On Thursday, March 5, Dryden eighth-grader Ben Wojcik (woe-check) will be making the trip to Holimont Ski Resort in Ellicottville for the U14 New York State Championships in skiing. It will be Wojcik’s second trip to states after he made it last year in his first year of eligibility for the U14 age group.
Wojcik finished in the top-20 last year but has much higher goals this time around in a field of 66 skiers. He discussed his experience at Whiteface Ski Resort in Wilmington last year, which he described as his favorite skiing memory.
“It was a little intimidating being there with all the best in the state,” Wojcik said. “But I did pretty good. This year, I’m ready to really compete for podium or top five.”
Wojcik, a member of the Greek Peak Ski Club, has been training under Mike Nadolski five days per week for the past two years to help him get to that podium-caliber skill level.
“[Nadolski] implemented the ‘go get it’ mentality,” Wojcik said. “He’s taken me from a top-10 skier to being able to win.”
This year in particular has been the one in which Wojcik has seen the biggest improvements.
“I’ve always felt like I’m able to do it and occasionally I’ve gotten first place runs,” Wojcik said. “This past year, though, I really started to excel and separate from the pack.”
Skiing has been in Wojcik’s blood for a long time, as it was a family hobby in which he gained interest.
“My dad grew up skiing,” Wojcik said, “Then, he got my mom into it. Then, we just started going as a family. He found out about the race program (New York State Ski Racing Association). It took off from there.”
His dad has remained close to Ben’s skiing journey, giving him a pep talk prior to every race, which Ben said “definitely helps with things.”
Of course, Dryden does not have a high school ski team. This means Wojcik is representing himself alone when he’s at the top of the mountain. He likes it that way.
“I honestly prefer it over team sports because it’s all you,” Wojcik said. “You’re not relying on anyone. At the same time, you don’t have anyone to hide behind. It’s just you - you and the score.”
Being alone on the mountain leads to many mental battles, especially because failure in skiing is essentially inevitable. That is a part of the game Wojcik is looking to improve.
“I’m starting to get the hang of [the mental side of skiing], but it’s definitely a huge struggle,” Wojcik said. “I feel that your mental game is almost more important than your physical game. You have to go out and mentally prepare to race down a steep, icy headwall on a course.”
U14 skiers receive two runs down the mountain to accumulate the best possible score. Wojcik described the experience of going up for a second run after falling on the first.
“That’s something I still sometimes struggle with,” he said. “You have in the back of your mind for the next run because you get two runs. Coming up for your second run, you have to try to overcome that and not think about it.”
But on the opposite side, winning is the highest of highs for Wojcik.
“It’s so amazing,” Wojcik said. “Knowing that out of the 50, 60 or 70 kids who showed up, that you’re the fastest is really cool.”
While his last race at Holimont wasn’t one of those wins, it was one that certainly prepared him for the state championships.
“This past weekend [at Holimont] was my best [from this season],” Wojcik said. “On the first day, Saturday, I fell. Then I was able to go out Sunday and finish second overall. That was big and was probably the most memorable.”
Wojcik will be competing in the slalom, giant slalom and super giant slalom events at the state championships and discussed his mindset and goals heading into it.
“I’m trying to work as hard as I can so I can go out and really try to get a nice finish,” Wojcik said. “I want to try to make the regional team that would compete against New Hampshire, Vermont, Pennsylvania.”
Beyond this year’s state championships, there is a clear path of progression for Wojcik’s skiing career.
“I haven’t really thought about [my future] much,” Wojcik said. “I’m going to try to ease into it because this is my last year as a U14, then I’ll move up to U16 and U19 and race with them. Towards the end of that, I’ll be looking into getting into a Division I ski racing school.”
For now, though, it’s Wojcik taking on 65 other U14 skiers from around New York seeking the title of state champion. The four-day event starts on Thursday, March 5.
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