Chasing the dream

Posted: Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Editor's note: This is the second in a series of stories looking at some of the people in the news in 2009.

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Photos By Will Morrow
Photos By Will Morrow
Brent Knight watches as skiers practice their classic technique during a ski clinic Saturday at Tsalteshi Trails. Knight, a Soldotna High School graduate, has aspirations of making the U.S. Olympic team.

Collapsing due to severe dehydration 220 meters before the Mount Marathon finish line on July 4 in Seward didn't exactly help the Winter Olympic aspirations of 2002 Soldotna High School graduate Brent Knight.

An even more severe blow to Knight's chances came in mid-October, when the International Ski Federation announced a change in the criteria that determine how many cross-country skiers each country will be able to bring to the Vancouver Olympics, which start on Feb. 12.

The new quota, which was requested by the International Olympic Committee in an effort to limit the number of skiers at the Olympics, gave the United States just seven skiers. Knight said in years past the team has had about 16 skiers.

"Had we been a full-size team of 16 or 17, I would have had a chance at qualifying," Knight said. "Right now, there is not a lot of opportunity for anyone."

The final calculation of the quota system will be made on Jan. 28. Knight said he expects the United States to gain a few more spots. The full Olympic team will be announced on Jan. 29.

Knight's training was thrown off by his quest to win Mount Marathon. With the temperature at 70 degrees, Knight was leading the 3.5-mile race up and down the 3,022-foot peak overlooking Resurrection Bay until he collapsed.

Knight, 25, was taken to Providence Seward Hospital, where he received six liters of intravenous fluids before being released after four hours.

With only his family looking on, Knight left the hospital and went to cross the finish line. But the ravages of the day were not finished with him.

"There was a lot of dead tissue in my quads," Knight said. "It took a little while to clear that out. It was about a week before I could walk kind of normal. Anything more than that, and I'd get inflammation in my legs."

A little more than two weeks after the race, Knight started training that involved using only his upper body. He said it was not until the end of August that he got back to normal-intensity, full-body training.

Knight said he was cautious in ramping up his training due to the death of Kalgin Koch, a 22-year-old from Anchorage. On July 19, Koch collapsed and died near the finish line of the Knoya Ridge Hill Climb, which is near Fort Richardson.

Knight and Koch had worked together at Skinny Raven Sports in Anchorage.

"That definitely hit me hard, and hit everyone at the store hard," Knight said.

Knight had ended the ski-racing season of 2008-09 on a high note. At the U.S. Cross Country Ski Championships in Fairbanks at the end of March, he had finished fifth in a 10-kilometer classic and sixth in a 30-kilometer pursuit.

The collapse at Mount Marathon robbed him of that momentum.

"It took a lot of the base out of my legs," Knight said. "Without two months of training, I would assume it sucked a lot of the muscle memory out of those muscles.

"My body is still trying to come back and build an aerobic system."

Knight said his anaerobic system has been much quicker to recover. He said he has been sprinting better than ever. The weakness of his aerobic system has showed up in his distance results.

If Knight is to make the Olympics, he will have to excel at the U.S. Cross Country Ski Championships, which will be held in Anchorage from Jan. 2 to Jan. 8.

"There's still an outside chance," Knight said. "I'll give my body a rest and see what happens."

If Knight does not make the Olympics, he is not ready to give up on skiing. He said skiers do not peak until their late 20s or early 30s, which would put him in his prime for the next Olympics in four years.

Knight said he did some soul-searching this year to see if he still wanted to dedicate his life to skiing. He found that he still has enthusiasm for the sport.

That zest was on display on Saturday, when Knight gave a free ski clinic at Tsalteshi Trails in order to try and boost interest in the sport.

"Like any athlete, I have my ups and downs," Knight said. "I'm not quite ready to give up and go on with my life. I realize I'm actually living the dream.

"At this point, I'm extremely excited to be skiing, especially after having that kind of near-death experience."

Knight said the one issue with which he struggles is funding his training. Knight has a full-time job at Skinny Raven and said he enjoys helping the customers there reach their goals, whether the goal is losing a few pounds or becoming an elite athlete.

On the other hand, getting a sponsor and spending a few more hours per day training would be beneficial. Knight said the more time he is able to spend at the Alaska Pacific University Nordic Ski Center, the better he skis.

"I don't actively look for big sponsors, and I take pride in knowing I've gotten this far on my own buck," he said. "I may be getting to the point where if I really want to be my best, I may have to look for a monetary sponsor."

No such uncertainty exists when it comes to his future on Mount Marathon.

"I'm looking forward to the race," Knight said. "I definitely did some things to my body that I never hope to do again. I learned some things about racing in extreme heat that I'll never forget.

"At this point, I'm superexcited about it. I need a little redemption."

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