Training after college can often be a very insular lifestyle. At Craftsbury we have the benefit of spending time with a lot of great people who are focused on keeping the center running or are at Craftsbury for other reasons. However, on our training trips even this outside influence is reduced. We spend our time rowing and then doing all the activities necessary to make that happen. We spend more time together and less time outside of rowing. Like most things this is good and bad. It can be good to narrow your focus, get more rest, and really zone yourself in for a block of time. However, sometimes with this level of focus, context can be lost and rowing seems just a tad too serious for those of us that often take things too seriously.
This trip I was able to branch out a little bit in very positive ways. While training on my own in Durham, NC, I had the good fortune to row with CHaOS Rowing, a club of masters rowers on Lake Jordan who really enjoy the sport. Several of them had past national team experience for a variety of nations and some were starting or continuing club rowing careers. I would train with them on Saturday and Sunday and I was always impressed by the way that everyone would get after it and have joy in the competition. It was really great to feel the competitive energy of people who have or have had careers completely outside rowing. There was no need to be competitive like those of us who have committed to rowing more full time. Yet, it was still there and seemed more positive for its lack of necessity. It created a sense of community to share the experience of competing and the amicability and jokes between pieces only added to the way that everyone attacked the next piece.
After I left Durham I met the whole team in Deland, FL. Because I was managing some forearm tightness I was not always doing two a days on the water. As a result, I looked around for a gym. The place that seemed to make the most sense was the local YMCA. In a very different way than the club at Durham I felt that athletics were forging a community. It seemed as though it was providing a no judgement zone for people to engage with their bodies and engage with each other. People were truly at the ends of every spectrum of physical ability yet the environment felt welcoming to all levels. There were a variety of classes and I got the sense that people went there to see their friends as well as workout. As someone aiming for performance, I felt like the relaxed environment helped me work hard free of stress or overthinking the work I had to do. I can’t say that I took as specific a lesson from here as from Durham but it did make me think about the community facet of the Craftsbury mission statement and how I can add to community engagement with how I go about things.
What a privilege it is to be a ski-racer: we train year
round for a sport that we love, a sport that is exciting, intimate with nature,
technical, and keeps our bodies healthy. When I was in high school, our coach
advertised cross-country skiing as “a lifetime sport,” a sport in
which you can compete for the rest of your life. For myself, I hope that the
structure and work ethic that training for cross-country ski racing instills in
me will transfer when my life is centered on something other than being the
fastest ski-racer or biathlete I can be. Cross-country skiing is a sport that
is worth sharing, and this April I had the privilege of getting to share the
sport in rural Alaska.
There are parts of the world where skiing can not only serve
as an avenue for athletic or character development, but also play a more
functional role in daily life. Think of the Arctic, where snow covers the
landscape more often than it doesn’t, where snow-mobiles (known simply as
“sno-gos” in the Arctic) pack down the snow-laden village streets,
and where success or failure in silently stalking caribou on a hunt can mean a
guarantee of food on the table, or not.
Skiku/NANA Nordic is an Alaskan non-profit that sends skiers
and coaches to the rural Alaskan villages to teach basic skiing skills for one
week each year. “Skiku” is the overarching name for the organization
(the name comes from combining the Inupiaq word for ice, siku, and the word ski)
while “NANA Nordic” was the original name for the organization before
their reach expanded beyond the Northwest Arctic Native Association’s region.
This year Skiku had 58 villages on the schedule. Between three and six coaches
are sent to each village for one week. While in the village, the coaches take
over the phys-ed classes during the day, provide after-school ski programming
(usually games and adventure skiing) for kids after school, and offer lessons
for community members as well.
This year I had the privilege of coaching with Skiku in the
village of Shungnak. Shungnak is located 355 miles inland of the Kotzebue
Sound, just southeast of Kobuk Valley National Park and southwest of Gates of
the Arctic National Park. Shungnak has about 250 residents, 95% of whom are of
Alaska Native heritage. In Shungnak I was joined by two other coaches, Harvard
University assistant coach Jeff Tucker and GRP summer athlete Johanna Talihärm (during the week, Jeff
received word that he would be joining the Craftsbury coaching staff for the
summer!). Although I had served as a coach with Skiku in the past, each village
is unique and I knew that Shungnak would be no exception.
