“My favourite Birkie memory is racing the 31 km with a bunch of friends.”
Maya MacIsaac – Jones skied on the Canadian Senior National Team from 2016 to 2019, She was also on the Canadian Junior National Team from 2011 to 2015. Maya is now training with the Alberta World Cup Academy, a National Training Centre based out of Canmore. Besides skiing, she is also taking a Bachelor of Psychology degree through the Athabasca University. She kindly answered our many questions below, before she left for Cup Racing in Europe with the Canadian Team. In her answers below, Maya shares how she got into nordic skiing and what she learned along the way.
What got you interested in Cross-Country Skiing?
“My parents first put me on at age four. I grew up on a small farm outside of Athabasca, and I loved skiing circles around our farmyard. I would pretend I was Beckie Scott or Sara Renner racing in the Olympics, and my dad would give “race” commentary. My parents put me in Athabasca Nordic’s Jackrabbit program, and I got my first taste of racing (and post-race hot chocolate!) at the Tawatinaw Loppet.”
On your social media platforms you use the expression “pain-cave”. Could tell what this feels like for you?
“Cross-country skiing is an incredibly fun sport to do both recreationally and competitively, but racing can be brutally hard. In races, we are pushing our bodies to the maximum both physically and mentally – watch a World Cup, and you’ll see most racers collapsing on the snow right after they cross the finish line. (of course, you don’t have to push this hard in racing if you don’t want to!). By ‘pain cave’, I’m talking about the extremely painful point of a race where you have the choice to either slow down, or keep going and push even harder. It’s this challenge that keeps me (and most athletes I know) coming back for more – because if you can ignore the temptation to slow down and just keep pushing, then crossing that finish line and lying on the snow feels amazing.“
What advice do you have for any young aspiring cross country ski competitor to keep motivated or to reach their potential?
“Dream big – set goals that are challenging, and dare to go for it!”
Do you have any advice on how parents can best encourage/support their aspiring child athlete?
“I think it’s important for parents to be encouraging and to provide some opportunities, but to make sure the motivation to pursue sport comes from the child. I will share what my parents did with me.
I was lucky to have parents who never pushed me into skiing. They let me try lots of sports, and I quickly settled into skiing in the winter and triathlon in the summer. It became my dream to win an Olympic medal, and my parents gave me opportunities to push myself – but the motivation had to come from me.
The cost of elite sports is high, and reaching a top level takes some prioritization (especially when you come from a small town). My parents knew this, so when I was around 12, they asked me to choose either triathlon or skiing to focus on. I could still do both, they said, but if I truly wanted to reach my goal I had to pick one prioritize. I chose skiing. High-level sport is rewarding but extremely difficult. As a teenager and now adult racer, I’ve been the happiest and most motivated when I know exactly why I’m ski racing, so I’m very glad that the decision to ski has always come from me!”
Did/Do you have a role model? If yes, who and why?
“Beckie Scott, Sara Renner, and Chandra Crawford were big role models of mine growing up. In particular, I remember watching them race in the Torino Olympics. That February, my parents woke us up in the middle of the night to watch the skate sprint live. We were all huddled under blankets around our old tube TV, set up with rabbit ears and tin foil so we could get reception. We screamed with excitement when Chandra won her gold medal, and that moment had a huge impact on my life. It opened my eyes to the possibilities I could dream of, and inspired me to become an Olympian.”
The Canadian Birkebeiner would like to thank Maya MacIsaac – Jones for her time, cooperation and for providing our society with her racing picture. If you like to read more about Maya, go to her website https://mayamacisaacjones.com