What is it about Kenai Central High School's Mary Krusen?
She enjoys the cross-country ski season because it gives her the opportunity to wear her warm layers of clothes, but she's been known to remove some of those layers to reveal a cheer painted on her tummy.
She says she doesn't have a musical bent, yet she's been known to serenade her teammates -- whether they like it or not -- on long bus rides.
She says she's stayed with athletics through four years of high school because they've been so much fun. But ask her if she still would compete even if it wasn't as much fun, and she'll tell you the competition is the fun part.
"For me, the competition is fun," Krusen, a senior at Kenai Central, said, "so I incorporate the fun into everything -- racing, even just doing intervals in practice. If I'm not having fun, it's not worth it."
Krusen has made an impact in Kenai's athletic department. She's been a member of the Kardinals cross country running team that won the Region III crown in each of the past two years. The Kenai cross-country ski team continues to improve with Krusen as a member, and she's in the state record books for her performance with Kenai's state champion 3,200-meter relay team.
Was a member of the Kenai Central cross country running team that won Region III titles in each of the past two years.
Finished 25th at the state cross-country ski meet last season.
Krusens 3,200-meter relay team finished with a time of 9 minutes, 42.00 seconds, at the state track meet last year to win the event and set a new state record.
Carries a 3.72 grade point average.
For all those achievements, perhaps the thing that stands out most about Krusen is her one-man pep rally personality.
"She's just one of those kids -- no matter if you're on the team with her or are her coach -- that you want to be around," said Liz Burck, who coached Krusen for four years in cross country and two years in track. "I've certainly enjoyed my four years with her, and I'm going to miss her a ton."
Krusen's teammates agree.
"She's really spontaneous," said teammate Katherine Amen, who was drawn to Kenai's cross country programs in part because of Krusen's personality.
"She's a really good teammate. She's really encouraging to me because I'm still learning how to ski. I like to watch her ski because her technique is so good."
Krusen's ski technique has consistently improved during her high school career, and she's hoping that will translate into a spot with Team Alaska for the Junior Olympics or the Arctic Winter Games through her performances at the Besh Cup series of qualifier races.
"I don't know if that's possible," Krusen said. "I've done Besh Cup every year in high school just for fun. Each year it seems like I get a little bit closer, so maybe this year I can get on the team."
Dave Feeken has been working with Krusen since her freshman year, first as Kenai's assistant ski coach and now as the team's head coach. Feeken likes Krusen's chances of reaching her goal.
"(She's matured) both mentally and physically," Feeken said. "We're on the bubble. She's very capable of that."
Feeken has been impressed with Krusen's team leadership skills.
"She'll jump in and show the younger kids how to wax, and she's a good leader on the course," Feeken said. "It's not like a basketball court -- kids get spread out all over the place. I can send part of the team off with her to do some drills. It's like having another assistant coach."
The same thing goes for competitions, where Burck said Krusen sets a positive example for the team.
"She's always so positive and upbeat about every competition, no matter how stressful that competition is," Burck said. "Before a race, she's always saying, 'Yes. I feel good. I'm ready to compete.'
"That does a whole lot for the morale of the team."
Krusen was introduced to the Alaska outdoors at age 4 when her family moved to Kenai.
"We decided it was cold and there was a lot of snow, so we might as well make the most of the outdoors," said Krusen's mother, Rebecca Lambourn.
Krusen still has that attitude about winter activities.
"I like being outdoors when it's cold out," Krusen said. "I like to get all dressed up in my clothes. Most people just go home and sit around in the winter, but I like to stay active. The cold doesn't really bother me that much. If I put on enough clothes and I'm working hard, I don't think about it."
Lambourn said that she and Krusen's father, Leslie Krusen, first noticed Krusen's talent for skiing when she was in sixth grade.
"I saw her go out on the Skyview course -- it was a big meet, and she was the only sixth grader out there," Lambourn said. "I saw her come down that last hill with a big smile on her face."
After that, skiing supplanted dancing as Krusen's passion.
"I was really into dance when I was little. I envisioned myself as a girly dancer. I'm completely the opposite now," Krusen said.
Krusen's success carries over into the classroom where she maintains a 3.72 grade point average. Krusen said her favorite class is English.
"She's the same in the classroom," said Burck, who taught Krusen two years of biology. "She's real conscientious in the classroom. It's the same upbeat thing."
Krusen has plans to attend college next fall and is looking at schools in Montana, Colorado and Minnesota. Krusen said she'd like to find a school where she could participate on either the cross country running or cross-country ski team -- or both.
"I don't know what I'd do with myself (without sports)," Krusen said. "Sports is my entertainment. My social life revolves around sports. I hang out with teammates, and weekends I'm at a race."
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