Her success as a cross-country skier on the national stage, at an early age, is quite stunning. But Corey Stock has always been willing to work hard. And she has persevered, through times of adversity.
On Monday, the 17-year-old from Lincoln is off to Europe in preparation for the Junior World Ski Championships, which will run Feb. 19 to 26 in Erzurum, Turkey.
Stock, who races for the Cambridge Sports Union team, is the sole East Coast representative on the four-person US women’s junior contingent. She punched her ticket with an eye-popping fourth-place finish in the senior freestyle sprint at the nationals last month in Rumford, Maine, capping an inspiring return to top-flight competition after recovering from several debilitating injuries.
At the world championships, Stock is expected to compete in four Nordic disciplines: the 1.4-kilometer skate sprint; 10K pursuit, which combines classic and skate techniques; 5K classic; and mixed-technique relay. The lineup speaks to Stock’s versatility, and her competitive fire, less than two years after surgery on her lower legs.
“I’m really into competition. I really like going head-on with someone else and duking it out until the last 100 meters,’’ said Stock, a senior at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High, with her familiar giggle. “I’ve grown up skiing. I’ve had friends who are really close in seeds to me, and have been able to ski with them my whole life. So that’s really fun, to always compete with people who are close to you.
“The thing about competing, even if you want to beat the person you’re competing against, you know that having someone so close to you is really, really helpful,’’ she said. “Because it pushes you even further, and we both push each other. That goes for everyone in the training group.’’
The Cambridge Sports Union’s “training group’’ can be found gliding throughout the winter at the Weston Ski Track, on the Leo J. Martin Golf Course. It once featured Stock’s older brother Chris, who skis for Harvard, and now includes Eli Hoenig, a 17-year-old junior at Lincoln-Sudbury, and Julia Kern, 14-year-old freshman at Waltham High, who are also competing overseas this month.
“The thing that people don’t realize about Corey, and the part that I love about her, is that she’s a racer,’’ said her coach, Rob Bradlee. “She loves to race and compete. Someone was asking me this year, ‘Oh, she must have been so nervous racing with all the girls from the Olympic team.’ But that’s not how Corey operates.
“Each heat - because you go through three heats - she was just happier and happier, because it was bigger and bigger competition,’’ Bradlee said of the national championships. “That meant it was going to be more fun. She just loves it. And she’s a very sweet kid, so people must think she’s shy or deferential. But the girls were breaking poles and screaming obscenities, and she was right in the mix, pushing and shoving.’’
Bradlee pointed out that world-class Nordic racers, unlike gymnasts or figure skaters, don’t normally hit full stride until their mid-20s, “because it takes so long to get fit.’’
“For people who are going to go to the Olympics, these World Juniors are what they do when they’re under 20,’’ said Bradlee. Citing a top skier from Norway, he said, “Thomas Alsgaard won World Juniors, and two years later he won an Olympic gold medal. Almost all the people who get on the podium in the World Cup or the Olympics were top 10 at World Juniors.
“So this is taken very seriously by the world of skiing,’’ he said. “These are really the Olympics for people under 20.’’
Likewise, Stock isn’t shy about discussing how far she hopes her talents, and hard work, will take her.
“A really important part of this sport is to set goals. Set realistic goals, reach goals, short-term goals, long-term goals,’’ she said. “I definitely want to keep developing my racing internationally, and get more comfortable racing throughout Europe and hopefully, someday, I’ll be on the US Ski Team and possibly make it to the Olympics.’’
How rare is it for a Boston-area athlete to compete at the World Juniors?
According to Bradlee, only one other female - Sarah Walker - has done it, and that was after moving to Vermont to train at the Stratton Mountain School (Walker is now a nutritionist for the Cambridge Sports Union). Stock is the first to make the leap directly from the club, but a sense of her potential surfaced when she was invited to a national training camp on Eagle Glacier in Alaska last summer.
“That’s another really great thing about the sport,’’ said Stock, who will attend Dartmouth in the fall. “It’s a pretty small community. There were all these women on the US Ski Team who I met, who I always looked up to - these superstars to me - and everybody in this sport is really, really supportive.’’
Stock’s selection to the US team is also a tribute to her mental toughness, having rebounded first from a leg injury known as compartment syndrome, in which the fibrous tissue that holds the muscles in place restricts normal blood flow (world-class US runner Mary Decker Slaney suffered from the same condition), and a second surgery to relieve a trapped nerve.
“Corey is very disciplined and hard working,’’ said Bradlee. “She had to have some medical treatment in the spring, which meant she couldn’t do anything with her legs for three weeks. We had this machine, which simulates poling, with ropes and pulleys, and she would do that for an hour at a time. It’s hard work and boring combined, but she did that every day.’’
Hoenig and Kern have also benefited from training every day, taking full advantage of the Cambridge organization’s extensive training regimen. This month, the two are heading overseas to compete in the under-17 Scando Cup races in Estonia.
“I’m just ridiculously excited, to ski with the best skiers in northern Europe, and travel with the best skiers from the US,’’ said Hoenig, who was the top US qualifier for the event.
“Eli is just a pure warrior,’’ said Bradlee, who expects Hoenig to make the World Juniors team next season. “He’s a guy who goes 110 percent in every race. He doesn’t leave anything at the end of the race.’’
Kern’s accomplishments, meanwhile, are noteworthy because she’s often competing against teens three years her senior, in a sport that doesn’t favor youth. She was the eighth-rated female in the under-17 category (Stock was first, but got bumped up to the under-20 team).
“She’s extraordinary,’’ says coach Graham Taylor, also the longtime Alpine and Nordic skiing coach at Lincoln-Sudbury.
Kern also has genetics on her side. Her mother, Dorothee (a biochemistry professor at Brandeis), was a point guard for the East German Olympic women’s basketball team, and her sister, Nadja, is a freshman forward on the women’s basketball team at the University of California San Diego. Like Stock and Hoenig, Kern started skiing at a very young age, and hasn’t stopped.
“I like having someone to challenge me, always,’’ she said. “I like having someone I can look up to, because it reminds me that I can always do better, I can always train harder. Corey and Eli were really helpful since I was little, because I always looked up to them, and they pushed me.’’
All three teenagers started skiing shortly after they could walk. They all cut their competitive teeth racing with the Eastern Massachusetts Bill Koch Ski Club before graduating to the Cambridge Sports Union. In short, these trips abroad have been earned through sweat and effort. All three excel at the sport’s sublime mix of exertion, endurance, and, yes, endorphins.
“It’s definitely rewarding to finish a race, and feel extremely tired. And then there’s these endorphins, which are basically drugs,’’ said Hoenig with a laugh. “I’m definitely completely addicted to endurance sports. I really enjoy going fast on my own power, I like going down hills once I’ve earned them.’’
Their success is also a testament to the Cambridge organization’s commitment to top-flight, year-round training, which was driven by Bradlee and others, such as Frank Feist.
“But also, having training partners to train with is definitely key,’’ said Hoenig. “I cannot go for two-hour skis alone. I’d just be miserable. Having other skiers to push me definitely is helpful.’’
For Bradlee, the selection of Stock, Hoenig, and Kern is ample reward for their coaches.
“It was my long-term goal to be able to provide club support for kids who want to go to the highest levels,’’ he said.
2012 US Women’s Junior Team
Emily Hannah - Steamboat Springs, Colo., Winter Sports Club
Stephanie Kirk - Alaska Winter Stars
Mary O’Connell - Steamboat Springs, Colo., Winter Sports Club
Corey Stock of Lincoln, Cambridge Sports Union