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photoMembers of the Methow Valley Nordic Team prepare to leave the Mazama Community Center for a workout on roller skis with native son Erik Bjornsen, who was inspired to aim for an Olympic medal when he was a youngster on the team. Photo by Karen West

photoOlympic hopeful Erik Bjornsen surrounded by one of his sponsors’ products before a roller-ski workout/nutrition talk he presented in late August while home in Mazama. Photo by Karen West

Eat, Sleep, Train
Erik Bjornsen - Olympics?

After training with a bike ride and 1.5 hours of strength training at the Winthrop Fitness Center, Erik Bjornsen is sitting at a picnic table at the Mazama Community Center wearing a Power Bar T-shirt.

He is surrounded by boxes of Power Bars in various flavors and formulas that are marketed for consumption before, during and after workouts. He will distribute the bars to whoever shows up for a roller ski training workshop he is about to lead during a rare visit home.

The free supply of Power Bars, the roller skis provided by Wood Ski that he is about to put on for dryland training, the poles he’s about to grab compliments of Swix, and the multiple pairs of Fischer skis he is under contract to use on snow are all a welcome part of what it means to be one of the nation’s up-and-coming world class Nordic skiers.

“I thought you just skied fast and everything else just took care of itself,” he says of his early naivete about Nordic racing. These days he’s hoping to find a corporate sponsor to ease the burden.

Bjornsen says he needs to raise about $30,000 a year for his competitive ski career. “When you’re in Europe on the World Cup [race circuit] it gets real expensive,” he says, “about $125 a day.”

photoErik Bjornsen running in Alaska’s Chugach mountains. He is a student at Alaska Pacific University and trains in Alaska. He also is a member of the U.S. Ski Team. Photo by Reese Hanneman

“I’m getting to the level where some of these [product] sponsors are helping me with some of the $30,000,” he says. In fact, the photograph accompanying this story and the mere mention of who his sponsors are likely will add some dollars to this season’s budget.

He said he started getting a 25 percent discount on skis from Fischer when he was young and has had a contract with the company to use their skis for the last three or four years, which means the company provides them.

He eats “a couple of Power Bars a day” and that company keeps him supplied with whatever quantity he wants, plus juice.

Bjornsen, 22, is a student at Alaska Pacific University, a member of the U.S. Ski Team and one of the Methow Valley natives hoping to go to Sochi, Russia, 2014 Winter Olympic Games to be held Feb. 4-24. Erik’s sister, Sadie Bjornsen, who also is on the U.S. Ski Team, also hopes to make the Olympic team (see sidebar story).

Erik Bjornsen says he took on the responsibility for raising the money he needs for ski equipment and travel expenses such as plane tickets and board and room as soon as he graduated from Liberty Bell High School.

“I try to do odd jobs in Anchorage, but I don’t get around to it very often,” says Bjornsen, who estimates that income at $500 to $1,000 a year. The rest of the money he raises comes from private sponsors—“friends and people who know me and are helping me pay some of the bills. It’s a constant [challenge] to find people to help me.’’

He is quick to add that he has no complaints. “They say you peak at 32.” Thus, a decade away from what could be his peak age, Bjornsen is training more than 750 hours a year.

The two days before he sat down with Grist, Bjornsen and his mother, Mary, ran to Stehekin, stayed overnight and ran back to the Methow Valley. Yes. They ran both ways, including many hours in the rain. While praising his mom’s athleticism, her son allowed as how for the first four hours he led the way, but for the last two hours their pace started to equalize.

The Bjornsen siblings were on the Methow Valley Nordic Team as youngsters and Erik says when he was in middle school his coach, Scott Johnston, sat him down and said if he really wanted to set the Olympics as a goal it was time to get serious about training.

“It’s amazing what your body can do,” Bjornsen says of his workouts and races. “The number one thing is just training a lot.” He does so twice a day.

This summer he trained at high altitude at Park City, Utah, and won the roller ski race at the end of the camp “by a pretty big margin.” He also participated in two snow camps on Alaska’s Eagle Glacier, where the Alaska Pacific University ski team owns a house.

When he’s at the intense 30-hour-a-week training camps Bjornsen says he’s eating more than 10,000 calories a day and sleeping 10 hours at night, plus taking a one-hour nap during the day. Life becomes “eat, sleep, train.”

“I try to eat healthy and eat what I’m craving,” he says. Typically breakfast is two pieces of toast, two eggs and a piece of fruit. He also has a glass of juice and one of water in the morning.

During workouts he carries a Power Bar sport drink and a 240-calorie bar to eat. Post workout he eats a bar with more protein and fewer calories.

Lunch is two “pretty good sized sandwiches,” maybe turkey, ham, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and cucumber, plus more fruit. He drinks almond milk, almost no cow’s milk and snacks on bowls of cereal.

Bjornsen says he sweats a lot when he races and has to add an extra teaspoon of salt to his sport drink to keep his system balanced.

As for his racing season, he says he will start on the domestic circuit and hopes to match his success last season when by Christmas he was the domestic SuperTour leader. He calls last season, when he won the 2013 National Championship 15k race and was the men’s SuperTour leader by Christmas, a “confidence builder.”

His competitive skills also have earned him more frequent urine tests. Bjornsen explained that “the faster you get, the more urine tests you get.” He is a member of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and as such has to log on to a website every day so the USADA knows his whereabouts. The athletes never know when someone will knock on their door. It’s an inconvenience he doesn’t mind and says he wishes all countries would do the testing to even the field.

In early 2014 he will compete in the U23 World Championship Nordic ski races (for skiers under age 23) in Val di Fiemme, Italy, and says he is the only U.S. skier prequalified for the race. His goal is to finish in one of the top three spots and “get on the podium.” The U23 events will be held two weeks before the Olympics.

The coaches will select the team to represent the U.S. a few weeks before the Winter Olympics open. Bjornsen hopes to find his name on the list. “My goal and dream is to win an Olympic medal someday,” he says. “I hope to make Sochi but it’s hard to expect to be on the podium.”

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