A Male Athlete Is Putting Girls’ Nordic Ski at Risk—Is the Sport Too Polite to Save Itself?

By Whitney Munro

“Nordic [ski] is a friendly group and Maine is a small state—you know everyone,” said Sarah*, the mother of a competitive Nordic skier. “Every race is like a family reunion.” Given that friendly atmosphere, she said that seeing police escorts at the state championship was jarring, to say the least.

“If someone fell down during a race, someone would stop and help them get back up—it’s just that kind of group,” she explained. Ironically, it was this welcoming enthusiasm that led them to discover a male athlete would be competing in the female category. Sarah and her husband Jack* agreed to share their story anonymously with Independent Women’s Forum.

“We pulled the start list before the meet, which is normal in the sport, because we like to cheer for everybody by name,” Sarah recalled. “It doesn’t matter what school you’re from, if you’re on the course, we know how hard it is and we cheer everyone on.” 

On the list, she spotted the name Soren Stark-Chessa, a sophomore from Maine Coast Waldorf School.

Sarah said that she had heard the name before. As a freshman, Stark-Chessa raced in the boys’ cross-country 5k competition and finished 172nd. The following year, she said that the runner, now identifying as a “transgender” female, competed in the girls’ category and placed fourth—sparking local headlines and frustration.

At the Maine XC Festival of Champions, Stark-Chessa placed fifth and was bestowed the Fastest Sophomore Girl award—though he would have placed 162nd in the boys’ cross-country race that year. Sick of watching helplessly from the sidelines, parents started speaking out statewide. 

“For the girls, it is the grossest of injustices in every conceivable way,” said one dad. “They must, like it or not, participate in the lie.”

Another parent told the media, “It’s humiliating for them. I think it’s very confusing in the sense that they’re looking at this world around them and wondering, ‘How did the adults allow this to happen?’”

While there was a lot of public commentary during the running season, Sarah explained that the skiing community has been handling this situation much differently. Parents and athletes watched politely as Stark-Chessa qualified for the Class C state championship and got three third-place finishes. Sarah shared that “within that polite silence sits profound heartache.”

“Recruiting and retaining athletes is such a struggle,” Sarah explained. “You have to be humble, and conditions can really wreck your day. Some years we get snow, some years we don’t. So we’re asking girls to try really hard and not see the results for possibly a couple of years. That’s a tough ask on its own.”

Skiers themselves recruit enough girls to meet the team minimum to compete, and even large schools struggle to keep numbers up. But when girls push through the challenges and don’t give up, she said that the benefits are life-changing. 

“When our daughter’s team placed in states, it lit a fire within her,” Sarah remembered. She continued:

“She got serious, worked harder, and started recruiting more girls to join. You could just see her taking charge—making sure everyone knew where to be, and had what they needed. To see her stepping up and being so comfortable in a leadership role… that was huge for her.”

After watching Stark-Chessa ski, Sarah said that a little brother of one of the skiers joked that he should self-identify as a girl and ski on the girls’ team the following year. According to Maine’s current protocols, nobody would stop him.

“For Nordic skiing, there is no way to eliminate the clear advantages—hip joints, lung capacity, bone and muscle composition—these things make boys much faster than girls,” Sarah said. “I think back to when I was little and girls had nothing. We could be a cheerleader. Now we have so much for girls and we’re going backward. The guys are taking it back.”

With female athletes across her region getting booted from podiums from two different sports in the same year, it’s hard to disagree.

*To protect their identity and family, pseudonyms have been used throughout.

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