Fleet of foot, Islesboro teen flies over winter, and the world, on snowshoes
ISLESBORO — When Annika Rogers fastens her snowshoes to her sneakers and steps into the winter air, her legs swing into action and her mind slows down. Adjusting earbuds and turning up the music, she heads for the golf course, her stainless steel cleats digging through the layers of treacherous ice that have pooled across Midcoast Maine this particular winter.
For the high school senior, who is heading to Dartmouth next fall to study engineering, computer science and math, the run across the winter landscape shakes the cobwebs from her 18-year-old brain.
“It’s a real workout,” she smiled, just one week before boarding a plane with her mother, Johanna Rogers, and flying to Picos de Europa National Park in the Spanish Cantabrian Mountains for the 2018 World Snowshoe Championships.
She qualified in 2017 with the World Snowshoe Federation for the 2018 competition, and on March 3 and 4, she and Johanna joined 156 other avid snowshoers from across the globe. In those Spanish mountains they raced for the pure exhilaration of it all.
It was blowing a gale there, Annika reported, and the teams traveled up the mountainside via cable-car.
“The course was the most difficult course I have ever been on,” she said. “And it was gorgeous.”
There were very few flat portions but most of it was, “either straight uphill or a steep downhill,” she said. “Even the best runners in the world had their hands on their knees ’powerhiking’ on some of the uphills.”
Annika returned to Maine this week with a bronze medal, while the U.S. team she was on — age 19 and under — won the gold medal.
“I travelled with an amazing group of people from all across the country and a few from Canada and Japan,” she said. “Out of the whole 10-day experience, the people were by far my favourite part. We all shared love of snowshoeing, but we were all unique, too.”
Companions included a Nike executive from Oregon, anesthesiologist from Colorado, art teacher from Florida, running coach from New York, orthopedic intern from Quebec City, and an ultra skyrunner, who lives out of her truck part of the year.
Snowshoe runners are, evidently, an eclectic bunch.
“Have you ever tried running on sand?” asks the Snowshoe Federation, in a rhetorical conversation with the world, explaining how challenging snowshoe running can be. “How about with ankle weights on? Well, that is a good comparison to running on snowshoes.”
It is a sport not for the faint of heart.
But Annika and her mother have been snowshoe running for years, training on Islesboro in all kinds of weather, and then traveling to Wisconsin, Utah, Oregon and upstate New York, to meet their comrades in snowshoes and compete with each other.
They both love it, and over the past four years, Annika has ranked first in U.S. competitions — she won the Maine State Snowshoe Championships in 2015, in Rangeley, and came in third in 2017 at the U.S. Snowshoe Association competition in Bend, Oregon.
In between, she also competes as a cross-country runner, and as a sailor.
But this March trip to Spain was special. She took her first international trip out of this country to compete on the global stage. It would also be a turning point: The Spain trip was the first time she has left the U.S. since she arrived in 2000, a baby whose story began when she was discovered swaddled, and abandoned, on a train platform in China.
From southeast China to Islesboro, Maine
Annika has lived the modern experience, adopted by American parents and brought to the U.S. during the first decades years of the new century.
She excelled on Islesboro and is heading to an Ivy League college. She is fiercely independent and ambitious, and if she happens to yen for coconut shrimp, she’ll take the ferry over to Lincolnville and drive to a Rockland Chinese restaurant, just to order it.
She lights up when she talks about this coming summer, when she will spend a month in England, immersing herself, along with other high school students, in Cambridge University studies. She will make the trip thanks to an Islesboro benefactor, who generously has funded the all-expense paid program for other Islesboro students over the years.
Annika’s life has taken myriad turns, and she has found fulfilling opportunities.
Two days after she was born in 1999, she was abandoned in a southeast China train station. An unknown individual took her to the local police station, and from there, she was placed in a social welfare center, one more baby girl in a country where females faced an uncertain future.
But she survived. And in the U.S., the Rogers counted themselves among the tide of American parents who traveled to China to adopt baby girls.
At 10 months old, the Rogers met Annika for the first time.
“The minute we saw her, I felt in my heart she was a gift,” said Johanna.
Her father, Rick, pulls out a faded photo from his wallet. It is of Annika, a plump, smiling baby with rosebud lips, at 10 months old. You know that photo is never leaving his possession.
Sept. 3, 2000 was Gotcha Day — that day that adopting parents welcome their new family member. From there, it was across to the U.S., and eventually Islesboro.
Recognizing the possible
Annika Rogers didn’t always love snowshoe running.
“I went through a phase when I felt like I had to, instead of want to,” she said.
That coincided with a reaction against cross-country running, as well.
“My body was changing and I had a couple of performances that weren’t great,” she said. “Then, I started training for sailing.”
But she circled back to it all.
“I rediscovered running and what I enjoyed about it,” she said. “When you are running, it’s just your legs. And with snowshoes, I check in on my form and being as efficient as I can. Snowshoes work your core, and you have to lift your feet.”
Then there is beauty of where she runs.
“When competing, I take time to take in my surroundings,” she said. “We have been to some beautiful places.”
Then, she concentrates on the running itself.
“I race conservatively,” she said. “Slowly and building up. And I stay focused.”
That’s her favorite, on the 420s or Lasers, solo at the helm and filling the sails with wind — “it’s freeing,” she said.
She will be on the 2018 Dartmouth Sailing Team.
Just before Annika and Johanna left for Picos, the Islesboro Central School gave Annika a special send-off. Younger girls came up to her, wondering how they might accomplish similar goals.
Annika has some insight to lend:
“Make sure you have people in your life, who love, support and care for you,” she said. “There will be someone out there, it could be a teacher or someone in the community, or a best friend in school. I have been fortunate, and I realize that you are not doing this [your individual accomplishments] just for yourself, but doing it for everybody.”
And, she said, find your happiness. That activity which you enjoy doing.
For Annika, the Picos competition leads next to the qualifying races for the 2019 world championships. She and Johanna will plan to compete.
But for the time being, she is sleeping, and reveling in the memories of visiting not just the Spanish mountains, but the cities of Bilbao, Santander, and Espinama.
She made a polar plunge into the Bay of Biscay, with the air temperature of 36 degrees Farenheit, and visited the El Soplao caves, known for gravity-defying formations and their pristine condition.
“We also visited the the Monastery of Santo Toribio de Liébana, which houses the largest remaining piece of wood that Christ was crucified — the True Cross,” she said.
The world is large and wondrous, and from a train platform in China, to Maine, to European mountains, Annika Rogers has just begun exploring it.
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