The Late Bloomer
The journey that took Holly Brooks from ski coach to two-time Olympic skier rivals any storybook.
Brooks became an elite athlete relatively late in life, coming from nowhere to make the 2010 Winter Olympics cross-country ski team at age 27 and becoming a key figure in what some dubbed the American Revolution — the rise of the U.S. women’s ski team on the international stage.
In November 2012, Brooks was part of a U.S. relay team that rocked the ski world by winning a World Cup bronze medal in Gallivare, Sweden. It was the first relay medal in history for the American women and the first for the United States in three decades.
Brooks, who was raised in Seattle, moved to Anchorage in 2004 with a bachelors degree in environmental science and a job as a ski coach at West High.
She had been a good but not great skier in high school and college, but she blossomed in Alaska, especially after she became a coach for Alaska Pacific University’s Nordic Ski Center.
In 2009, Brooks won her second straight Tour of Anchorage title and shocked many by winning the 50K at the national championships for her first U.S. title. At the time, she was still working as a coach.
By the next winter, Brooks had most of Anchorage cheering for her at the de facto Olympic trials at Kincaid Park, where she earned a spot on U.S. team for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. She was a popular coach who worked with skiers of all ages, and many of them lined the Kincaid race trails to ring cowbells and shout her name as she sped past.
Brooks, with seven Top 10 World Cup finishes, was a national-team member through the 2014 Olympics and then turned down a chance to remain on the U.S. Ski Team. She spent the next season traveling the world while skiing independently on the FIS Marathon Cup circuit, finishing third in the overall rankings.
Brooks, who also twice won both the American Birkebeiner 50K and Mount Marathon Race, retired from world-class ski racing after the 2015-16 season. She now runs a counseling, consulting and coaching business and gave birth to twins in 2017.
– Beth Bragg