Placing 55th out of 84 Nordic freestyle skiers at the Junior National Championships in Truckee, California, earlier this month wasn’t exactly what Kaelyn Woods had in mind.

Then again, she didn’t plan on passing out while climbing a steep hill late in the 4.9-kilometer course, which happens to be 7,200 feet above sea level.

“The really high altitude was getting to me,” Woods said. “So that was not fun.”

When someone suggested removing her skis and seeking medical assistance, Woods clambered up and finished the race, whereupon she collapsed again and this time was whisked to a hospital.

She recovered quickly, and was the top Maine qualifier for the Eastern High School Nordic Championships at Black Mountain in Rumford this weekend, where she was sixth in the 5K freestyle race.

A junior at Gray-New Gloucester High, Woods successfully defended her Class B state freestyle and classical titles as well as making her mark on the national stage.

She is our choice at Maine Sunday Telegram girls’ skier of the year.

“She’s an incredible athlete and she’s incredibly competitive,” said Jeff McEvoy, the Gray-New Gloucester Nordic coach who has skied with Woods since she was in elementary school. “She’s also a sweetheart, incredibly humble for as good as she is.”

In the season’s first meet, Woods placed second in a skate race to Freeport senior Elizabeth Martin. That was the only Maine high school race this winter Woods failed to win. She won nearly every race by more than a minute, including the chilly Class B classical race in Presque Isle. She followed that with a 31-second victory over Martin in freestyle.

“I didn’t really know what to expect,” Woods said. “I had been training in the fall with Lizzy and Sam Pierce and Fiona (Ahearne, both of Merriconeag) so I was interested to see how it was going to unfold.”

In addition to high school competition, Woods also raced NENSA’s Eastern Cup circuit with the Maine Winter Sports Center. This was her second year advancing to the Junior Nationals, where she rebounded from her freestyle bonk and placed 23rd of 85 girls in the 18-and-under 10K classical race.

“She had pretty similar years,” said MWSC racing director Will Sweetser. “In terms of Maine competition, she is head and shoulders above the rest of the field.”

Juggling skiing with the rigorous academics of her International Baccalaureate program, Woods still found time to assist McEvoy with GNG’s middle school meets. She also excels at soccer and softball and won the state skimeister title as a freshman before opting to focus on Nordic.

“It’s hard, definitely, and missing school is rough,” Woods said. “But my teachers are incredibly understanding.”

Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: GlennJordanPPH