Keely Cashman has been riding high for the last two seasons. In her mind, her standout achievement at this stage is consistency.
The 21-year-old Squaw Valley racer joins an elite group of athletes that includes Mikaela Shiffrin, Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso as Ski Racing Media’s Junior of the Year, which was first awarded in 1975. (The 2020 men’s winner will be announced later this week.)
Last season, Cashman doubled down on her success from 2019 (when she earned the national giant slalom title) in becoming the 2020 NorAm downhill and overall champion. She also notched her first major piece of hardware – a bronze medal in the Junior World Championship alpine combined event in Narvik, Norway – just before the season came to an abrupt close due to COVID-19.
“I would have to say that was the highlight,” Cashman says of her World Juniors bronze performance. “I really wanted to medal in something, so that was exciting. I was nervous between runs in the combined. I have a tendency to get in my head a lot. I either ski nervous or just send it. If I ski nervous, I know it’s not going to be fast. I just had to send it.”
The Californian has modified her race day self-talk in accordance with the reality that each race is not the be-all, end-all of her career.
“It’s been a long time coming. I’ve tried to do it so many times in the past and hadn’t been able to just look at everything like, there’s going to be another race. I started telling myself it doesn’t matter that much, you might as well send it. I’d rather blow out skiing fast than cross the finish line going super slow. I was also able to start having fun,” she says.
Cashman’s cerebral adjustment is paying off not only in competition but in academic pursuits. This summer she started taking online classes at the University of Utah and — depending on what the 2020-21 competition schedule entails with pandemic protocols in place — will compete on both the college and World Cup race circuits.
“I started thinking about it at the beginning of last season. I had a lot of free time and started thinking about what I was doing with my life and realizing there was a lot more to life after skiing. I wanted to prepare for that,” she says. “Once we all got sent home this season, I was like, I need to do something. It’s been a while since I’ve done school … I finished high school a little early. I felt I wasn’t learning anything. I wasn’t progressing as a person. I started taking summer classes right away – Communications and Human Evolution. I liked them a lot. I’m still with the [U.S.] Ski Team, doing all the prep camps with them. I’m scheduled to race World Cup GS and speed – doing way more of that and less NorAms than last year, plus working in some college races, depending on what those races look like. If it was normal, we could look at the races and say, this is what I want to do. We can’t plan any type of schedule right now.”
While many young racers these days target their skill set onto a specific discipline, Cashman is determined to continue spreading her race talent around a variety of tracks.
“I wouldn’t say I like one event more than another,” she says. “I like skiing all the events. Particularly in the U.S., we force athletes at too young an age to specialize. They’re forced toward speed or tech. On the women’s side, we’re pushed to speed. I think to be a good speed skier, you need to have a good tech base and vice versa. I feel I can be competitive in all events right now. I wouldn’t want to give up one I feel I can do well at.”
That said, Cashman’s final curtain dream is not at all surprising.
“My ultimate goal is to win the overall globe,” she says. “It’s been a goal of mine since I started skiing. I just want to be competitive in all disciplines on the World Cup. Obviously, the Olympics are thrown in there, too, but right now it’s just going out there and skiing as well as I can. Being consistent for me was huge this year. Now I’m looking to be a competitor on the World Cup.”
Ski Racing Media Juniors of the Year
1975 – Leslie Leete Smith Steve Mahre
1976 – Christin Cooper Eric Wilson
1977 – Heidi Preuss David Stapleton
1978 – Tamara McKinney Scott Hoffman
1979 – Tamara McKinney Mike Farney
1980 – Noel Lyons Mark Tache
1981 – Brenda Buglione Tiger Shaw
1982 – Eva Twardokens Steve Hegg
1983 – Eva Twardokens Jesse Hunt
1984 – Diann Roffe Jesse Hunt
1985 – Carter Payne Tim Curran
1986 – Hilary Lindh/Krista Schmidinger
1987 – Sally Knight Tommy Moe
1988 – Heidi Voelker Jeremy Nobis
1989 – Kim Schmidinger Tommy Moe
1990 – Julie Parisien Ryan North
1991 – Kathrine Davenport Paul Casey Puckett
1992 – Kathrine Davenport Michael Makar
1993 – Kristina Koznick Chip Knight
1994 – Kjersti Bjorn-Roli Forest Carey
1995 – Sarah Schleper Wisi Betschart
1996 – Kirsten Clark Justin Johnson
1997 – Jonna Mendes John Minahan
1998 – Jonna Mendes Brad Hogan
1999 – Caroline Lalive Marco Sullivan
2000 – Julia Mancuso Marco Sullivan
2001 – Julia Mancuso Jake Zamansky
2002 – Julia Mancuso Steven Nyman
2003 – Julia Mancuso Jeremy Transue
2004 – Lindsey Kildow Ted Ligety
2005 – Resi Stiegler Tim Jitloff
2006 – Megan McJames Christopher Beckmann
2007 – Leanne Smith Will Brandenburg
2008 – Kiley Staples Tommy Ford
2009 – Julia Ford Tommy Ford
2010 – Mikaela Shiffrin Will Gregorak
2011 – Mikaela Shiffrin Ryan Cochran-Siegle
2012 – Mikaela Shiffrin Ryan Cochran-Siegle
2013 – Mikaela Shiffrin Ryan Cochran-Siegle
2014 – Mikeala Shiffrin
2015 – Mikaela Shiffrin AJ Ginnis
2016 – Mikaela Shiffrin Erik Arvidsson
2017 – Alice Merryweather/Breezy Johnson Sam Morse
2018 — Patricia Mangan. River Radamus
2019 — AJ Hurt River Radamus
2020 — Keely Cashman. ???