Double the work and fun

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

Jacqui Black

Jacqui Black faced a tough decision.

She really likes to ski and race. She started skiing at the age of three, and raced competitively for 12 years.

“I’ve always done it for fun. I raced when I was younger, but then I took a little break,” the Lake Region High School senior said. “It’s a no pressure sport for me. It’s one of the few that I do that I don’t feel any pressure because I just enjoy it. I just go out there and have fun with it. I don’t worry if I mess up. It’s what I do for fun.”

Yet, Jacqui also likes to run and compete in the indoor track circuit. She thrives on trying to be one of the top distance runners in Class B. Next year when she attends the University of Southern Maine, Jacqui plans to join the Huskies track team.

“I was stuck because I really wanted to do both sports,” she said. “I have friends on both teams. Both sports have certain aspects that I really like, which made it hard for me to pick just one.”

Rather than choose one, she participated in both.

The idea of being a dual-sport athlete had crossed Jacqui’s mind before. Coach Dan Dors thought she would be an outstanding cross-country runner, but Jacqui was also a starter on the LR varsity soccer team.

“Soccer is demanding. Actually, both require a lot of work, and it would have been too much for me,” she said.

Jacqui stayed with soccer, but when winter arrived, she decided to juggle two varsity sports — just as she did as a junior.

“I was a little worried whether it might be too much,” she said. “But, it worked out pretty well.”

Jacqui had a “memorable” winter, capturing a medal at the State Class B Indoor Track Championships with a seventh place finish in the mile in 5:49.23. She admittedly ran her finest race in the conference finals, placing second in what Coach Mark Snow called the “gutsiest run” he has seen in his high school coaching career.

Meanwhile, Jacqui placed eighth in the conference ski championships, and despite an early wake-up call the next day following the track finals and a lengthy road trip to Presque Isle, she earned ninth place in the state giant slalom.

To excel on two fronts required dedication, determination, a willingness to sacrifice and plenty of support.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better season,” she said. “Both teams were very supportive of my decision to do both sports. I got along well with both teams. That’s why it was so hard to pick one. I loved both groups of kids. They’re great.”

Before Jacqui could compete, she needed approval from her parents and her two coaches.

Obviously, her parents were most concerned whether their daughter could maintain good grades while trying to keep up with the demands of two sports.

“Our concerns were Jacqui staying healthy and injury free and keeping her grades up. During her first two years of high school, she had asked to do two sports in the winter, and we thought it would be too much. In her junior year, we gave her the okay to do it provided her grades stayed good,” said Jacqui’s dad, Chuck, who coaches middle school skiing and travel soccer teams. “It worked out really well for her. It kept her focused on goals, but not without burning some midnight oil. It was demanding on some nights, being up late doing homework and making sure she had everything she needed for the next day done.”

With the blessing from her parents, Jacqui then sought approval from Track Coach Mark Snow and Alpine Ski Coach Jaime Fontaine. Both agreed.

“Jacqui was able to compete at a high level in skiing and indoor track and field due to her determination to do so, our flexible practice schedule and the individual aspect of the two sports,” Coach Snow said. “Indoor track and field and skiing are not team sports. Interaction and practicing with your teammates, although preferred, is not essential. We had two 6 a.m. practices per week. Jacqui usually attended these practices rather than the 3 p.m. practices. This allowed her to attend skiing.”

Rolling out of bed after a late night of studying and completing assigned homework was challenging, at times.

“There were days that I felt I needed extra sleep. I re-injured my calf during the track season, probably because I wasn’t giving them enough rest because of the two sports. It wasn’t too bad. It just nagged me,” she said, “Going to morning practice, then being in school all day, and then skiing, I wouldn’t get home until 6:30 or 7. Some days, I’d really wondered about getting up so early, but it worked out because I had to pick up a team member, so it motivated me. We had 10 or so at practice. Some were there because they had to work in the afternoon.”

Jacqui says her family’s support and her ability to manage both schoolwork and sports were keys to her success.

“My family was definitely supportive. They kept reminding me the importance of managing my schoolwork. They were at every track meet and ski meet. My dad would wax my skis the night before and be sure they were ready to go. They were hesitant at first. I had double study halls this year, which helped,” she said. “Whenever I got home from practice, I made sure I got my work done. I didn’t have much of a social life as I normally have. I didn’t get a chance to do some ‘free skiing.’ What free time you have is homework time.”

Jacqui’s “drive” made her the top Laker alpiner.

“That drive, with her natural ability for skiing, made her my top female racer,” Coach Fontaine said. “Jacqui always strived to do her best. When she was with us, she always gave 100%. Being a runner gave Jacqui the endurance needed for ski racing.”

Splitting time between two squads did, however, have some drawbacks. There was no possible way Jacqui could match the time teammates, and ultimately competitors, were logging on perfecting their skills.

“It did cross my mind that maybe if I had just stuck with track that I could have had a stronger season,” Jacqui said. “But, I still was happy with my decision because I had a lot of fun doing both sports.”

