JENNY WILBRAHAM competes in the skate-style cross-country skiing event at the Maine Principals’ Association Class A Nordic State Championships on Titcomb Mountain earlier this season.

JENNY WILBRAHAM competes in the skate-style cross-country skiing event at the Maine Principals’ Association Class A Nordic State Championships on Titcomb Mountain earlier this season.

BRUNSWICK

It’s not difficult to spot Jenny Wilbraham on the trail. She’ll be wearing a unique uniform different from anyone’s. She’ll be younger than most of the other competitors, and she’ll be having more fun than just about anyone.

JENNY WILBRAHAM competes in the classic-style cross-country skiing event at the Maine Principals’ Association Class A Nordic State Championships on Titcomb Mountain earlier this season.

JENNY WILBRAHAM competes in the classic-style cross-country skiing event at the Maine Principals’ Association Class A Nordic State Championships on Titcomb Mountain earlier this season.

And chances are, she’ll be skiing faster than anyone, too.

Just a freshman, Wilbraham is already a champion. Earlier in the winter season, the Morse High School standout took first place in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Championship Classic style crosscountry skiing competition, and fourth in the Skate style race. Then, at the state competition, she finished sixth in the Classic and second in the Skate. Each race had over 100 competitors.

So, how’d she do it?

One and only

Most individual-sport athletes aren’t really alone — they have teammates to travel and converse with on the road, along with others around them representing their school.

But not Jenny — she’s the one and only skier from Morse. For every practice, she either has to travel over to Topsham or go find snowy-enough trails elsewhere to meet up with the Mt. Ararat Nordic team, which she trains with throughout the season.

Despite the disadvantages, like dealing with wax on her skis or not having Shipbuilder friends that ski too, Jenny has thrived in the role.

“Joining the Mt. Ararat Nordic ski team has not been very difficult for Jenny,” Mt. Ararat coach Julie St. Pierre said. “She has skied with the Mt. Ararat Middle School before and has offered some guidance to the young skiers this year. She has some friends from previous years, but has also developed friends this year. She is a wonderful contribution to the team.”

Where others might find difficulty or intimidation, Jenny finds pride.

“I love being the only skier from Morse. I think it impresses a lot of people when I say that I’m self-supported. It’s a fairly impressive thing,” Jenny said.

“Jenny loves to ski independently, she takes pride in representing herself and Morse High School,” St. Pierre said.

In a lot of ways, she’s built for the gig.

Born to be wild

Jenny’s skiing began with a simple love for the outdoors that stemmed from her parents. From the time she was born, her parents, Derek and Sharon, let her loose on mountainsides and bike trails and didn’t hesitate to bring her along on lengthy excursions.

The family takes annual hiking trips to Baxter State Park and bikes up to ski trails at Carrabassett Valley. Wilbraham has climbed Maine’s highest peak, Mt. Katahdin, every year since she was old enough to breach the tree line.

Every summer, they fly their bikes overseas, pack up their camping gear, and head out on tour. With her dad’s roots in England, she is no stranger to travel.

Recently, though, Jenny and her parents took their adventurous nature to a whole new level: a nine week, 70-mile-a-day bike trek across the country.

“It was, to say the least, an experience,” Jenny said. “I didn’t enjoy all of it, but that may be because I chose not to sometimes. Overall, it was a really cool time, and I learned how important it is to keep a positive attitude when you’re stuck 24/7 with only your parents, in the middle of nowhere.”

But even when Jenny isn’t on an enduring family adventure, she’s outside.

“Biking, in our family, accounts for at least 50 percent of what we do,” she said. “If I’m not skiing, I’m biking to school, biking to go shopping, biking for the heck of it. It’s not really personal preference, my family has just done it since I was born, and it’s easy for the three of us to go on rides, without worrying too much about our schedule.”

For more reasons than one, cross-country skiing is a perfect fit.

Embracing the independence

Growing up an only child, Jenny got accustomed to doing things on her own, and when it came to sports, it was no different. While she does play soccer for Morse in the fall, she’d much rather be skiing through the mountains by herself than roaming the midfield with teammates.

“Don’t get me wrong, I love people, but doing sports at the individual level is an adventure I live and breathe every day, and I don’t have to worry about drama,” Jenny said.

In fact, what Jenny gets from skiing is exactly the opposite — no politics or loud fans in the crowd. No worrying about marking an attacker or handing the baton off to a track and field teammate. Any pressure on the trail is all in her control.

“Skiing is a stress reliever for me, and there’s just something about the skis gliding over packed snow, poles making that special creaky noise, the cold temperatures, and being so isolated — it really brings me to reality, and I can get lost in my own thoughts for hours on end,” she said.

When it comes time for competition, those thoughts are a calculated mixture of focus and understanding. It’s about winning the race, sure, but the bigger picture is always in mind.

Even more so than her skill on the skis, Jenny feels like she has a strong, mental advantage over other competitors.

“What I see in other kids, is the preference of other sports, or how easily upset they become when they don’t get a good result, and that’s not how to be the best skier out on course,” Jenny said. “Being the best skier is getting to know the competition on a friendly level. Being the best skier is saying, ‘you know what, that may have not been the best race you had this year, but look how happy you made that girl over there.”

“It’s also realizing that you won’t win every race, and I think these are all things that I hold true to myself,” she said.

With that passionate outlook comes dedication and training — serious training.

The grind

During the winter season, Jenny practices six days a week. When there’s snow on the ground those practices usually consist of things like interval training, volume training, strength conditioning, and technique drills. But they aren’t always an option.

In a mild winter like this, the training is limited to dry land, and Jenny got a major head start on the competition. Beginning in the summer, she trained on roller skis and used ski-bounding techniques to prepare for snowfall. It didn’t always come, but she was ready if it did.

“I’ve never owned any classic roller skis until this year, so being able to practice off snow helped my technique and power a ton. It all came together with the help of my parents, and different coaches,” Jenny said.

“Jenny has a routine that she strictly follows and she incorporates down time within that schedule,” St. Pierre said. “She makes sure that she includes rest time and eating well, all factors important in a successful athlete — all aspects that a coach likes to see. “

By the end of the season, Jenny’s background, mindset, and diligence all fused together to form results that most high school skiers never come close to.

“At KVACs, I was happy with both results because I truly just didn’t have enough power the first day, and the other girls deserved their wins. When I heard that I was first in classic though, I was ecstatic,” she said.

“When I placed second at states, I felt such a massive relief, because the previous day had been really rough, result wise — too much wax on my skis, and then not enough when we tried again. I was so happy to have reclaimed myself on the podium,” she said.

This weekend, Jenny will be headed to Black Mountain in Rumford to compete for Maine in the U16 competition. Then, next weekend, she’ll be off to Middlebury, Vermont to represent Maine again in the Eastern High School competition.

If there’s one thing you can count on, it’s that Jenny Wilbraham isn’t going to stop moving any time soon.


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