Rosie Frankowski was a freshman at Southwest High School when she first learned to cross-country ski.
This winter, she made the U.S. Olympic team.
Frankowski, a 2009 Southwest graduate, was an All-American skier in college and has since embarked on a professional career. The 26-year-old was one of 11 women selected to the U.S. cross-country ski team for the Olympics, which run Feb. 9-25 in Pyeongchang, South Korea. She appears to be the first Southwest alumni to make an Olympic cross-country ski team.
“I think it is a testament to the cross-country program at Southwest to have an alumni named to the Olympic team,” Frankowski wrote in an email from Canada, where she is racing this week. “Honestly, no one in high school would have probably predicted this.”
Frankowski said she was shocked when she learned she had made the team, noting the number of strong U.S. skiers who compete internationally. She said she learned of the news while with her teammates after a red-eye flight but couldn’t actually tell them until a press release came out several days later.
“It’s a little bit surreal, because it’s just so exciting, and it’s my best friend,” said Libby Ellis, Frankowski’s longtime friend and former high school and college teammate. “I couldn’t be more proud.”
‘A coach’s dream’
Frankowski said she joined Southwest’s Nordic ski program as a way to get back at her parents for not allowing her to play traveling volleyball. But she ended up loving the sport and meeting several of her best friends through the team, including Ellis.
The Southwest girl’s team was one of the top in the state during Frankowski’s tenure, led by Ellis, who was among the top-ranked junior skiers in the U.S. Ellis’ mom, Kate Ellis, was one of the team’s coaches at the time, along with James Dundon.
Frankowski said she was never the top skier on the team and was battling for a spot on the varsity team until her junior year.
“That set up the foundation of my athletic career — working extremely hard against very competitive ladies with high goals,” she wrote.
Kate Ellis called Frankowski “a coach’s dream,” noting traits such as perseverance, resilience, humility, and a “willingness to sacrifice everything” to achieve her cross-country skiing goals.
“She has all the qualities that need to be there, plus she has a very intense ability to focus” Ellis said. “When she wants something, she’s not going to let go.”
Ellis said Frankowski’s weakness back then was skiing on downhill slopes but that she tirelessly worked to improve. She noted the long hours and sacrifices Frankowski had to make to achieve her goals, such as missing time with friends in the evenings.
Dundon, now an assistant coach for Southwest, said Frankowski was disciplined, a model student and had a willingness to push herself to improve.
“She wasn’t naturally talented at every single thing about skiing,” Dundon said. “She would slowly but surely pick away at her faults and get better every time she raced. That part was just so much fun to be around.”
Dundon noted the role both Kate and Libby Ellis played in shaping Frankowski’s skiing career. Frankowski responded well to Kate Ellis’ coaching, he said, and was constantly working to keep up with Libby Ellis on the trails.
“Without Libby Ellis for Rosie to chase around in those formative years, who knows if she can be successful at the next steps,” Dundon said.
Frankowski and Libby Ellis helped the Southwest girl’s team to three straight state-meet appearances from 2007 to 2009, when the team finished second. Individually, Frankowski finished as high as 15th.
She and Ellis enrolled at Northern Michigan University after high school, where both joined the cross-country ski team.
Cut after one year
Frankowski was cut after one season on the team but convinced Northern Michigan coach Sten Fjeldheim to give her another chance by redshirting as a sophomore.
In a text message, Fjeldheim said Frankowski is the hardest worker he’s ever coached, and he praised her determination to learn techniques and improve.
“She is a believer and a very humble and fierce competitor,” he wrote. “She was willing to chase her dream and willing to focus and do the many many hours of training year after year, month after month.”
Frankowski made the team with a strong showing in her first race as a sophomore, after a summer of training. But she missed the remainder of the season with a knee injury that required surgery, subsequently working with multiple physical therapists to re-learn skills such as running, skiing and weight training.
“It was a true test of how much skiing, and just being active, meant to me,” Frankowski wrote.
Frankowski returned to the Northern Michigan team as a redshirt sophomore in 2011-12 and narrowly missed qualifying for the NCAA championships. She qualified for them each of her final two years and finished second in the 15-kilometer skate race as a senior. She also made the U.S. Under-23 World Championship team that year.
Frankowski said she wanted to see how far she could go in the sport after that breakout year. She joined the elite cross-country ski team out of Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage in May 2014, after graduating with her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Northern Michigan. She’s been competing for the APU team since.
Chance for Olympic competition
Frankowski, who is stronger as a distance skier, said she was second on U.S. Ski & Snowboard’s distance-qualifying rankings released in spring 2017. But she said she didn’t think the team would take more than the top-ranked skier on the list, because of the number of strong U.S. skiers in Europe.
She said she spent her summer working on her weaknesses of downhills and fast skiing, not on trying to make the Olympics.
“I never trained to ‘make the Olympic team,'” she wrote. “I trained to ski fast.”
At the Olympics, Frankowski said she has a small chance of starting for the U.S. team in the 30km race on the last day of competition. But she added there’s a strong chance she won’t start at all.
The U.S. can only start four skiers in a given event. The team, led by Afton native Jessie Diggins, appears well-positioned to win the first American cross-country skiing Olympic medal since 1976.
Frankowski said she plans on missing two weekends of domestic racing while at the Olympics, in part to “soak in the experience” and also to prepare if she does end up competing. She’s planning on returning briefly to Minneapolis after her races this week.
As for post-Olympics, Frankowski said she would love the opportunity to race in the cross-country skiing World Cup. She added that she’s grateful to everyone from Minnesota and beyond who helped her reach this point in her career.
“I was not the typical Nordic skiing kid, and that didn’t stop people from believing in me (even when I didn’t believe in myself),” she wrote. “… These are the people who should be celebrating alongside me right now.”