands out because it was entirely unexpected.
Last summer, for example, Reid wound up reducing her ski-specific workouts significantly in order to find other ways to enjoy being active. She didn’t rollerski until November, and she recalled losing every single team time trial last fall. She skipped U.S. Nationals in January, an event many college skiers treat as a pre-season warm up, “to find my ski spirit again,” she said.
“I just lost the sense of joy and fun that you’re supposed to have,” she added. “So I tried to make it fun again without letting my team down.”
Reid readily acknowledges how she must sound.
“Don’t I sound like a religious person finding God again?” she asked.
Whether it was the unstructured training or a new outlook on racing, Reid came back to the start line ready to compete. At her first race of the year, the Colorado Invitational in Steamboat Springs, she handily won the 15 k freestyle. For the rest of the regular season Reid would only suffer two losses in ten races. She was winning and skiing was fun again, but Reid never quite believed it was due to her own fitness.
“We had so many good skiers [last year] and they all graduated, except for Eliska [Hajkova], and she had an injury,” Reid said. “I was feeling like I was sort of cheating.”
Right up until NCAAs, Reid thought each successive win would be her last, like it was “some weird fluke situation” rather than proof she was skiing well.
“It wasn’t until literally NCAAs that I realized I was having a good season,” Reid said. “When you have a bad season, you don’t feel the need to keep having bad seasons; it’s really discouraging. I looked at quitting every year. I was so uncertain and didn’t feel like it was in my future until the end of the year.”
Her season-ending victory at NCAAs against a quality field brings Reid to her present dilemma. After operating for months under the assumption she would leave competitive skiing behind after college, her recent success reopened the possibility of a post-college career. Though Reid has applied to several PhD programs, she has also started to think about racing for another year. Rather than look for a club to train with, she thinks she’ll race independently near her parents’ home in Truckee and at a few SuperTours to test the waters. Reid says a teammate recommended she get in touch with the coaches at Ski and Snowboard Club Vail’s Team HomeGrown, but she has not yet explored that avenue.
“After the season I had, I guess I became uncertain,” Reid said. “Because I had so much fun and I did so well, now I’m not sure if I should continue.”
Reid is one of those athletes who is as happy winning races as she is working out just for fun. “I never saw a reason to have a big competition to work for, or anything,” she says. She gets this attitude from her mom, Beth Heiden, who was a decorated skier, speed skater and cyclist in the 1980s but now trains twice a day and competes infrequently.
“The sport itself of nordic skiing is so volatile,” Reid reasons. “Is the wax right, is this the right grind, the right snow? It’s so hard to get everything right, and because of that the best person doesn’t always win. And that always made me hesitant to be in the sport. It takes up so much time and is so controversial… I just like to be outside.”
Reid’s next step in skiing is about as far as she’s planned. She and her family have traveled to Montana for the West Yellowstone Ski Festival every Thanksgiving since she was two years old, and this November she expects to start her season there again. After the first SuperTours, however, she hasn’t settled on her next move.
“I figure the plan will come to me as it comes,” Reid said.
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.