Nordic skier Spika helps Whitman claim stake in national competitions

Brennan Jorgensen

by Brennan Jorgensen
staff writer
Competing at a Div. I level, sophomore Nordic skier Devon Spika leads the pack with skill, enthusiasm and experience. Spika carved her mark early last year by placing in the top-10 four times and attending the NCAA National Championships. She is already off to an impressive start this racing season.

At the season opener in Salt Lake City, Utah on Jan. 12, Spika placed 12 in the women’s freestyle, setting the bar high for the rest of her races. A week later at the University of Colorado Invitational she placed 13 in the freestyle and 15 in the classic.

Nordic skiing is only competitive at a Div. I level and in the Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association (RMISA), Whitman is the only Div. III school to compete.

The universities of Utah, Colorado, Nevada, Denver and New Mexico, the top teams in the NCAA Div. I ski program, tend to dominate the races. With the addition of Spika to the team, however, Whitman is beginning to claim a stake in Nordic skiing success.

Div. I schools provide scholarships for top athletes and often have much older and more experienced racers. At Whitman, the women’s team is composed of first-years and sophomore students, not provided with any monetary gain.

“To place as high as she does in our region is remarkable. Devon certainly has an inner drive for success,” said Coach Calisa Schouweiler.

Raised in Ottawa, Canada, Spika began alpine skiing at an early age.

“I learned to ski when I learned to walk,” said Spika.

At 7, however, she decided to try out Nordic skiing and found it much more to her liking. At age 11 she joined a junior racing program that had members all the way up to seniors in high school, providing Spika with a number of talented role models. With over 200 kilometers of

Nordic trails within close distance from her home, Spika spent a lot of time on the snow.
When she was in high school her family moved to Denmark, where she attended Copenhagen International School for three years.

“Before going over [to Denmark] I decided I was going to be serious about training and focus, but it was hard there because there weren’t very many skiers,” said Spika.

Predominately lower than sea level, Denmark does not get much snow. So Spika traveled north to compete in Norwegian and Swedish Cup races.

“I saw that I really wasn’t all that good and had to improve a lot. I came [in] last for the first time which was a big turning point for me,” said Spika.

It was at these cup races that Spika really became excited for skiing. After graduating from high school in Denmark she spent a year at a Norwegian sports school where she studied sports medicine and trained nine hours a week.

At Whitman the Nordic team trains four days a week at Tollgate, about an hour drive from Walla Walla. That means two hours of drive time for an hour and a half of skiing.

“All of us on the ski team are aware of the difficulties of training in Walla Walla and the fact
that we’re pretty far away from snow,” said sophomore Adele Mery. “You really do have to be pretty independently motivated.”

Spika not only leads in technique and in performance, but she also has the motivation and excitement to succeed. Pre-race dance parties and pump-up music sing-alongs are a few things many of her teammates and coach have complimented her on.

“In the end I know all the athletes look up to Devon.    It is great to have someone placing as high as she does, as she paces the other women along.   In the end, this  helps our team in placing higher as well,” said Coach Schouweiler.