Alum Update: Chelsea’s Reflections from Ruhpolding

Since working with the team over her vacation at home, Chelsea’s been at the World Cup biathlon races in Ruhpolding Germany and has successfully defended the first installment of her master’s thesis.  She has just made the move to Sweden, where she’ll be studying/working through June (except her stint in Sochi to report on the Olympics for Faster Skier!).

we had a great alum turnout for the Hor Hop!  Ben, Sara, Chelsea, Sam M, Chris, Paco, Dennis

we had a great alum turnout for the Hor Hop!  Ben, Sara, Chelsea, Sam M, Chris, Paco, Dennis

As a verrrrry old Ford Sayre alum (Hanover High School ’05), it was incredibly fun for me to come home for Christmas and work with the new team! I had only met a few of them ever before, but it was a blast to travel to the Eastern Cups in Craftsbury and the Mount Hor Hop with the team, as well as coach a few practices closer to home.

I’ve always assumed I’d be a terrible coach, but it was quite a joy to be able to hang out with the team members and try to share some wisdom. I’ve pitched in with Ford Sayre here and there for many years, but this was the first time I felt like I was really being a good coach instead of being too distracted by my own racing: when I first started helping out I was skiing at Dartmouth, and after that as part of the Green Racing Project in Craftsbury. Now that I’m not a full-time racer, I did a much better job of focusing on the actual job: other people! I particularly loved skiing around and warming up with Sara Spencer, as we chatted about how to ski different sections of a race course and what things we like and don’t like. We all learn from each other, all the time. I think that having so many alums popping in and out really says great things for this club and is a cool thing for the younger skiers, too. I hope they feel the same way and aren’t completely sick of me.

I said I tried to share some wisdom, but I’m not really sure how wise I’ve become. Nonetheless, I’ll try to share a few more things in this blog post.

I remember when I was just starting Ford Sayre: I was 15 and had never skied on anything other than backcountry-style cross country skis before. I had a really hard time learning how to swing my opposite arm with the leg that was pushing forward in classic style. A lot has changed in my life and my skiing since then, but it was great to know that we could all still sit around the table and listen to Dennis heckle people about their manners. I’m confident that if I showed up with amnesia and had no idea how to ski, this team would be just as willing to take me in and attempt to teach me as Ford Sayre was ten years ago, and the team members would laugh with me, only occasionally at me, as they helped out! Lesson one: Ford Sayre is a great community.

In Craftsbury, I also had the complete shock of making the sprint heats of the Eastern Cup. I haven’t been training much (grad school!) and felt like I was almost cheating, because it was obvious to everyone that my skis were really fast and doing a bit more work than my muscles! Lesson two: Scottie and Dennis are still the best in the business for making your skis fast. Thanks guys! Sorry I fell down in the quarterfinals and sullied the Ford Sayre name with my last-place finish in my heat.

After I left from my Christmas break, I flew back to Europe, where I am doing my masters in biology. But first I took another extra vacation to go to Ruhpolding, a small town on the border of Germany and Austria. Besides biology, I also work part-time for FasterSkier.com, a skiing news site. So I was in Ruhpolding to cover the biathlon World Cup races. I had first gone to Ruhpolding in 2012 to cover World Championships, and Dennis had introduced me to Pam and Walter Pichler, old friends from his biathlon days. They put me up and were the most fun and gracious hosts, so I’ve been back to see them several times since. Every morning when I come downstairs for breakfast, Walter has already gone to the local bakery and come back with my favorite fresh rolls and pretzels, which we slather with butter or cheese or jam, and then we chat about skiing and biathlon and he quizzes me about everything that’s happening on the World Cup. Lesson three: Ford Sayre can make you great connections and open doors for both skiing and friendship.

Chelsea (and the biathlon World Cup crowd!) in Ruhpolding, Germany

Chelsea (and the biathlon World Cup crowd!) in Ruhpolding, Germany

I was proud to wear my Ford Sayre hat all weekend!

I’ve been to a few World Cups and World Championships in my time working for FasterSkier, but it’s always a fun way to spend a weekend. For me it’s a lot of work, but to be able to watch the best athletes in the world right up close – it’s amazing. You realize how incredibly strong and talented they are, but also that they are just normal people with families and feelings and other interests. It’s also very cool to see racing in Europe, where there are actually fans lining the courses, shouting so loud you can barely hear yourself think. One athlete I interviewed was fighting for fourth place when she left the final shooting stage – or so she thought. I turned out she was fighting for third place, but with all the noise she couldn’t hear what her coaches were telling her! She ended up on the podium. Coming from the United States, it’s unreal to see this level of fandom for our sport. Lesson four: maybe we aren’t all completely crazy for dedicating a chunk of our lives to this seemingly obscure pasttime.

Susan Dunklee (in blue), a former Dartmouth and CGRP teammate of Chelsea's, racing in Ruhpolding

Susan Dunklee (in blue), a former Dartmouth and CGRP teammate of Chelsea’s, racing in Ruhpolding

That weekend, I got to spend some time with Susan Dunklee, a teammate of mine from Dartmouth who has gone on to become a very good biathlete. I remember seeing Susan at races ever since that year when I was 15 and didn’t know how to ski. She was always really, really fast, but it’s very cool to see someone who grew up in New England, going to the same races that all of us went to, doing so well on the global stage. Lesson five: you can accomplish anything, from the start that you get here in New England.

And finally, this one doesn’t have so much to do with Ford Sayre, but in a way it does. Lesson six: if you really want something, find a way to get it. I remember writing on my goals sheet in 2010 that I wanted to qualify for the World Cups in Canmore, Canada. That year the US was taking a much larger team because they were allowed Nations Group skiers. I didn’t even come close to making the cut and it’s embarrassing to look back on it now, knowing that I was so far below the level athletically of the women who are racing World Cups now. But I really wanted to see and experience that level of racing. I get to do that now – just not as a racer. Starting to work as a writer has opened a lot of doors and allowed me to do thing I’d always wanted to do. So, to restate lesson six: don’t ignore any of your skills, no matter how random or useless they seem, because they just might be the thing that helps you fulfill your dreams (learning how to wax skis really, really well is always a good start though). Even just in the ski world, there are a whole lot of different jobs and different ways to to do what we all love the most, which is skiing for as much time each week as possible.

Coaching is one of those things too, so thanks to the team for letting me hang out with you and get in some good time on skis, through the ups and downs of Upper Valley snow conditions! ‘Til next year,

Chelsea


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