Boulder High graduate Miles Havlick was an unlikely candidate for winning two national Nordic skiing titles.
He walked on at Utah after not being recruited anywhere. He's an American competing against the world's best international skiers, who are recruited heavily by American colleges and typically dominate the collegiate ski scene.
Against all odds, Havlick brought home his second NCAA title earlier this month by winning the men's 20-kilometer freestyle Nordic race for the second straight year.
His Utah teammate Einar Ulsund finished third, and Ute skier Niklas Persson finished fifth.
The next fastest American in the race was seventh-place finisher Sam Tarling, who skis for Dartmouth.
"It says something about Miles and about, in general, the state of American skiing," said Utah Nordic coach Abi Holt. "The level of (Nordic) skiing in the U.S. is rising. A lot of those national titles have gone to Europeans in these last few years. Miles is one of a few American guys to get the title. We will look back at this period in Nordic skiing and see it as the beginning of a turnaround (for American skiing), and he certainly is part of that."
Havlick started Nordic skiing in fifth grade with the Boulder Nordic Junior Racing Team. The team trekked up to Eldora every day after school to practice, no matter what the weather. The worse the conditions, the more Havlick wanted to ski, said his dad Scott Havlick.
"We didn't even have those kind of skis ourselves," Scott Havlick said of Miles and older brother Ian competing in Nordic races as kids.
Scott Havlick, a trademark attorney, and Kristin Havlick, an artist, said Miles is living proof that genes don't always matter when it comes to athletics.
After graduating from Boulder High, Miles took a year off to ski in Sun Valley, Idaho, before starting his freshman year at Utah. The summer before Miles' freshman year, one of his good friends and training partners, Willie Neal, was killed after being struck by a car while cross training on roller skates.
That put things into perspective for Miles, he said.
"That definitely changed the way I look at things," Miles said. "Makes you appreciate things a lot more than I used to. We trained a lot together and shared some great times, and we talked about how awesome skiing in college would be and competing against each other and stuff. That also gave me some motivation to ski for him as well as myself."
And so, Miles entered his freshman year as a walk-on for Utah. His sophomore year he finished third in the 10K and sixth in the 20K at nationals. His junior year, he won the 20K and added a second-place finish in the 10K.
As a senior, Miles won four straight races in February, and was named the Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association MVP for the second straight year.
Looking back on his career at Utah, Miles said he has a lot of memories.
Freshest in his mind is the discussion he and teammates Ulsund and Persson had the morning before the 20K at nationals this year.
"We were sitting around the breakfast table that morning," he said. "We were like, 'Today is our day. We're going to get revenge for Thursday (in the 10K)' because we didn't ski as well as we wanted to then. 'We're having three in the top five, that's going to happen.' It was pretty cool looking around at the group (during the race) and seeing those two guys right next to me."
He remembers watching CU skiers at Eldora as a kid, and "dreaming" that one day he'd be as fast as them.
Though he looked up to them then, Miles said he has no regrets about attending Utah. In his wildest dreams, Miles said he had no idea going in as a walk-on freshman that he'd win two national titles.
"I feel at home here," he said. "I feel like Utah is a second home for me right now. "Miles has one semester left to finish his degree in integrative physiology, so he'll officially graduate in August. After that, his plans are still up in the air, he said, thought they'll most likely involve skiing.
At least for a few months, Miles can look back on his collegiate career before deciding on the next step.
"For me, sports teaches you how to set goals and to deal with disappointment, and every once in a while you get to drink from this intoxicating cup of success," said his dad, Scott.
--Follow Sarah Kuta on Twitter: @SarahKuta.