U.S. Alpine Championships: Win makes McJames celebrate her independence

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CARRABASSETT VALLEY — For some skiers, Monday was a terror. But for Megan McJames, it ended up being one of those days that make everything worthwhile.

“There’s definitely days when I think, ‘I’m crazy, why the heck am I doing this?’” McJames said. “But then you have a really fast run like I just had, and you fall in love with the whole sport again. And it motivates you for the work that comes with it.”

McJames claimed the women’s giant slalom title at the U.S. Alpine Championships at Sugarloaf. Monday’s performance was the crown jewel of three top-5s in three days for McJames. She also tied for second in the super-G on Saturday and placed fifth in Sunday’s slalom.

That’s three top-5s for what McJames smilingly referred to as “Team Megan” on Monday.

McJames said after Monday’s win that she likes being the underdog, and even though she’s a past Olympian, she’s been in a permanent underdog role for the past four seasons as an independent racer.

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That means the 29-year-old from Park City, Utah, doesn’t have the backing of the U.S. Ski Team, which means she has to find her own funding for equipment and travel.

“There’s good and bad,” McJames said. “The positives are I can make my own program and do what I need to do as an athlete. The hard part is funding and driving your own rental car all over Europe alone, tuning your own skis, that kind of thing.”

McJames is quick to point out that she isn’t alone in her journey.

“I don’t have the national team, but I do have really supportive people behind me,” McJames said.

That includes, among others, her family and boyfriend Cody Marshall, a retired World Cup skier from Vermont who helps her with coaching.

“It’s not necessarily about the time or anything, but you make those turns and then you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s why I do this and that’s why I love this.’ It’s like, I don’t know, it’s an addicting feeling,” McJames said.

“I really believe in my skiing and I’m proud of it,” she adds, “and so I’m still going.”

Scary conditions

Lila Lapanja stopped talking for a moment and looked back with some concern at the finish line when Paula Moltzan stumbled near the bottom of the course.

“Sorry, that was my old teammate,” Lapanja said.

The course was icy Monday, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the visibility was low, especially at the start.

“You can’t see anything,” Carrabassett Valley Academy’s Sam Conzelman said.

Only 36 of the 66 skiers who entered in the women’s giant slalom finished their first runs. Some skiers suffered injuries and had to be helped off the mountain by medical personnel.

Some experienced racers didn’t even attempt their second runs. Lapanja, a U.S. Ski Team member from Nevada, decided to go for it.

“I was really nervous at the start,” she said. “Our coaches said twice that we could pull out of the race because of all the holds. I said, ‘No, I’m a competitor. I want to ski. I’m going to race and give it my best, even if I’m scared.’ I made some mistakes, but I liked my attitude.”

Scared?

“Oh, hell yeah. I think we all are. The ones who won’t admit it are lying to you,” Lapanja said.

Lapanja’s second run was the sixth fastest and she placed eighth overall.

Conzelman skied the 19th fastest second run (her first ranked 32nd) and finished 20th. She, too, didn’t give much thought to not taking her second run.

“Absolutely not. There’s only one time that I’ve not taken my second run,” Conzelman said. “That’s because I was throwing up.”

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