Nordic Nation: Rebounding From Setbacks and Gaining Momentum with Julia Kern

Rachel PerkinsJuly 5, 2022
Julia Kern leads the pack during the first leg of the 4 x 5 k mixed relay in Falun, SWE in March 2022. (Photo: NordicFocus)

At 24-years-old, Julia Kern is quickly becoming a seasoned veteran in her 7th year on the U.S. Ski Team. However, her career trajectory has been stepwise, not exponential. 

After making breakthroughs during the 2019-20 season, including her first World Cup podium in a skate sprint in Planica, Slovenia, she faced injuries and setbacks heading into the following season in 2020-2021, leaving her walking away from that season feeling disappointed in both her World Cup and World Championship racing. Reflecting on her takeaways in an interview that summer, she said “Progress isn’t linear from season to season.”

Hailey Swirbul (bib 19) and Julia Kern embrace at the finish of their first Olympic appearance in the 15 k skiathlon. (Photo: NordicFocus)

Recently named the recipient of the US Nordic Olympic Women’s Gold Rush Award for her grit and grace as a professional skier, Julia has demonstrated what it takes to rebound, reframe, and move past these challenges. As she describes in this conversation, the start of Julia’s 2021-22 race season happened in fits and starts – some strong early-season results with promising body sensations followed by a series of untimely mild illnesses. After catching a cold midway through the Tour de Ski in early January, she suddenly was faced with the reality that she would not have any opportunities to race until arriving in Zhangjiakou for the Olympics over a month later – the longest race break of her career. 

Her first Olympic appearance took place in the opening event, the 15 k skiathlon, where Julia finished 53rd. The individual freestyle sprint three days later was her goal race; Julia qualified in 14th and raced a gutsy quarterfinal, ultimately finishing fourth in the heat and 18th overall on the day. A myriad of factors left her wanting more from this first Olympic experience, though she approached it without placing high expectations on herself. 

Jessie Diggins and Julia Kern take second in the team sprint in Dresden, GER in December 2021. (Photo: NordicFocus)

Rebounding once more after the Games, Julia began a tear of World Cup sprints in Period IV. She was 8th in the freestyle sprint in Lahti, 7th in the classic sprint the following week in Drammen, and finished just off the podium in fourth in the World Cup Finals in Falun. From there, she headed to Whistler to finish the season at the joint Canadian National Championships and U.S. SuperTour Finals, where she took second to Jessie Diggins in Jessie’s signature 5 k freestyle event, and won the remaining three races.

During this conversation, Julia discusses the highs and lows of the season, as well as how she has been able to compartmentalize and move past setbacks over the past few years of navigating the transition to the World Cup. We also discuss her start in the sport, why the Stratton Mountain School (SMS) T2 Team has been a good fit for her, and how leaning into other creative outlets, passions and work helps energize her for the long haul.

Thanks for listening and thanks to New Moon Ski and Bike for supporting this podcast. 

Julia Kern races the quarterfinal of the individual freestyle sprint in Zhangjiakou during the 2022 Beijing Olympic Winter Games. (Photo: NordicFocus)

Rachel Perkins

Rachel is an endurance sport enthusiast based in the Roaring Fork Valley of Colorado. You can find her cruising around on skinny skis, running in the mountains with her pup, or chasing her toddler (born Oct. 2018). Instagram: @bachrunner4646

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