Esko freshman qualifies for USSA Junior Championships
Paige Tranah's young alpine skiing career is taking off. Using her blazing speed on the snow-packed hills in Marquette, Mich., the 14-year-old Esko freshman qualified for the Junior Olympics Central Division Alpine Ski Team this past weekend.
Competing against racers from nearly half a dozen regional states as well as Canada, Tranah was one of just 20 members named to the elite squad. Following the three-day qualifying event, Tranah waited anxiously until she heard her named called over the loud speaker.
"It was nerve-racking," said Tranah. "The competition was tough and there were a lot of good skiers out there. But my goal was to make it to JOs, and I did."
Tranah and her mother, Lisa, will drive to Aspen, Colo., Thursday for next week's United States Ski and Snowboard Association's Junior Championships March
It's a long haul, but that's perfectly fine for the Tranah family.
"We all love skiing," said Lisa about their family of four. "We're busy, but we try to get out and ski as much as we can together and really be supportive of Paige."
Behind the nonstop encouragement, Paige's talents on the slope have blossomed. She began skiing with her father, Curt, around the age of 3. But it wasn't until seventh grade that she got into competitive racing, and was introduced to the Duluth/Superior Alpine Ski Club.
That same year, she also met her personal trainer, John
Luomala, a former Duluth/Superior Alpine Ski Club coach, watched Tranah ski once and knew she was something special. Soon, the two would be practicing together a couple days a week. Shortly after, Luomala introduced her to the club.
"She's sweetness on skis," said Luomala. "I could tell right away that she was something different. She would come in, strap her skis on and go out and ski. Not many kids do that these days.
"I soon introduced her to the club, which is one of the best programs in the country," continued Luomala, who's been around skiing for more than 50 years. "They have professional and certified coaches. I used to be one. I thought Paige would fit in, so I recommended her for it."
Still, Luomala stayed in the picture. This past fall, at Luomala's countryside home in Esko, he coached while Tranah worked. With her drive to improve, Tranah put in 10 weeks of dry-land training. Over the winter, she's racked up more than 180 hours on the snow. That's not including her additional time as one of Cloquet-Esko-Carlton's top skiers during the season.
"We only practiced a couple nights a week for the school season," said Tranah, who even trained out in Winter Park, Colo., this past year. "But I ski probably four or five nights a week for about four hours a night up at Spirit Mountain. And I race every weekend."
With Paige not able to drive yet, Tranah's parents also put in the hours as well as the miles. They've also racked up the bills, too.
"It's ridiculous," laughed Curt. "Paige is always breaking something - skis, poles, helmets, hand guards, everything. But that's OK, because she loves it."
"As long as she doesn't break any bones," laughed Lisa. "But really, we do our best. On our part, it's a huge commitment and there's a big level of sacrifice that goes into it. It's hard to put into words, though, how proud we are of Paige."
Paige couldn't be more thankful for the constant support, both from her family and trainer, Luomala. To Tranah, he's not just a mastermind, but someone special.
"He's my mentor and really my foundation," said Tranah. "He taught me everything I know about skiing. He introduced me to Duluth and took me under his wing."
And though Luomala won't be in Aspen next week, he knows Tranah will enjoy herself.
"I've coached a lot of kids because I just like it, and Paige is very easy to coach," he said. "She's tall, fast and an intelligent skier.
"It's a whole different world out there," he continued. "It's warmer, the snow is softer and they'll be going down some big mountains. But Paige's ability is finally catching up to her desire to ski. She deserves this."