ELY – Nordic skier Jasper Johnston may be just a sophomore at Memorial High School, but his competitive spirit and determination to do his best every time he trains or races, have helped him to …
ELY – Nordic skier Jasper Johnston may be just a sophomore at Memorial High School, but his competitive spirit and determination to do his best every time he trains or races, have helped him to become a leader and pace-setter on what is turning into a strong boys team again this year for the Timberwolves.
Two weeks ago Johnston stole the show at the Duluth East Invitational, finishing first in both freestyle and classic races among nine other teams, to lead the boys to another top finish. He followed that up last Saturday on his home course at Hidden Valley Recreation Area with another top overall finish and first-place team win in the Ely Relays Invitational.
Johnston seems to be peaking at the right time as the Wolves head to Sectional and State competition.
“I don’t remember the first time I was on skis,” Johnston said. “My parents said it was when I was about two years old. I do remember, when we lived in Minneapolis at the time, one summer they got my skis out and I went into the backyard and tried to ski and got mad when I couldn’t make them work.”
He says his strength on the course comes from his motivation. “I just want to do my best, especially since our team is so competitive. I want to help out my team.”
The fact that Johnston has spent so much time on skis, he said, helps him to know how he should feel in terms of his technique. He competes on the Ely cross-country team in the fall, runs distance events on the track team in the spring, and continues training in the off-season.
“I definitely put in a lot of training over the summer,” Johnston said. “We have ski practice for most of every week. We run intervals on the trails and run up the hill like a hundred times. Okay, maybe ten times, but it feels like a hundred.”
Johnston admits to being a very competitive person, and he said the strength of his teammates, many of whom he grew up with in Ely, fires that competition. “We are all within a couple minutes of each other on the race course. Having that many people with that close of times is pretty cool. There were four people within 15 seconds at the (Duluth) race,” he said.
Johnston recalled the Sectionals meet last year. “There were three us that were pretty close. We couldn’t really see each other, but we knew that they were there, and that was really helpful to really get going up those hills.”
At just 15 years old, he has called Ely his home for the last nine years. “I love being on this team that is so competitive for a small school,” he said. “Everybody kind of knows each other. You’re better friends with everybody. That would be different at a big school where you wouldn’t really know a lot of the people.”
He said that members of this team, especially this year, hang out together on weekends and spend their off time together. “We’ll go watch movies or something at each other’s house,” he said. “My folks occasionally will have the team over, but some of the other guys live on lakes.” He admitted that he most enjoys going to Raif Olson’s house. “He lives on a lake and in a nice house. And his family always has a lot of food to eat. That’s the best part.”
He’s just a sophomore and has lots of high school experiences to savor, but Johnston has thought about what he wants to do after graduating. “I would like to do something that involves being outside, like with the Forest Service or something like that,” he said. “I don’t want a job where I have to be inside all the time.”
He said he would like to attend a college where he can continue Nordic skiing. “Northern Michigan University (in Marquette) has a really good ski team, one of the best in the country,” Johnston said. “There are a couple of (Ely) kids that are skiing at Colby College in Maine.”
Ely Nordic Coach, Paula Anderson noted that Johnston is having “a really good” year. “He ended last year on a really high note, taking 22nd in state as a freshman,” she said. “I think he really surprised himself. Like everyone else, he just had a great day (at state). It was a harbinger of things to come. He worked really hard over the summer and trained very consistently, putting in a lot of ski-training hours. He’s done everything right and has a lot of natural ability as well.”
Anderson described Johnston as “very laid back” as a competitor. “He handles competition very well as far as dealing with the pressure,” she added.
She has kept an eye on the competition this season. Garrett Becker, last year’s state champion from Grand Rapids, has been in Europe competing in the World Junior Biathlon. “He comes back this weekend and will be at Sections,” she said. “If he’s healthy, he should win at state.” The other, a Cloquet student, is a Nordic-combined competitor and has not participated in all the Nordic meets this year. “He could be fast, too, if he’s healthy,” she added.
“Jasper just keeps getting faster, so we don’t know what he’ll do against these other skiers,” Anderson said. “It has been frustrating for him because he needs that competition to know where he stands.”
The coach said the team this year has very strong leadership. “They are all really good friends. The boys team looks to be pretty competitive at sections. They are going in at a really good spot. There are at least six racers that could score any day. It has really been fun,” she said.