Being angry and enjoying yourself at the same time isn’t easy, but those two states of mind come together for Kelsey Cioffi whenever she starts down a ski race course.
A senior at Niskayuna High School, Cioffi is the top girl on the Silver Warriors’ ski team and one of the best skiers in Section II. As a junior, she placed 16th in slalom and 17th in giant slalom at the New York state high school championships.
The normally mild-mannered Cioffi said getting herself angry is part of her pre-race ritual.
“I have to listen to music before I start,” she said. “I have a playlist that I call my ‘pump-up music.’ ”
The list includes “angry music” performed by the band “Rage Against the Machine.”
“I’m not usually an angry person, but to do well in racing, you have to be aggressive, so that helps me to get into that mindset,” she said.
On the other hand, Cioffi feels like she’s in her “own little haven” when she’s tearing down a race course.
“I just like being in the gates,” she said. “When you’re running gates, you’re not thinking about getting a good time or a bad time — you’re just thinking about the next combination coming up. I’ve come to the point where I actually feel more comfortable in a race course than I do regularly skiing. Even if you’re not racing, you just kind of get the rush of it.”
Cioffi’s coach, John Sharkey, doesn’t see her as an anger management candidate.
“It’s almost not in her nature for her to be so competitive in skiing, but she wants to do so well, and she works very hard for it,” he said.
“She’s an eclectic kid. She’s interested in so many things. She’s a talented artist, a good student and an excellent ski racer. You don’t see that very often in a kid.”
Cioffi prefers giant slalom (where the gates are far apart) over slalom (where the gates are closer together). Giant slalom involves more speed and longer, more carving-type turns than slalom.
“I definitely love GS,” she said. “That’s probably my best event, but I’m slowly getting better at slalom. It’s taken years, though, because I was horrible at slalom when I was younger.”
Snow conditions can vary greatly from day to day and from race to race.
“I enjoy skiing on the perfectly groomed courses the most, but for some reason, I always seem to do better on the really difficult, icy courses,” she said.
As a junior, Cioffi had an impressive number of strong finishes at the Section II level. Included were seven top-10s in invitationals (including a second and a third). To those she added a fourth in giant slalom and a 10th in slalom at sectionals.
Cioffi started a little slow this season, missing the top 10 in three of the first six races while placing fourth in two and sixth in another.
Her coach mentioned several “firsts” that are as important — maybe more important — than finishing first in a race.
“She’s the first one to wish a competitor luck before a race, she’s the first to congratulate a winner after a race and she’s the first, when her race is done, to go to the top and bring the boys’ coats to the finish,” Sharkey said.
Her goal is to pick up the pace toward the end of the season and score well at sectionals and, hopefully, at the state meet.
“I’d really like to get top 10 at states, and it would be a dream of mine to win at the sectionals.” she said, “but there are so many good girls, it’s going to be a tough.”
A RUNNER, TOO
Cioffi also runs cross country in the fall and track in the spring. She likes the distance events, “the longer the better.” Sharkey is her coach in cross country and track, as well. He also happens to be her uncle, and he has her in the political science class he teaches.
Asked how she feels about being coached by her uncle, Cioffi said, “It’s fun, but it’s a little weird sometimes because people don’t understand when I call him Uncle John.”
One of a ski coach’s jobs is to teach young racers how to tune (sharpen and wax) their own skis. Cioffi is her uncle’s helper in the wax room, showing some of the younger kids how it’s done. She has her own tuning space in the basement at home.
“I tune before every race, and if I’m just practicing, I tune every two times I ski,” she said. A really good race tune will take an hour per pair of skis. “If I’m just throwing on some wax, it will take a half-hour,” she said.
As much at home around water as she is on snow, Cioffi has competed in the Niskayuna summer swim league and she is certified as a Water Safety Instructor and lifeguard.
Cioffi is high “A” student at Niskayuna. treasurer of the National Honor Society, has earned certificates of merit in both Latin and fine arts and she’s been named a scholar-athlete as a runner and a skier. She also studies piano privately.
With art one of her big loves outside of sports, Cioffi has exhibited in the Niskayuna School District Art Show and at the New Hampshire Institute of Art’s National High School Drawing Show. She won an award at the New Hampshire event with a charcoal drawing of herself.
“I tend to do a lot of portraits,” she said. “It’s what I enjoy most and am best at.”
After college, Cioffi hopes to become an art teacher and, perhaps, a ski coach like her uncle. Her top two college choices are Skidmore and Marist, where she would ski at the club level.