Mt. Blue High’s Emma Charles finished 86 seconds ahead of Eva Clement of Falmouth to win the Class A Nordic freestyle pursuit race last month at Titcomb Mountain. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Emma Charles crossed the finish line of the Class A Nordic freestyle pursuit race last month at Titcomb Mountain in Farmington and collapsed in the snow, the muscles of her lower back in spasms.

It would take another 86 seconds for second-place finisher Eva Clement of Falmouth to arrive, by which time Charles had begun to recover, wrapped in a blanket and with hand warmers adding comfort to her back.

Turns out that, immediately prior to the two-day Class A state championship meet, Charles had gone all out in three races over two days at a NENSA Eastern Cup event in Holderness, New Hampshire, in a successful – albeit stressful – attempt to qualify for the U.S. Junior National Championships. She put in 19.5 kilometers of racing over four days, with help from nightly ice baths.

“My dad will come upstairs, fill (the tub) with ice, and snow sometimes,” Charles said. “It helps with inflammation. I don’t know exactly, something with the blood vessels.”

Her recovery methods may sound chilling, but nobody could argue with her results on cross-country trails throughout Maine this winter. In both classical and freestyle high school races longer than 3 kilometers, Charles won every time out, usually by margins approaching a minute.

After sweeping the Class A classical, freestyle and pursuit state championships for the second year in a row to lead Mt. Blue to the Nordic team title, Charles journeyed to the Junior Nationals in Truckee, California. There, she placed 19th of 72 skiers in a 5K classic race for girls 16-and-under, and in a freestyle sprint placed 16th of 74 and turned in the ninth-best qualifying time.

A sophomore, Charles is our choice as Varsity Maine Girls’ Skier of the Year.

“She works incredibly hard and is pretty focused on her goals,” said first-year Mt. Blue Coach Emmy Held.  “She just loves the sport. She’s the first one out on the snow everyday and just wants to get better.”

Charles was scheduled to race twice more at Junior Nationals, but the coronavirus pandemic prompted organizers to cut short the event.

The only other instance all season in which another girl posted a faster time than Charles came in the season-opening Telstar Relays in Bethel, where skiers race a 3K loop. Former Maine Coast Waldorf standout Eliza Skillings, competing for Gould Academy, finished five seconds faster on her loop of a little over eight minutes. Charles won all subsequent meetings.

At just under 6 feet tall, Charles cuts an imposing figure on skis. She grew up in Farmington 10 minutes from Titcomb Mountain and followed in the tracks of her sister, Meg, now a sophomore on the St. Lawrence University Nordic team. Emma also plays violin, runs cross country and outdoor track, and has plans for a summer sprint triathlon.

After studying climate change at school, Charles and a few friends founded a group called Maine Youth Climate Action that advocated for the elimination of plastic utensils in the high school cafeteria and cafe.

Somewhere in the archives of the Charles family video collection is a scene of 6-year-old Emma in her first attempt on cross-country skis.

“I was on the ground crying,” she said, “because I hated it a lot.”

Clearly, she’s had a change of heart.

“She has a lot of focus and a lot of drive,” Held said. “I’m excited to see what the next couple years will bring.”

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