By Peggy Shinn | Nov. 22, 2016, 3 p.m. (ET)
Cross-country skier Kikkan Randall poses for a picture during the USOC/NBC Olympics promotional shoot on April 26, 2013 in West Hollywood, Calif.


PARK CITY, Utah -- Kikkan Randall is back. 

The four-time Olympian and cross-country skiing world champion spent the 2015-16 season on “maternity leave.” Breck Stuart Randall Ellis was born on April 14, 2016, in Anchorage, Alaska, at 7:47 p.m. He weighed a healthy 8 pounds, 11 ounces.

Randall and husband Jeff Ellis were thrilled.

Within a few days, Randall, 33, was back outside, walking around their neighborhood in Anchorage with Breck snuggled in an infant wrap against her chest and warm under Ellis’ borrowed down jacket. Randall had maintained a workout routine throughout her pregnancy, focusing on a strength program as well as outdoor aerobic activities like fat-tire biking on Anchorage’s snowy trails. She only gained 27 pounds.

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“It’s kind of like training with a weight vest on,” she told the Alaska Dispatch News about two weeks before Breck was born.

With such a strong base, Randall quickly progressed from walking with Breck to jogging behind the baby stroller.

I was totally giddy to be outside again and took it as a good sign that Breck seemed to love it as much as I did,” wrote Randall in a blog on her website, kikkan.com.

“Suddenly, I was more aware of how green the trees were and how sweet the birds sounded. I’m totally amazed by how reinvigorated I feel.”

In early July, Randall joined her teammates in Anchorage for her first training camp of the year, running on the trails around Anchorage and skiing on Alaska’s Eagle Glacier. She skipped the on-snow camp in New Zealand in late August/early September to train with her Alaska Pacific University team. By the time she joined her teammates in Park City, Utah in mid-October for their final off-season training camp before winter, she was flying again. 

The team did a mock sprint race on the paved roller-ski paths at Soldier Hollow, the cross-country ski resort that hosted the 2002 Olympic Nordic races. Randall progressed through qualification and the heats. Then she dominated the final, flying down a fast descent and winning decisively ahead of teammates Jessie Diggins and Ida Sargent.

Kikkan Randall competes in the women's 10-kilometer cross-country skiing race during the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships at the Lugnet Venue on Feb. 24, 2015 in Falun, Sweden.

“I’m back 100 percent,” Randall said.

“Kikkan can. And does. And she did at our October camp. #Supermom is back,” tweeted head women’s coach Matt Whitcomb.

Randall is now heading to Europe — with baby on board and her pink hair highlights touched up — for the world cup tour. Ellis works with the International Ski Federation’s media coordinator on the world cup tour. So they will rely on their parents to help care for Breck.

The tour opens in Ruka, Finland, with a classic sprint on Saturday, Nov. 26, then a 10-kilometer classic race on Sunday. 

Randall does not have expectations in terms of results. She knows that she must reacquaint herself with “the fine tuning of race pace.” But she also knows that this fine tuning will come quickly and is confident that she will finish well — and perhaps even surprise people. 

“I hope that I’m ready to go out and race hard and cross the finish line going, ‘Whoo, I pretty much laid it out there with what I have,’” she said.

From Ruka, Randall, Ellis and baby Breck will follow the world cup tour around Europe — and perhaps to PyeongChang, Korea — before heading to Lahti, Finland, in late February for the 2017 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships. Already a two-time world championship medalist and three-time overall world cup sprint champion, Randall wants to add more hardware to the trophy shelves in her living room.

Randall was not the only cross-country skier to have a baby in the past year. The women’s world cup experienced a baby boom. Norwegian legend Marit Bjoergen, 36, a six-time Olympic champion and 14-time world champion, had a baby boy on Christmas night last year and returned to racing on March 12 (although she suffered a hip injury shortly thereafter and did not return to regular training until late September). On Nov. 19, 2016, she won a 10-kilometer freestyle race in Beitostoelen, Norway.

Aino-Kaisa Saarinen, 37, also had a baby, a girl born on May 2, 2016. From Finland, the five-time Olympic medalist, is one of the oldest women on the world cup tour and hopes to return to racing in time for world championships in her home country. 

Randall’s U.S. teammates are happy to have their team leader back. The other women on the team had perhaps one of their best seasons ever, with Jessie Diggins and Sophie Caldwell each winning world cup races, and the team winning medals in two 4x5-kilometers. But the women on the team admit that it was a challenging season without Randall leading the podium charge.

“It changed the dynamic, and it made us have to re-form what our team was and how we can be this team that’s better than six girls standing in a room together,” said Sadie Bjornsen, who helped power the team to the two relay medals and finished consistently in the top 10 last season.

Always a team player, Randall was impressed with the level to which her teammates have risen in the past couple of years.

“I used to show up at camps and always be leading workouts,” she said. “Now I’m not the one who necessarily leads anymore. It’s fun to know that I can now just be in the mix and that means that I’m probably at a high level because those girls are all skiing at a high level.”

Diggins finished on the world cup podium seven times last season — in races from sprints to 10Ks and ended up ranked eighth overall. Caldwell won a classic sprint that was part of the Tour de Ski in January and made the finals in several other world cup sprints, ending the season ranked seventh in the sprint. And Bjornsen, Ida Sargent and Liz Stephen all finished in the top 10 at least once.

“I’m excited to watch these girls,” added Randall, “because I know they’re going to fly.”

A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered four Olympic Games and is currently writing a book about the U.S. women’s cross-country ski team. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.