Ava Thurston: The Person Behind The Name

Maggie Aiken, Student Reporter

This year as Ava Thurston attended the Junior National Championship for nordic skiing, the hallways and classrooms were full of students and faculty live-streaming her race. As Ava crossed the finish line in first, the school filled with cheers. At this year’s Junior Nationals, Ava swept the competition, coming in first in all of her events, helping New England bring home the “Alaska Cup” which is the Junior Nationals Divisional Champions title.


Ava Thurston: we’ve all heard the name and seen the shattered records. But what about the person behind the name?

List Of Ava’s Top 5 Accomplishments (no particular order)

1: Winning Nordic states in both skate, and classic disciplines for all 4 years
2: Girls Cross country team winning the state title in 2018, 2019, 2021, and then placing 5th at New Englands this year
3: Winning the Junior Nationals races this year in Minneapolis
4: Skiing 100k with teammates on one of the last days of winter last year
5: Placing 14th at Junior worlds last year in the 5k Skate in Vuokatti, Finland

Ava and the Harwood Nordic Team at this year’s States, photo taken by Dave Priganc.


Ava Thurston is a senior at Harwood Union High School and has continued to thrive as a student and athlete throughout the past four years. She has been a key member of the Cross Country, Nordic, and Lacrosse teams. Although Ava excels in each sport she does, Nordic is her main stay. She trains year-round with the Mansfield Nordic Club and has competed internationally with them


When asked what it means to be a part of the Harwood community, Ava said,  “As I’ve grown older at Harwood, I’ve come to know more teachers and students, and have felt an increasingly closer connection to the Harwood community. My personal feeling is that our senior class has really come together this year. I appreciate how everyone talks to each other and cares about what’s going on in other people’s lives.”


As many athletes progress at a rapid speed, they tend to veer off toward private schools. But for Ava, “The question of me going to private school was never really something I considered because I’ve always felt like I had a good thing going with both sports and academics at Harwood.” Ava has pushed herself academically as she has loaded her course schedule the past two years with four Advanced Placement Classes, two college courses, and being a member of the National Honor Society.


“She is very present in class and has an ability to focus 100% on the task at hand,” said Adam Sargent, who teaches AP Government.  “Ava is a leader in our Harkness discussions. She makes text references and comments that deepen our discussions,”  he continued. “Ava was gone for two weeks for ski races, and she came back with her textbook fully annotated, ready to talk about the cases that she missed. My sense is that she gives 100% of herself nearly all the time.”

As Ava was finding time in British Columbia to annotate her textbook, she was also racing against Olympians, including Olympic Silver and Bronze medalist Jessie Diggins. Not only did Ava race against them but the “SMS T2 team” (Jessie Diggins and Julia Kerns professional team) helped her wax her skis. “It was an amazing experience to talk with racers who I have been watching all season, in the world cup, and Olympics. I appreciated how they were all so welcoming to me.”


The tremendously hard work Ava has put in has landed her a spot on the prestigious Dartmouth College Nordic Team next year. Though she is undecided on her major, she believes she’ll lean towards English or Social Sciences.


As Ava turns to the next chapter of her life, she will leave with a lasting effect on our community. Ava has tallied up many hours volunteering at local skiing and running races, the River of Light Lantern parade, and the Waterbury Food Shelf holiday drive.


A list could go on for Ava’s successes, but you wouldn’t know it from her presence. Tatiana Heintz, also a Harwood senior who’s known Ava for the past 16 years, said, “There’s not a single day in my 16 years of knowing her that I have doubted the fact that she is going to be the most successful person I know. And it’s not because she is one of the most talented and skilled people I know, but because she is impressively humble. And it is that and her ability to see beyond herself that is going to take her wherever she wants to go.”

Ava racing at State this year, photo by Dave Priganc.