Like the company she represents, cross-country skier Sadie Bjornsen is a reliable, committed competitor
By Hilary Reeves
Laura McCabe left Washington State’s famed Methow Valley to compete as a member of the U.S. Nordic team at the Nagano Olympics when Sadie Bjornsen was nine years old. Bjornsen remembers local residents lining the streets to cheer her neighbor’s return.
“I realized at that moment the amount of pride that comes with competing in the Olympics,” she said. “Right then, I decided that when I grew up, I was going to be an Olympic Skier. I was never afraid to tell anyone and everyone that. For whatever reason, I thought every person should know that ‘I am going to be an Olympic Skier.’”
In the heart of the Methow Valley on the eastern slopes of the North Cascades, more than a hundred miles of Nordic trails snake around Bjornsen’s hometown of Mazama, a hotbed of cross-country skiing. An older sister and a younger brother gave her a competitive edge at a young age.
“I grew up very competitive in order to keep up with my siblings,” she said. “Everything was a competition, whether is was who was the first one to the car, who could hold their breath the longest, or who could eat the most for dinner.”
Bjornsen’s parents own a construction business, so the family spent most free days working on spec houses.
“From a young age, the bar was always held high for all three of us children,” she said. “While many of my friends were spending summer days playing at the river, we spent our time working on the job site. I credit that hard work for teaching me what it means to ‘work hard’ and build toward a goal.
Sports were also very much a part of family life. Bjornsen said her parents would take her and her siblings across the state to competitions for various sports, including cross country. As Bjornsen approached high school, she again started to dream of being the best in the world, of competing at the Olympics. She made the decision to start focusing more on her training.
“During my sophomore year in high school, I participated in my first competition overseas, and I was immediately inspired to set goals toward becoming one of the best,” she said. “I’m currently training out of Anchorage with the Alaska Pacific University Team, and am also a part of the U.S. National Ski Team and was a part of the 2014 Olympic Team in Sochi, Russia.”
Bjornsen was drawn to Alaska six years ago. After racing the NCAA circuit at the University of Alaska Anchorage for one year, she transferred to APU – home of the best team and coach in the country. She trains alongside Kikkan Randall, the “best sprinter in the world,” and Bjornsen’s mentor. In addition to being a full-time athlete, she is also a full-time student, recently completing her undergraduate degree with Summa Cum Laude honors, double majoring in accounting and nonprofit business management. She is now working toward her Masters Degree.
“I’m probably most proud of my ability to work toward my academic goals at the same time as racing against the very best in the world,” said Bjornsen. “I use studying to take my brain away from racing, and I use racing to take my brain away from studying. I’m lucky in that I do the majority of my schooling online, but I still wake up at 5 a.m. all winter to attend class, often on the morning of races. Even while competing in Sochi, I was waking up to attend class without missing a beat.”
As the Rio Games come to a close, Bjornsen said she wishes she could share with the watching public the level of commitment it takes to be a professional athlete.
“The job of being an athlete is so much more than the five hours a day I spent physically training,” she said. “I have to take care of my body like it’s a race car. I have to fuel well, do constant maintenance, spent time visualizing and doing mental work, and, most importantly, getting proper rest to show up 100-percent ready the following day. I’ve had my fair share of injuries, setbacks, and failures. It’s a constant challenge, but I feel like every day I learn more and more about how to deal with adversity and challenges put in front of me.”
For Bjornsen, the next two years consist of the World Championships in Lahti, Finland this winter, as well as the World Cup Circuit – racing every weekend from November until mid-March all across Europe and Russia. The following year in an Olympic year, where she will compete on the World Cup Circuit again, and then in South Korea at the Olympics in February with her brother, Erik Bjornsen.
“No American woman has ever won a medal in our sport, so I am gunning to be the first woman to do so.”
After Bjornsen retires, she plans to go into business, fascinated with the commonality to her sport. Saltchuk Resources, in particular, has proven an excellent sponsorship match.
“You work hard, you have goals, you have setbacks, you put yourself out there, learn from others, fail, succeed, all of the above,” she said. “I hope to have a job one day that allows me to challenge myself at a similar level that sport has. Like myself, Saltchuk is Washington-born and family-oriented, with operations in Alaska. I enjoy representing Saltchuk because of its similar operating values to my ski-racing career: competing and training clean and safe, being a reliable member of the team, and being 100-percent committed, 365-days a year to being the best in the world. Saltchuk has not only provided me with vital support for my athletic goals, but they have served as an ambassador of success and daily operating values.”
Bjornson credits her parents for her success, on skies and off.
“My mother and father are my greatest supporters, but they also expect nothing but the best from us,” she concluded. “They work harder than anyone I know, but they enjoy the process and never lose their smiles and joy. I try to keep the same mentality with my racing. If I could change one thing about my past, I would be more appreciative as a kid for all the amazing opportunities I was given. I wish I could go back and tell them ‘thank you’ 10 times a day!”