On getting last

My first ski race wasn’t particularly glamorous. Dramatic? Yes. Glamorous? No. At seven years old, I entered into a Nordic combined competition (apparently when you’re young enough to still kind of resemble a boy they let you race those) with little-to-no preparation for what the cross-country leg would bring.

At about .75 kilometers into my 2.5 kilometer race, I decided to quit skiing. It just, you know, wasn’t my thing. Mom would understand, I thought, I just had to finish this one little race.

By 2.2 kilometers, things got a little more drastic. As I slugged through the sandpaper snow, wringing my limbs of every last bit of frozen, sorrowful energy I could muster, it became indubitably certain that I would never, ever ski again. The real question was how I was going to manage to make clear how awful this sport was, how painful my epic journey had been, and most importantly, how it was the fault of every adult in my life that I had so suffered (oh, to be young again).

After jumping, pre-race. Happily unaware.
After jumping, pre-race. Happily unaware.

I did a pretty good job at that last part. Sobbing and crying out, I flopped across the line. I ripped off my skis and thrust them off the trail, as if to keep my venomous bindings from burning through my feet. I blindly crawled my way through a group of bewildered volunteers to my mother and blubbered, slobbering on her jacket, “I am never doing this again!!”

“But Annie,” she contested, “You won the race!”

Unimpressed by her plea, I quickly made the case that, as only girl in the race, I also received last place. Reverse podium. DFL. (Why, yes, I have always been an optimist.)

Turns out, that race wasn’t my last. Although I did initially quit skiing, I took an athletic break to pursue a career in acting (insert “coulda seen that coming” comment here), I returned to continue many more racing pursuits. Luckily, it also wasn’t my last time winning. More importantly, it was not my last time getting last.

A couple of days ago, the SMS T2 team headed to New York to hold a sprint time trial. In the qualifier, I finished fourth of four: last place. Then again in the quarter. Again in the semi. Then definitively in the final. It was a hard day, one of the hardest this summer, and there were certainly a couple of moments when a fledgling acting career seemed a preferable alternative. However, after 13 years of practice in getting last in all kinds of activities, I’ve gained a little more optimism (and maturity? yes? no?) than my seven-year-old self, and have come to realize how advantageous getting last can be.

The view of the final finisher. Do you know how many great behinds there are in Nordic skiing? The last place finisher sees them ALL
The view of the final finisher. Do you know how many great behinds there are in Nordic skiing? The last place finisher sees them ALL

For example, here are 5 plusses of getting last place:

1. Perspective. No, no, not that kind of perspective (see photo)

2. Ever wonder where the left over recovery food goes after races? The last place guy.

3. It’s really easy to find your name on the results list.

4. Everybody claps for last place.

5. No one else can get race splits on the entire field, it’s like skiing through an excel spreadsheet.

In all seriousness, training with a group like that at Stratton reminds me that every place is one worth earning. Some days are more challenging than others, but I wouldn’t expect another dramatic exit anytime soon.

-AP

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