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For East's Avery Plude, the recipe to skiing success is equal parts mental strength and talent

t1.27.17 Bob King -- 020217.S.DNT.NEWSMAKERc1 -- Avery Plude deftly handles the course during competition at the 39th Atmore Memorial at Spirit Mountain on Jan. 27. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com1 / 2
t1.27.17 Bob King -- 020217.S.DNT.NEWSMAKERc2 -- Avery Plude skis through the course at the 39th Atmore Memorial at Spirit Mountain on Jan. 27. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com2 / 2

Duluth East senior Avery Plude can thank her father for an early introduction to skiing that has sparked an almost insatiable appetite for the sport. David Plude is an ardent skier. His daughters were predisposed to the slopes.

Avery Plude was a natural, which helps explain her Alpine skiing success, of course. But she pairs talent with the kind of mental toughness that has allowed Plude to flourish despite breaking her right ankle three times, just as many concussions and a knee injury. For that, credit likely goes to her entire family.

"I have a whole family of psychologists," Plude said last week.

Both parents — David and Shelley Plude — work at Arrowhead Psychological Clinic.

At this morning's Section 7 meet at Giants Ridge, Avery Plude will try to qualify for her fifth consecutive state meet. She's been a mid-February regular in Biwabik since 2013, when she placed 46th at state.

Plude's mental toughness was evidenced by the way she navigated a rash of injuries. The first of her three concussions occurred in sixth grade, and it was a doozy. A speed-chaser, she was training at Spirit Mountain's terrain park when things went awry — likely a combination of going too fast and catching too much air before a crash landing, but Plude really can't be sure. She doesn't remember.

"The back of my skis hit the ground, my butt hit the ground and it just whipped my head back," Plude said. "I literally didn't even know who my sister was. She was talking to me on the chairlift and I was like, 'Who are you?' "

The scary memories of that one lingered and toyed with Plude's pre-race nerves.

The three ankle breaks, all of which came between eighth and 10th grade, disrupted her balance on skis.

The knee injury last winter, a damaged meniscus and torn lateral collateral ligament, sidelined her for a couple weeks.

But Plude skied around each setback. She admits there were times she would be skittish immediately before a run. That was especially true after each concussion. Her inclination was to slow down, exercise caution. And stay upright.

"I'd be so nervous to fall because hitting the ground so hard ... I'd just replay that in my mind," Plude said.

She's become adept at clearing her head before a race, whether it's trying to forget about falling and the risk of concussion or, previously, repressing the pain Plude felt in her right ankle.

"Honestly, when I'm in the course, even if I do have pain I don't even think about it," she said. "I'm so focused on the course. Someone could be on the side of the course screaming at me, and I literally wouldn't hear them. I don't hear anything."

Plude also has displayed a penchant for rising to the occasion. She can, so to speak, flip the switch. The bigger the race, the more locked-in she becomes. Plude hopes that's the case today. She hasn't performed her best this winter, a reality she attributes to seeking more balance between skiing and her social life. With her time in high school winding down, she is trying to participate in some of the activities she skipped as an underclassman — going to more East hockey games, for example.

But she likes her chances entering the section meet and, hopefully, a return trip to state next week.

"I do a lot better in serious races. I don't know what it is, but something just clicks in me," Plude said. "I get nervous, yeah, but there's something about it where my performance usually is a lot better at serious races, ones that really matter. So I hope that kicks in again this year."

Said East coach Katie Hutchison: "She's definitely got the mental toughness."

Plude, whose ankle breaks stemmed from soccer, traded that sport for tennis early in high school. She also gave up dancing, wanting to spend more time skiing for the Greyhounds and Team Duluth.

Save for last winter, Plude has improved her state finish each year. Her 46th-place showing as an eighth-grader — when older sister Courtney was 67th — turned into 21st as a freshman and 19th as a sophomore. Plude was 20th last February, with a two-run time of 1 minute, 22.39 seconds. Not bad considering she wasn't far removed from hurting her knee.

That malady was all on Plude. Before a race at Spirit Mountain, she offered to give her sister a piggyback ride to the bottom of the hill. Plude was on skis; her sister wasn't. Near the bottom, she started snowplowing to slow down, and her ski caught in freshly fallen snow.

"My body kept going, but my knee did not," Plude said.

She still raced that day, before being forced to take some time off.

Hutchison might need to update her team rule book.

"No giving piggyback rides down the hill," the coach joked.


Prep status: Duluth East senior

Age: 17

Sports: Tennis and Alpine skiing

GPA: 3.0

Family: Father, David; mother, Shelley; sister, Courtney

Pets: Two dogs

College plans: Undecided (likely either the University of Minnesota or St. Thomas)

Face-to-face with Avery Plude

If I could meet one person — dead or alive — who would it be? Beyonce

My ideal vacation: Bora Bora

The toughest athlete I've competed against: Katie Vesterstein (Duluth native now part of the U.S. Ski Team)

If I had a million dollars, I would: Buy myself a different car and also adopt dogs

Fear or phobia: "Ever since my first concussion, I've been super scared of catching air. I'm also terrified of bears and spiders."

Car I drive: Buick Rendezvous

Favorite home-cooked meal: Mom's pasta shells

Favorite book: The Murder House by James Patterson

Favorite movie: "Frozen"

Race-day superstition: Always wears bib backwards

Social media of choice: Three-way tie between Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat