Lakeville Nordic competitor earns spot on U.S. National Junior team
Ben Saxton, a two-time state Nordic champion from Lakeville North, graduated from high school last spring but hasn’t stopped skiing.
In fact, in the past 12 months that’s pretty much the only thing he’s been doing.
There was some unfinished business left on the snow after he fell short of making the U.S. Junior World Championship team in 2012.
Only the top six skiers made the team. Saxton was seventh.
“I’m a competitive guy,” Saxton said. “I wouldn’t have tried any less if I would have made the team, but I was certainly spurned by being left off. All summer I could say I’m not going to get left off this year. It got me through some workouts.”
This year he wrote a different story.
At the U.S. Senior Nationals earlier this month in Utah, Saxton left no doubt and earned a place on the Junior World Championship team. Last weekend Saxton hopped a plane to Europe to ski some of the top races in the European Elite Circuit, including the Junior World Championships in Liberec, Czech Republic, which run through Jan. 28.
Getting to this point required sacrifices. Saxton was accepted to Dartmouth College last fall, but he put it off in hopes of making the national team.
He said he has no regrets.
“America has such an intense idea toward college (being) the only way to go,” Saxton said. “It’s not wrong, but how much sense does it make to go in as a college freshman when you don’t really know who you are? Mine happened to coincide with my dream of being an Olympic skier.”
He spent the past three seasons living in a cabin in northern Wisconsin preparing at FAST Performance Training.
He still had many college freshman experiences such as living on his own, worrying about his finances, cooking for himself and doing his own laundry. But he spent 100 percent of his free time becoming a better athlete and skier.
“Mentally it allowed me to approach the sport more professionally,” Saxton said. “I don’t look at it as a job because I love to ski, but I have that professional attitude toward skiing like it deserves. My technique has grown tenfold and I put on 15 pounds of muscle.”
For money he works at Rivers Eatery in Cable, Wis., which is owned by a family friend.
Two weeks ago he was in Soldier Hollow, Utah, site of the 2002 Olympic Nordic races, hoping his work would be put to good use at the U.S. Senior Nationals.
He needed to be one of the top six junior skiers in the country to make the team. It turned out he was one of the top overall skiers, junior or otherwise.
In the classic sprint qualifier, he finished 10th out of more than 100 of the top skiers in the country, qualifying him for the senior heats. He eventually skied his way to the A final and finished fifth.
“Top 10 in the nation is pretty awesome especially when I was 10 years younger than some of those people,” Saxton said.
In the distance skate race, he moved up from 74th last year to 23rd this season by closing well. He was the third junior, so with those two races he knew he had made the team.
Over the next few weeks Saxton will participate in the Junior National World Championship, Scandinavian Cup and Norwegian Junior Nationals before coming back to North America for the U.S. Junior Nationals in Alaska in March. He figures to ski in the classic sprint, 10-kilometer skate event and should have a spot on the 4x5K relay.
“The whole year might as well be spring break,” Saxton said. “It’s been undoubtedly the best year of my life.”