A week before traveling to the Arctic I called the Shungnak
school principle, Roger, to introduce myself and make sure that the village was
prepared for their “ski-week.” Roger assured me that he, the village,
and the kids were ready. The kids love skiing, he had told me, and they are
pretty darn good, too. He talked about previous years, about how the entire
village had lined the village streets to watch the race at the end of the week.
“Because in Shungnak, It’s a ‘We’,” he had said.
Fast forward to our week in the Arctic, and it didn’t take
long for Johanna, Jeff, and I to learn what “It’s a We” was all
about. The community made us welcome, having put up welcome signs in the school
and providing us with all the resources we need, which made it a joy to share
as much as we could about skiing with them. We spent our nights sleeping in the
fourth and fifth grade classroom and our days on skis. After morning assembly
at 8:55am, we would prep for our classes by organizing gear or setting up an
obstacle course, treasure hunt, games, or the race course. When P.E. classes
began, we were fortunate that Shungnak’s students were easy to work with. As
long as we maintained structure and order, as was the way at Shungnak school,
the kids followed along. This allowed the three of us to get all the kids, as
many as thirty at a time (and nearly fifty on race day!) set up with equipment
and out the door in a matter of minutes.
Every day we took four separate PE classes out for an hour
each; ages ranged from pre-kindergarten to seventh grade, and abilities ranged
wider. Each day brought a new
theme (which always kept things interesting for both us and the kids): Starting
and stopping games, agility course, biathlon, treasure hunt, and racing. After
school we took all comers outside to play a game on skis (the most popular being
run, caribou, run and capture the flag) or on an adventure ski
either down the sno-go trail toward the next town, Kobuk, or through the
village streets. Although we had to be on the lookout for stray dogs and
speeding sno-gos, I always preferred going into the village, where interested
adults would glance up from their work on a sno-go to watch kids ski by, and
kids would call out, “look, Dad, watch me slide!” and then proceed to
share with you all about their family as we skied along.
It’s easy to think that we were the ones giving the kids a
special experience. And in a way we did. It was evident when we saw the joy on
their faces as they sprinted to the equipment line on the last day, when they
zipped down a hill without falling, or when one said “I croak”
(translation: I’m exhausted) with satisfaction after he crossed the finish line
on race day. But the reality is that they and Shungnak as a whole gave us arguably
the more valued experience, one that will change our perspectives on culture,
struggle, joy, and what is really important. It’s not just a privilege to
pursue ski racing, but it is also a privilege to share it.
Roger was really big on mottos. “It’s a We” was
the big one, but there were also “Education comes first” and
“Education is a job,” which were emblazoned all over the gym. At
first, I thought it was a little overkill. The phrases were everywhere. But by
the end of the week, I had bought in. Take “It’s a We,” for example. Roger
had come up with the phrase as a school motto, but the words were transcendent.
“It’s a We” represented Roger’s mission to increase the sense of
community in Shungnak. It was Shungnak’s brand. And they wore it well, both
figuratively, and literally. In fact, Roger had officially made the slogan a registered
trademark of Shungnak School, and it appears of every article of school
clothing, from teachers’ sweatshirts to basketball uniforms. Roger even outfit
us ski coaches (as well as other visitors) with our own ‘It’s a We’
paraphernalia, broadcasting the Shungnak identity beyond the Kobuk Valley. But
it was clear that the slogan wasn’t about sending an image to outside world,
but about uniting Shungnak internally. One of Roger’s biggest goals when he
arrived as principle eight years ago was to increase parent involvement in their
child’s education, to have parent and student pursue education as a job
together. He wanted families to stand up against domestic violence and alcohol
abuse, to make Shungnak a safe and healthy environment. He wanted the students
to serve their communities, for example fetching stove oil for neighbors or
chopping wood for an elder. This is what “It’s a We” stood for.
