As Adam Pickett prepared for the final stretch of the last 50 yards he started to gain on the only person in front of him.
He furiously pumped his arms, driving poles into the ground and thrusting them behind him to get any extra distance with each step.
For a single moment he thought he could overtake Laramie’s Liam McInroy. That train of thought ended as he saw the finish line approach.
“He is two years older than me so it was a little hard to put my mind right there,” Pickett said. “I thought I could get him but I couldn’t so maybe next race or tomorrow.”
Pickett finished second in Friday’s Nordic sprint at the Dan Jacobson Memorial Invitational on Casper Mountain, the same runner-up finish he earned at the state meet last year.
The Natrona sophomore led the charge for not only the Mustangs, but for Casper as a whole.
Both Kelly Walsh and Natrona practice together and the only times they are remotely separated over snow is when they peel on their suits for racing.
“We’re Casper Nordic,” Pickett said. “When we go to races we’re Casper Nordic and just wear different uniforms.”
Friday was a good day for Casper Nordic as Natrona and Kelly Walsh placed 12 in the top 30. The Mustangs placed five in the top 10 and the Trojans added another two in the top 30.
“More than any other team,” Pickett commented.
Leading the girls’ charge for Casper Nordic was Kelly Walsh’s Taylor Bright. She followed her eighth-place performance at state last year with a top-10 finish Friday.
With a good time to start the day, Bright stayed consistent and reached the finals with the confidence to win.
But after five races her body didn’t allow her to stay in front of the pack. Fidgeting with her face warmer afterwards, fatigue and a day’s worth of cold on the mountain had started to take it’s toll.
Ever defiant to the cold, she described her final race with passion and a wide smile.
“It’s the best feeling in the world,” Bright beamed. “Getting that heart rush when your lungs are frozen and everything’s frozen, but you’re just going and going.”
She took time after the final race to congratulate her teammates and hear where they finished. With every bit of information Bright grew more excited of where her fellow racers had placed.
Finally, the senior beamed with pride at the results.
“I’m so proud of my team,” she said. “We worked so hard with getting good at sprints and not just the uphills.
“There’s a quote by the U.S. women’s team coach that says: ‘A strong teammate means a strong team.’ So the more we work together, the more we push each other, that’s the way we’ll all get better.”
Katherine Gruner and Maddy Tinker were the top female finishers for Natrona.
The elements helped all competitors Friday, with still air and very little fresh snow on the ground. The trails were groomed to the racers’ delight despite some fresh powder off the trails.
“Overall there were good conditions today,” Pickett said. “Didn’t have any problems with that.”
More than course conditions, the temperature was a welcome relief from what the races had endured in previous meets.
“We’ve been racing in minus-12 degree weather all the races we’ve been to,” Pickett said. “So this is really warm.”
Pinedale and Jackson weren’t kind to the racers just before the Christmas break, but the first meet of 2017 in Lander was a different beast entirely.
“A couple of weeks ago in Lander it was a solid minus-15 and we were still racing,” Bright said with a thumbs-up.
Odds are they’ll still be racing at the season’s two final meets (in Cody and Laramie) before the state meet in Jackson.