Harvard skiers have a tendency to fly under the radar.
But the Crimson’s top three skiers, freshman Rebecca Nadler and sophomores Alena Tofte and Catherine Sheils, didn’t need the spotlight to succeed this winter. Their results proved to be statement enough: the trailblazing trio qualified to compete at the NCAA championships.
REBECCA NADLER AND CATHERINE SHEILS
The top two skiers on the women’s alpine team stand at different heights and operate at different decibel levels, but the skiers will be go down in school history for what they have in common. On Sunday, they became the first women’s alpine skiers from Harvard ever to qualify for the NCAA championships.
“I’m thrilled,” Sheils says of qualifying. “I got edged out last year. This year it really means a lot to me. I am also really ... thrilled that Rebecca’s going. ... I think it’s just indicative of how far the program has come in the last five years under [coach] Tim [Mitchell].”
But success isn’t the pair’s only similarity. Mitchell says that the two’s focus and attention on the hill allows them to separate themselves from many of their Eastern Intercollegiate Ski Association competitors.
“They both have that ability to narrow their focus and really execute,” Mitchell says. “When they’re on the hill, they’re there. They manage to shut out all the other distractions. In skiing, especially alpine skiing, one little tiny slip can ruin an entire race. The margin for error is so small. You need to be mentally focused.”
That focus comes from a lifetime on the slopes. Nadler came of age racing at Mont Tremblant, and Sheils spent five years at Burke Mountain Academy. Both took time off between high school and college to better their skiing as well.
“They both have fantastic work ethics,” Mitchell says. “They took that time to buckle down and work toward achieving a goal that they had.”
Each was already a seasoned skier when she arrived on campus, but this season the duo has been able to work together to reach new heights on the slopes.
“We can get each other excited—she pumps me up for the slalom, I try to pump her up for the [giant slalom],” Nadler reports. “It’s been really great to push each other and feed off each other.”
With her teammates succeeding in alpine competition, sophomore Alena Tofte is pushing her limits and making her mark on the Nordic courses. After all, you don’t become the Crimson’s first Nordic skier since 2004 to qualify for NCAAs by playing it safe.
“She has an ability to push herself quite hard, sometimes too far,” says Nordic coach Chris City ’94. “She’s still learning how to harness the fact that she has an unusual tolerance. ... Most of us hit a point where we say ‘this doesn’t feel so good.’ Alena has the mental ability to go past that point.”
Growing up in Duluth, Minn., Tofte participated in endurance sports all year round: cross country in the fall, skiing in the winter, track in the spring, and crew in the summer.