During our time in Shungnak we heard jaw-dropping stories
illustrating Shungnak’s transformation over the last eight years. We only got a
glimpse into Shungnak, but we could see the essence of “It’s a We” in
something as simple as skiing. For one, the school had bought into the ski
program: they not only have established an ongoing system to take the kids
skiing throughout the winter but have also purchased two laser biathlon
systems, Podiumwear warmup uniforms, and a wax box filled with a brand new Swix
T77 iron, waxes, brushes, and a “Swix CeraF” apron. Teachers and
community members were also enjoying the sport: we had four adults attend our
evening community ski lesson, including a mom who had been convinced by her
first and third grade daughters to give it a try. And the biggest sign of
support was when we saw the community turn out to watch the race on Friday
afternoon. Family members and friends lined up in front of the village store
and watched their kids race a challenging 3km in slushy conditions. For me,
that alone made it worth it, to see that skiing could contribute to the mission
of “It’s a We.”
Oh, the places ski racing will take you! Most recently: Beijing, China, for the 2019 edition of the China City Sprint Tour. Ida, Corey, and I decided to make the journey to China for three freestyle city sprints, which are part of China’s plan to hype up winter sports in their country before the 2022 Olympics. We were part of a US contingent which included 13 athletes from all different clubs. The races also included athletes from Sweden, Norway, Italy, Russia, and Germany, and the host country, China. If you really don’t like reading and want the highlights, here they are: dumplings, extreme jet lag, racing next to the Olympic stadium, SMOG, Great Wall of China, more dumplings, ramen, right hand turns. For everyone else, here’s the day by day!
We were only in China for about 3 hours on this day, so it doesn’t count in the official tally. However, travel days are always fun, right? This one starts with a 3 am wake up for Corey and me, then a 6 hour layover in Toronto, a 13 hour flight to Beijing, and 9 pm arrival at our hotel, the night before the race. Oh, and that’s actually over the course of two days, but who’s counting. Ollie and Ida have slightly more civil travel days from Boston and Munich, respectively. We have a team meeting and pass out, completely exhausted from the day.
Our first real day on the ground in Beijing, and also, race day number one. Air quality today is…. not good. The kind that hurts your lungs when you step outside, and cuts visibility to around a quarter mile. Our race course for the day is a two lap 1.7k freestyle sprint. It’s in the plaza right next to the Bird’s Nest, the Olympic stadium from the 2008 Games. Most of the race courses we’re used to from SuperTours and World Cups wind through the woods and climb and descend steep hills, so this course is something very different for us! It’s essentially a giant rectangle with one short bridge hill. Lots of right hand turns, and a lot of flat. Speaking of flat, that pretty much describes how we feel! The snow is slow and baking in the 60F sun. Racing in a literal fog from pollution, and a figurative one from jet lag, we push through anyways.
I squeak into the rounds in 29th and finish 29th in the heats. Ida is battling some food poisoning, but still races hard and finishes 16th in the qualifier and 18th in heats. City sprints are interesting because they really limit the amount of time on course for testing and warm-up. Our wax techs get about 20 minutes to test, and we get 25 for ski testing and warm-up. It’s an extra challenge, but the techs overcome it and give us great skis nevertheless. Other fun things from the day include “Chinese style” portapotties (no seat! no toilet paper! minimalism!) and our athlete lunches, which include, of all things, Subways sandwiches, Coke, and Snickers bars. I can tell I’m really tired because somehow I only manage to take two pictures for the whole day.
Day two on the ground in China also happens to be our second race day! Instead of racing in downtown Beijing, our race venue is in Shougang, which is about an hour drive from our hotel, in the industrial district. It’s also where they plan to put the Olympic village for the 2022 Games, so we’re all really interested to see it. Upon arrival, we can’t decide if we’ve arrived in a run down amusement park or a post apocalyptic scene. Apparently the steel factory there shut down over 15 years ago but the buildings are still intact. They plan to keep many of the original structures in place while building the village. It will be fascinating to see what it looks like in three years!
