Not many people outside of the ski-racing circle know the name, but Sarah Fischer resembles a skier waiting at the starting gates -- ready to burst out onto the spotlight.
Fischer, one of the most decorated Juneau skiers since Olympic silver medalist Hilary Lindh, will be in Chile next week training at a developmental camp run by the U.S. Ski Team.
"It's a basically a camp for up-and-coming kids that have a good chance of making the U.S. Ski Team," Fischer said while packing for her trip earlier this week. "Chile has several dedicated (ski) courses where we can train on for a couple of days. You'd never get a chance to have a course all to yourself like that in the U.S."
Fischer, 20, was selected for this exclusive camp after her impressive showings at several top-level competitions last winter, including an eighth-place finish in the downhill combined event at the 2001 U.S. National Alpine Championships.
Over the years, Fischer has done well in skiing's four individual events -- the speed events of downhill and super giant slalom (super-G), as well as in the gate events of slalom and giant slalom. The downhill combined is skiing's fifth major event and is designed to show off a skier's versatility by including both downhill and slalom runs.
Fischer credits her parents for her alpine successes.
"My parents got me started when I was 2 years old at Eaglecrest," Fischer said. "Of course I was too young then, but they said that I just took off (downhill). So basically I've been skiing ever since I can remember."
Starting out as a Mitey Mite in the Juneau Ski Club -- the racing program for youngsters ages 6-12 -- Fischer zipped through the different levels of competition in Juneau. She capped off her Juneau racing career by becoming the overall winner at the 1996-97 Eaglecrest Cup.
After exhausting the Juneau courses, Fischer had a decision to make -- either continue to compete locally and eventually enjoy a solid college skiing career, or take the plunge by going to a special boarding school for gifted skiers at the tender age of 15.
Fischer decided to attend prestigious Rowmark Ski Academy in Salt Lake City, the same school that launched Hilary Lindh's illustrious rise into alpine sainthood.
"Living in a new city, a new school, no friends and the competition, which was quite a bit more challenging, took its toll," said Fischer's father, Scott. "She had to mature early. It was not easy at first -- she was homesick a lot. But she made it through and matured a lot because of it."
Fischer graduated from Rowmark in 2000.
Her accomplishments as a member of Rowmark Ski Academy earned Fischer an acceptance letter from one of the top collegiate ski programs in the nation -- the University of Colorado Boulder. However, Fischer decided to defer her enrollment and raced as a member of the Park City Ski Team this past winter. While skiing for the Park City team, Fischer skied in several Nor Am events, which are key stepping stones for North American athletes preparing for World Cup and Olympic competition.
"This year went pretty well," Fischer said. "I went to several Nor Am races and those were some of the biggest races I've been to. There was a lot of new stuff this year and so I am just starting to get over the excitement of racing with all these world-class skiers. At the end of the season I could really see how much I have progressed."
But she's not done yet.
"My goal is to make the U.S. Ski Team, that's always been pretty much my goal," said Fischer, whose next major race will be at Lake Louise, Alberta, in January 2002. "This next race will determine where I'll be. The coaches will see it. They really want to see that I've been working hard. Visualize skiing during the off-season, push myself further than I ever have."
Having the time to concentrating solely on skiing this year, Fischer said, "I kind of realized that if you want to be the best there is, you have to try harder than everyone else. I have to look at how hard my top competitor is working and I have to work harder than her."
"Through the year, Sarah's been very focused and this summer we saw a level of intensity we've never seen before," Scott Fischer said. "One very intense drill that she does is plyometrics, which consists of jumping high off the ground repeatedly until your muscles quit -- and in some ways, it was kind of scary for a parent to see."
Sarah Fischer said the discipline needed to be an elite athlete is tough.
"You have to give up a lot. You have to eat right, go to bed early, workout and always think that this is fun, I am having fun -- you have to do that. And that's what I did," she said.
"This is kind of my last chance because for girls they usually go to college or give it up at my age," said Fischer, who is looking at her trip to Chile as a way to jump-start this pivotal upcoming season.
With a faint smile that hinted at poised confidence, Fischer added, "It is worth it. If there is some improvement, it'll be worth it."
Wayne Xia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.