Miriam U pulled her car over at the top of the hill.

She was too nervous to go any farther. Eventually U did continue on and she’s glad that she did.

“I knew it was going to be a good day when I saw the rubber chickens,” U said.

Just like U, Sunday was Sahra Hassan’s first time on Nordic skis. “I have been wanting to try this for so long,” Hassan said.

Hassan and U were introduced to cross-country skiing Sunday through Outdoor Afro, a volunteer-led group that connects Black people with outdoor activities.

The group has hiked Mount Agamenticus in York and paddled through the Scarborough Marsh in canoes. When volunteer leader Samaa Abdurraqib was looking for more opportunities to enjoy during the winter, Adilah Muhammad knew exactly where to look.

Muhammad of Lewiston was familiar with the rubber chickens. Her children had taken ski lessons through the YMCA based Lewiston-Auburn Bill Koch League and the toy chickens were often used during game-based lessons.

Muhammad knew the barn that housed rubber chickens also had skis. Lots of skis.

“We get so much enjoyment by seeing people use them,” Whitney Condit said about the barn full of used Nordic skis she has collected over the years to loan to those who don’t have them.

Fifteen people used them Sunday.

“These are so tiny. So much more slippery,” Hassan said as she skied across a former apple orchard in Auburn.

Kaden Tolbert, 9, of Portland focuses on getting down a hill Sunday while skiing with Outdoor Afro in Auburn. “I never skied before and I thought it was really fun,” Tolbert said. Adilah Muhammad of Lewiston is at left while Whitney Condit of Auburn, right, helps teach Tolbert how to ski. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Olivia Orr of Portland has her own skis, but hardly any Black friends to share her experience with.

“Nordic is that community that you want to be part of,” said Orr, a volunteer coach with Outdoor Afro. “The kids are great and the parents are always happy to help out. Overall Nordic is such a special community, but it’s a homogenous community.”

Orr said the lack of Black people on skis can be attributed to a number of reasons, but one stands out to her the most. “Yes, equipment is a definitely a barrier, but the No. 1 thing is realizing that it’s a problem.”

She mentioned to the families involved in Outdoor Afro that ski clubs within Maine teach kids how to ski. The parents had no idea and Orr blames no one other than herself.

“That’s our bad,” said Orr, a coach for middle school age skiers. “To not reach out to people that are not in our tight community of Nordic is not OK,” she said.

Orr was introduced to skiing when she was 7 years old in Michigan. Her family took lessons Saturday mornings. “I wanted to get involved because my family got involved,” she said. “My dad and I stuck with it and I skied right up through high school.”

Orr was the only Black person on her high school team.

Sunday was the second time Outdoor Afro has come to the Auburn Nordic Ski Association ski trails in Auburn. One more session is planned, but Abdurraqib said the first two trips have gone so well that the group will be back a few more times.

“I never skied before and I thought it was really fun,” Kaden Tolbert, 9, of Portland said.

“I have a minor butt bruise, but I sure did laugh a lot,” Hassan, 26, said.

“I was glad to have a ski buddy,” U said. “We were busy laughing and having fun. This snow life is just magical,” she said.

Orr said getting more Black youth involved in cross-country skiing is key to having more diverse skiing circles. “I like putting myself out there,” she said. “If there is a kid out there that wants to ski because there is someone out there that looks like him, I’m all for it.”

“For Nordic to look like I would like it to look is going to take years,” Orr said. “It’s a long road but the opportunities need to be available weather people take advantage of them or not.”

“That’s why Outdoor Afro is so important,” Orr said.

“We are Black and we also belong in the outdoors.”


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