Unfortunately, we also wake up to an air quality index of over 300. For reference, most major cities in the US hover around 50, anything over 150 is unhealthy, and 300 is deemed “hazardous”, with outdoor activity strongly discouraged. Luckily, after a day on the ground, we all seem to get our bearings and feel better in the race. The course for the day is just one lap, and includes a fast, icy start, as well as a very gradual climb with rollers. Ida qualifies in 10th, and then powers through to the A Final where she places 2nd! Corey also qualifies, and then finishes 3rd in her quarterfinal, for 16th overall. I’m happy to feel good in my qualifier and finish 26th.
After two races in two days, we are very happy to have an off day on day three. We’re even more excited because we get to see the Great Wall of China! On our bus ride from Beijing to the Wall, we learn all sorts of fun facts about the wall. For example, it’s 3,000 miles long, and extends from the ocean towards the interior of the country. It was intended to protect the Chinese from attacking nomadic groups from the north, including the Huns. It also has really cool watch towers where guards would light signal fires to communicate. Most of the wall was built by the Ming dynasty, which ruled in the 1300’s to 1600’s. One thing they don’t tell you is that the Great Wall is steep!! We walked from the tour bus stop in both directions had some burning calves and quads as a result.
In the afternoon, a few of us go to the venue in Yanqing to go for a very short ski and to get our bearings. We’re very excited about this particular venue because it includes both left and right turns! They also put in rollers both out of the start and into the finish, so it doesn’t lack for interesting features.
Day four of racing brings a new location with the most exciting course yet! (including aforementioned left hand turns and rollers). It’s nice to get out of the city to Yanqing, a future site for one of the Olympic villages, and also where they will hold the luge, bobsled, and alpine skiing events. The air is also slightly clearer for our third race day, but by that point, most athletes are hacking quite a bit as a result of the other race days.
I don’t have very many photos of the day, but it was a really impressive venue with tons of spectators. The course winds around the circular building in the first photo, which is also the athlete building. Racing goes decently- Ida makes the semi’s and finishes 12th in the heats, which puts her in 9th for the overall sprint tour. I finish 30th, and after racing, the exhaustion of the past couple days really sets in! It’s crazy to think that we raced three times in four days right after flying halfway across the world. Needless to say we are all happy to be done racing, and to enjoy the banquet, which features Chinese opera, traditional dancing, and a sweet raffle.
With our racing behind us, day five means that we can do some exploring. Unfortunately for us, a few days into our stay, the Chinese government called their annual meeting in Beijing, so the city is pretty much closed down. We can’t go explore the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, or any of the other famous sights. However, we’re still in a pretty cool area, and the pollution is also way down so we can venture out without masks! One group checks out some caves, others use the hotel bikes, and our group goes on a long run into the mountains to see what we can find.
Most of the team flies out on day six, but Corey and I don’t leave Beijing until 7 pm, so we have the whole day to explore the city! After successfully navigating the Chinese subway system, we pop out into a cool shopping district called Nanluoguxiang. It’s a narrow, twisting pedestrian-only alleyway with tons of restaurants and small shops. It’s a perfect way to see a little bit of the city but avoid the craziness of downtown. We eat ramen and rice bowls, drink matcha, and practice our calligraphy then hop on the subway back to the airport for another 13 hour flight back to the States.
Reflecting back on the trip, it was a bit of whirlwind! Usually, when we travel to races, we leave for the venue at least a few days before the first race, even more when it involves a significant time change. It was a huge challenge for me to keep up with the travel, the time change, and the jam-packed race schedule, and all of the other athletes I talked to felt the same way. With the air pollution on top of that, it was definitely one of the more interesting race experiences I’ve ever had. However, I’m really grateful that Swix China paid for all of us to fly over and covered our lodging and transportation while we were there. On the whole, it was such a cool opportunity to see a country that I normally wouldn’t while ski racing, race against some really fast people, and appreciate even more being back in Vermont to breath some clean, fresh air!
Hello GRP followers! Earlier this week the men’s side of the rowing team wrapped up their first training trip down in Peachtree City, Georgia after a week of some very productive training. They’re now back up in the snowy north and back onto skis. The guys did some great work remembering how to move a single, figuring out how to match up with different people in team boats, and setting down a solid base of blisters to heal up and hopefully turn into callouses for the main training trip in a couple weeks.