Jacqui’s talents were obvious — be it her smooth yet aggressive attack of a slalom course or her graceful stride and look of determination while cruising along the track. Yet, it was her attitude and willingness to take on challenges that impressed her coaches and lifted the spirit of her teams.

“Jacqui was always willing to do any event. She loved to compete,” Coach Snow said. “We challenged our team to do many events, to try them out. Jacqui believed it was important for her to show that it doesn’t matter who you are — we all should try new events and have fun.”

So rather than focus on the mile and two mile, Jacqui also ran the hurdles and took on the long and triple jumps. Last year, she even competed in the shot put — once.

“Another coach was surprised why a top distance runner would do that,” Coach Snow said.

That’s just Jacqui, up for a challenge.

“Jacqui is a dedicated athlete. She always pushes herself to always better her skills,” Coach Fontaine said. “As a person, she has a great sense of humor and is always willing to help others.”

Coach Snow concurred.

“Jacqui is a sweet kid that everyone likes to be with and have as a teammate,” he said. “However, if you’re an opponent and she wants to beat you, then look out! I know these qualities will help her succeed at USM over the next four years. It will be fun to watch how she does at the next level.”

Jacqui made a huge impression on Coach Snow at the league meet, where she improved her personal best inn the mile by “nine or so seconds.”

“Based on her weekly workouts, I did not think that time (5:45) was possible, but she proved me wrong,” Coach Snow said. “She was determined to finish second (to All-New England runner Kristen Sandreuter of Greely) and did just that. She dictated the pace of the main pack and left all others behind. A strength of Jacqui is she is a fierce competitor; definitely one of the toughest I’ve seen in my 15 years as a coach.”

Jacqui’s goal was to catch certain girls and beat them. She looked at the seed times and figured out which competitors she could overtake.

“I felt I could beat everyone but one girl (Sandreuter). I had to let her go, and catch the Number 2 girl, which I did,” she said. “It was probably the best race of my career here. A typical distance race you want to run is to hang around a good pacer and then in the middle of the race, you want to take off. The last three laps, when everyone was tired, I pushed hard and pulled away. It was good strategy.”

Her top finish punched Jacqui’s ticket to compete in the State Finals at Bates College. While Jacqui looked forward to competing, she also knew the event was the first in what would be a whirlwind of sports activity over the next week or two.

On a Monday, she was in Lewiston for the state track finals. After capturing a seventh place medal, Jacqui headed back home. Then, she was up at 2 a.m. the next morning to head to Mars Hill for the state ski meet at Big Rock Ski Area. Fortunately, she slept as her dad drove. She was on the hill at 7 a.m. for the course inspection.

After a strong showing, she returned home. Again, Jacqui had an early wake-up call as her family headed to Boston for a flight to Colorado for a vacation and a chance to visit her brother, Jared.

Jacqui’s vacation was shortened because she qualified for the New England Indoor Track Championships at the Reggie Lewis Center in Boston on Friday, March 2 and the alpine Shoot-Out at Black Mountain in Rumford on Saturday, March 3.

While some athletes may have decided to skip one or both events, especially after a very taxing season as a dual sport competitor, Jacqui’s preseason goal was to reach each sport’s top event. She never second-guessed about accepting an invitation to both events.

“I had come close to qualifying for each before, but just missed out,” she said. “I had a crazy couple of weeks, but it was certainly worth it.”

Her parents — Chuck and Kathy — made arrangements for Jacqui to return two days before the family so she could compete.

“She came back in a snowstorm and arrived in Naples at 10 p.m. Thursday night, March 1 and met up with Coach Snow on Friday morning for a 4:30 p.m. meet in Boston. She placed 22nd in the mile,” Chuck said. “She got home at midnight, and was up at Black Mountain for 7 a.m. on Saturday for the course inspection. Jacqui did this all on her own with the help of some friends. We had been in constant contact with Coach Snow just inn case the weather was an issue.”

While a 22nd finish was somewhat disappointing, Jacqui found the New England Track Championships something she will always remember.

“I didn’t run was well as I would have liked at New Englands, probably because of all the travel,” she said. “It was probably one of the coolest things I had ever been to. Everything was amazing. The amount of talent there was incredible. I definitely know that I will need to focus on track when I go to college, and train a lot harder.”

There is no doubt in her dad’s mind that whatever Jacqui sets out to do, she will be successful.

“Jacqui is hardest on herself and always is working to better her performances. Jacqui is the most determined athlete we have ever met. She sets goals for herself in everything she does and works extremely hard to achieve them,” Chuck said. “As a student, she works very hard to maintain good grades; she is a leader and a role model, both in school and athletically. She is very active within the school and community. She teaches skiing and snowboarding at Shawnee Peak on Sundays. We are very proud of the young woman she has become; not to mention we are her #1 fans.”

So, what is her favorite — skiing or track? Surprisingly, no one asked Jacqui that question this winter. And if they did, she probably would say, “I really can’t decide.” If push came to shove to make a decision between the two, track would have prevailed.

Luckily for Jacqui, she had the chance to enjoy the best of both sports world this winter — and she certainly shined.

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