Jana Hlavaty, former Olympian now in charge of the Keystone Nordic Center, has an exciting story to tell. She came to the United States for love and her talent for cross country skiing took her all the way to the Olympics. Originally from Czech Republic, Jana Hvalaty said she considers Summit County her home because she has lived there longer than anywhere else. She loves helping those involved in the sport reach their goals as she currently teaches at Keystone Nordic.
What brought you to the US from Czechoslovakia?
“Actually, love. I fell and love and got married here and things were wonderful. We both were skiers too.”
How did you get into Nordic skiing?
“I had a good professor in college who was an avid cross country skier. The interesting thing is I ski like he skis. It’s so important for children to have a good example. He didn’t teach me in words- I skied where he skied and he would say ‘ok follow me’ and just took off and that is how I learned.”
How did you go from Nordic skiing as a hobby to qualifying for the Olympics?
“It started as a hobby and I just became good at it and started skiing for the Czechoslovakian team. When I moved to the United States, I just had to start skiing because I didn’t speak any English and that was the only think I was very confident I could do.”
How do you prepare for the Olympics?
“It’s not just what do you do, It’s a lifestyle. You have to adjust your habits- eat right, sleep enough, train in the morning and afternoon. There isn’t a whole lot you can do outside of focusing on your goal. You have to be completely submerged in becoming a better skier.”
So you have to sleep, eat, and breathe it?
Jana jokes, “Not just breathe but breathe heavily.” Jana has a master’s degree in physiology and physical education so she is naturally good at exercise puns!
What was it like competing in the Olympics?
“It was an incredible feeling. I was a new US citizen and I was a little girl who was unknown and spoke with a heavy accent and I was about to represent the United States. It’s a feeling that no one can ever duplicate in my life.”
What advice would you give to the younger population who dreams of the podium?
“I don’t want to say that everyone can make it because you have to have a strong will, support of your family, and as I said you need to dedicate your life to it and be very disciplined. You have to train with weights, on the bike, hike, roller skis. Nordic skiers are well-trained athletes. When I am teaching kids Nordic skiing, I am teaching them more than skiing, I am teaching them to be tough. And that when they fall they can’t just start whining. In fact, that’s one of my philosophies, ‘no whining.’ They just have to get up and try again until they get it.”
What do you think keeps folks from trying Nordic skiing?
“Some people are hesitant because they see these athletes dashing through the finish line and there are people that are helping them get on their feet afterwards because they are so exhausted. You don’t have to do that. You can make it work in a park, you can race, you can go fast or slow- make it about you. People that regularly come to Keystone Nordic Center are anywhere from 5-92 years old and maybe older! There is a lady who comes every year to my resort and she is 92. She comes with a thermos of tea and she just goes.”
What advice do you have for beginners to the sport?
“When you go out there, anything counts. Even if you just go out and shuffle and work on your balance. By the way balance is something people are losing very early in their life, in their 60’s and 70’s. It’s a good sport to keep your balance. Also, don't be afraid to take a lesson- then you at least know what you are supposed to do even if you don’t do it. Downhill skiing is not going to help you a lot with Nordic. It will help a little but it is different. Gear is also important. I am always cold. One thing I love about thing about XC skiing is that once you get going out the door, you will be warm with the right wool gloves and wool socks.”