Rosie Brennan earns Inga Award after coming back from a gritty season

Brennan competes in the World Cup Cross-Country Finals in Quebec City earlier this month.
Reese Brown/U.S. Ski & Snowboard

Rosie Brennan doesn’t always feel like a warrior princess – she does sometimes, but not always.

In the eyes of her cross-country skiing peers, though, she embodied one over this season.

Brennan struggled with an undiagnosed case of mono during the 2017-2018 World Cup season, including the Olympics, and her poor results led to her dismissal from the U.S. national team.

But Brennan wasn’t ready to hang up her skis.

She decided she would compete in the 2018-2019 season despite a greater burden of work and little support.

It was her best season ever.

In early March, the U.S. Nordic Olympic Women, an all-women group of 50 American former Olympic cross-country skiers, recognized Brennan’s rebound from what many would have resigned to as a career-ending situation by presenting her with their Inga Award during a reunion in Quebec City, Canada.

“I was totally surprised and taken aback when they presented it to me at their reception,” Brennan said. “It was a huge honor because that’s an incredibly accomplished group of women.”

Some of the women, of whom nearly 30 were able to attend in person, were Brennan’s childhood heroes. Others were strangers, but with whom she had an inherent kinship through their shared cross-country experiences.

The Inga Award is an homage to the spirit of the ancient Norwegian Inga of Varteig, who entrusted her son, Haakon IV, to two warriors, called Birkebeiners for their birch bark leggings, and, supposedly, according to the Nordic Olympic Women, the three of them braved a storm in the dead of the Norwegian winter of 1205 to save the child from a rival ruling party. The storied trek of the Bikebeiners from Lillehammer to Østerdalen is now part of the route of one of the most storied competitions in cross-country racing – the Birkebeinerrennet.

Haakon IV became the king of Norway in 1217 and his long rule helped stabilize the country after decades of infighting.

Eight centuries after the famous trek, Brennan was presented with a framed picture of Inga of Varteig, and her name was engraved on the frame of a larger painting that the group of former Olympians will maintain, adding the names of future award winners.

Brennan is wrapping up an epic journey of her own by concluding the season with the U.S. cross-country nationals in Maine this weekend. Each season, she moves out of her apartment in Park City, stores her belongings in a friend’s garage and hits the road (and airways) for the winter. The painting is in transit to her mother’s house.

Brennan finished the World Cup season ranked 38th overall, the fourth-highest ranking American and her best season yet even after skipping two races to rest before the World Championships in Seefeld, Austria in February. Brennan finished 10th in the 7.5K classic and 7.5K freestyle skiathlon at the World Championships, helped the U.S. team take fifth in the 4x5K relay, and 16th in the 30K mass start.

Brennan said she was a little shaky on the details of the story of Inga, but she had seen an image of the Birkebeiner while visiting the Lillehammer Art Museum.

She said when she retires from the World Cup circuit, she’d like to try the Birkebeiner race in Norway, in which competitors don a backpack of about eight pounds to simulate carrying the infant Haakon IV.

But for now, Brennan is planning another competitive season, where she will likely need all of her grit again.

“I’m probably not as tough as that woman was back in whatever century that was, but I’ve certainly had my struggles that I’ve had to overcome,” she said. “Some days I feel like a warrior.”

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