Antonina Anikina stood apart in both the United States and Russia for her determination and her commitment to coaching skiers of all levels, often using methods that were considered ahead of her time.
The Minnesota Nordic Ski Association remembered her as a fixture in the community whose "unique coaching techniques helped hundreds of high school and master skiers become more proficient and competitive." Skiing Magazine, a publication based in Russia, described her as a woman with boundless energy who had the ability to stare straight into her athletes' souls.
"She's the most determined woman I've ever met," recalled her son, Nikolai Anikin, of Duluth.
Anikina, 89, died in August after years facing multiple ailments, most recently a stomach virus. Her family will hold a public party in her honor in Duluth on Sunday.
The legendary coach was born in Zvov a rural town in Russia almost 400 miles away from Moscow.
"In Russia, skiing is like basketball," Anikin said. "Everybody does it."
Growing up, Anikina attended many national-level training camps, though she never made the team. When she enrolled in college, she began studying nursing — until a colleague suggested they change majors and become ski coaches instead.
She worked at first with the equivalent of high school students, molding her team into an elite one that was compared with top 10 schools. She told her children about one notorious fall season: When the weather was rainy and muddy enough that other coaches gave their students time off, Anikina asked hers to run up and down the stairs.
Anikina was in her 20s when she attended a training camp and met the elder Nikolai Anikin, who had by then already won his first Olympic medal. The two married and eventually had three children.
"It would have made sense to not do much, but she was determined and she was not interested in being just a housewife," her son recalled.
The two moved to the United States as part of a coaching exchange after communism fell. Anikina knew "zero English" but studied hard.
She earned a reputation in part for her efforts to apply science to the sport of skiing. The Russian military had used a heartrate test to try to measure potential soldiers' fitness.
"My mother evolved this test and increased its sophistication," Anikin said.
She called it the stamina index. By listening to an athlete's heart, she could tell whether they were healthy or whether they were working too hard. When Olympic-level athletes wanted to train harder, the test provided a metric to help them decide whether it was safe or whether they needed to stop.
When the initial facilities they were working at in the United States closed in the 1990s, elite skiers formed a club in Duluth called the Gitchi Gummi Sports Association and asked Anikina and her husband to be their coaches. While her roster included high-level athletes, Anikina's son said she also spoke fondly of her time teaching amateur skiers in their 40s through 70s, women she affectionately referred to as her "snow roses."
When age, two bouts of cancer and other illnesses made it difficult to continue coaching, Anikina turned her attention to gardening, going through every square inch by hand. She grew raspberries, blackcurrants, potatoes and other foods, and sold many of them at farmers' markets.
In addition to her son, Anikina is survived by her daughters, Irina Anikina of Moscow and Avgustina Anikina of Duluth. The family will hold a party in her honor from noon to 3 p.m. Sunday at the Snowflake Nordic Ski Center in Duluth.