A little bit of peer pressure coupled with a willingness to break the mold can go a long way. For Sean Houston, that combination carried him to a 10th-place finish at the MIAA state Nordic championships.
"I'm ecstatic. I did not expect to be at 10th, especially based on my showing at the [Eastern High Schools] qualifier," he said. "I was 17th in the qualifier and so yeah, I'm really happy with my position."
To fully understand why Houston was so elated, you have to understand his pedigree in Nordic skiing -- or lack thereof.
The accomplished soccer goalkeeper and baseball center fielder was following in the footsteps of his older sister by playing basketball. But after playing in seventh grade, he needed a change.
"The thing about Sean is he is by far the best athlete on our team," classmate and soccer teammate Alex White said. "I'd say he's probably the best athlete in the league."
Coincidentally, it was White, who was not on the soccer team at the time, that suggested Houston join the Nordic ski team.
"He was just like ‘It's going to be fun,' " Houston recalled. "I wasn't having as much fun with basketball and he and Ben Ogden who was a senior back then both told me just try it for a year."
He was hooked.
He began learning more about the sport and fine-tuning his technique through the years. With so many accomplished skiers ahead of him, he never got a shot to compete at states. That all changed in his final season.
He was consistently among the top skiers through the four-race regular season. He finished in the top five in each race, had a pair of third-place results and had his best showing on Jan. 12 with a second-place finish.
He never was able to overtake teammates White or Will Kirby on a consistent basis. But that wasn't his role, although in both mass starts he skied with the duo for nearly the entire race. He was the best No. 3 in the county, and that's what the team needed.
"While he might not be a pure skier, he has the heart and he definitely has the motivation and athletic ability to just be in that third spot," said White, who is third in a long line of Greylock skiers. "He's accepted it. He's accepted that that's his role, and without him, we wouldn't have won states."
As it turned out, Houston was the best No. 3 in the state. He won his wave (No. 4) -- which had most team's No. 3 skiers -- by more than 30 seconds. No other team placed three in the top 10, and only Concord-Carlise had three in the top 15. Houston actually beat their No. 2 by almost 9 seconds.
"I think it takes a very strong person [to be the No. 3]," coach Hiram Greene said. "I think Sean knew that if we were going to have success this year, he was going to have to work very hard to get as close to [White and Kirby] as he could, and he did."
His climb to 10th in the state, a crucial member on a state-title winning team and a leader can all be traced back to giving Nordic skiing a chance five years ago. It repaid him tenfold.
"I just had a blast that year with Jonah [Majumder], and actually Jonah's brother [Nathan] did it for a year that year and Alex and all the guys," Houston said. "It was just fun."