MARQUETTE - When you begin to think of what it might take to participate in the 25K or 50K Noquemanon Cross-country Ski Marathon the first thing that comes to mind is preparation - year-round preparation.
Your thoughts might also turn to the physical endurance and the mental toughness required for the race.
Now imagine instead of a year you only have five months to prepare. In addition, you've only cross-country skied once before as a child and once as an adult.
Jill Simms cross-country skis at Blueberry Ridge ski trail in preparation for the upcoming Noquemanon Ski Marathon, where she is competing in the 15K portion of the event. (Journal photo by Nelson-Zaleski)
This is the situation Sands Township resident Jill Simms faces.
"I have always downhill skied and I have to say that cross-country skiing doesn't compare," she said.
With only 15 days left to train and become more comfortable with skiing, Simms has been getting out as much as possible.
Simms is a local attorney with a busy schedule, but she still makes a point to get out for at least an hour a day.
Before the snow fell late in November, her preparation began with mostly on-land training in August.
She began training with the Masters Nordic crew under Northern Michigan University's nordic ski team coach Sten Fjeldheim.
"I don't like running. I never have and never will," Simms said.
And training with this group over the summer and fall months involved a lot of running. The group also did a lot of work on stride technique.
"We would run up and down Marquette Mountain using a special technique called 'moose hooves,' where you kind of push the hip of your leading foot in a way that mimics the push you do when skiing," she said.
All this started back in August, after she decided change her lifestyle and become more fit.
Back then, Simms said she was talking with her co-worker Brian Bloch about her choice to increase her fitness level and he told her that she should do the 15K Noquemanon.
"I told him if he got everything arranged I would do it," she said. "That is when all this began."
She's lost more than 60 pounds since her training began.
"This experience has completely changed my life," she said.
In the beginning, there were a lot of falls - there still are-but she is confident in herself to succeed.
As race day approaches, her excitement is beginning to intensify.
Simms said she's excited about the night before the race, anticipating the pasta feed at the Superior Dome and being around all the excitement and positive energy of the other competitors.
"I am really looking forward to crossing the finish line," she said.
But crossing the line will not end her training. Simms plans to train through the rest of the year and hopes to take on the full 50K next year.
Over all this journey has been a great experience for Simms. She hopes that her accomplishments will inspire others. She wants to prove - not only to herself but to others - that anything can be acquired through hard work and a positive attitude.
Andy Nelson-Zaleski can be reached at 906-228-2500 ext. 256. His e-mail address is email@example.com.