Sorenson sees Lumberjacks skiers shine

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Cloquet’s Anja Maijala said her sixth place finish at last Thursday’s State Nordic Ski Meet was the “race of my life.”

But the sophomore skier could only smile when seeing her Cloquet-Esko-Carlton Nordic ski coach, Glen Sorenson, who, after prostate cancer surgery, is winning the real race of his life.

Sorenson saw Maijala mark her best-ever finish on a bitterly cold day last week at Giants Ridge in Biwabik, as the 62-year-old was far from sluggish on the ski course’s sidelines, but rather his normal self — upbeat and passionate.

“He was everywhere out on the course,” said Maijala, who finished the 10.5-kilometer freestyle and classic pursuit in 35 minutes, 45.1 seconds — only about a minute-and-a-half off the title pace. “It’s crazy to think just a week ago he was in the hospital and then Thursday he was chucking along on the course. It’s great to see him doing better. He’s given us a reason to ski. It definitely brought a smile to my face.”

Sorenson was one of the first faces Maijala saw once crossing the finish line, as the two shared an emotional hug on a day Sorenson wished to witness after his surgery on Jan. 12.

“I just really wanted to get there,” said Sorenson, who rode along with Carlton sophomore Erika Fox’s father, Bob Fox. “I got to go out and watch them skate. It was a treat.”

Sorenson said he watched the first portion of the race comfortably, before tiring as the day went along. He said during the pursuit, he got out “about a half-kilometer at the most,” but was still able to watch Maijala and Erika Fox — who placed 14th at 36:12.8 — finish with personal-bests.

The best part of this story is that Sorenson’s health is improving, but the veteran coach was quick to credit all of the help he’s had. Assistant coach Ben Croft and volunteer coach Brent Smith — named Section 7 “Coaches of the Year” along with Sorenson — helped steer the program in his absence, as the three stayed in contact often.

“We’ve known each other for 20-30 years,” Croft said of their coaching friendship. “We all came together. Hopefully we can have a girls and a boys team [at State] next year.”

But for now, for a coach they painted their face for, sent pictures to and always thought about when gone, the Lumberjacks’ skiers are just happy Sorenson is back around.

“He was always so positive about it all,” Maijala said. “We were keeping him in our thoughts and he was keeping us in his. I think that helped him through his cancer journey.”

Fox, who like Maijala, had the race of her life and hugged Sorenson afterward, said seeing him while skiing was a motivator.

“I knew he was out there somewhere,” Fox said. “I just knew if he could be there, all of us skiers could push harder.”