From where we left off in our past blog post, last weekend started out with a variety of team boats work with a nice long doubles steady state workout through the fog which provided for some great photo opportunities, as I’m sure you can imagine. The best part about rowing in the fog (as long as you’re vigilant about keeping an eye out for anything ahead) is the dead calm water that you usually get. Steve made sure to take advantage and have the guys focus on some important technical aspects around the release with bringing the bodies over and keeping them perched as we brought the boat towards us with the hamstrings.
An easy breezy row that Friday afternoon in the quad helped get the guys ready for their first taste of speed for the following morning workout of 2x(5x(1:00 on, 1:00 off)) starting around a 30 and progressing higher and higher. Considering each row in the quad was the first time in each respective lineup, Saturday’s pieces felt surprisingly relaxed and quick. That morning’s lineup consisted of four of the GRPers with Wes in stroke, Lucas sitting in three, Kevin in two seat, and Andy making the calls from up in bow. Things got a bit rushed and forced once the final open rate piece rolled around, but it was nothing to lose sleep over considering it was everyone’s first time above a 38 in a boat since November.
Following a quick snack refuel to hit that catabolic window, the guys spent a couple hours with the juniors of Peachtree City Rowing Club to talk about all things sculling. The guys regaled stories and lessons they had learned from rowing in college followed up by advice from what they’ve learned in about sculling in the years since graduating. The guys split the juniors up into a couple groups and had each group spend half the time focusing on technical aspects in the boat while the other half was spent talking hitting the large themes surrounding erging, training, nutrition, and the psychology of racing. Obviously all of those topics, both in the boat and out of it, can be discussed for months on end, so the guys tried to hit a few of the key lessons each of them had learned over the years.
Saturday afternoon after talking to the Juniors was spent with a quick and purposeful row in the singles in order to sharpen the guys up for the following morning fun. Steve lined up a 4,000m open-rate piece the Sunday morning’s practice with no set course. The guys were simply to set their speed coaches for 4,000m, start in one corner of the lake, and see how quickly they could cover. As some back story, the buoyed race course on Lake McIntosh covers 2,500m. An S turn near the start of the course can add an additional ~900m or so. Which means you needed to add another ~600m to the piece in some fashion or another. The assumption was that we would all probably divert from the course where the lake opens up and do a long loop around the rough circumference of the lake (all in the traffic pattern, of course) in order to add the necessary 600m to hit 4,000m on our speed coaches. Steve gave the group a start time of 8:15am for the piece. Everyone launched somewhere around 7:30 and everyone headed straight up to the course towards the start and added a couple short loops on the course to lengthen the warmup and kill time until the start. Everyone, that is except Lucas. For whatever reason (to be realized later by everyone else), Lucas went straight towards the finish line and down a small finger of the lake before turning around and heading to the start line. Not thinking anything of it, everyone gathered around the start location as you can see in the map below in the upper left corner. The usual pre-race banter ensued and then Steve sent everyone off on 45″ intervals based on seniority of birth. John Graves, being the most well aged (like a bottle of fine wine, one might say) of the group, started things off. Lucas, being the young gun of the group, started last. As everyone hooked a sharp turn towards starboard into a brutal headwind running from West to East that had picked up before the start of the piece, people’s splits suffered accordingly. It wasn’t until everyone was on the West side of the lake did we realize why Lucas had started his warmup by heading down the end finger of the lake. As he speeded straight down the course as the lake opened up, it was then that we realized he had been figuring out just how long he could stretch the lake in as straight of a line as possible. Everyone else took the red line in the map below, and Lucas made up gobs of time on most of the field by not having to deal with the wall of a headwind everyone else rowed into. Granted, the rest of the group had a semblance of a tailwind as they headed back east, but it was mostly blocked by the trees and land along the west side of the lake. Lucas demolished most of the field, only falling to the always silky smooth JGraveyboat and US 2018 Single Sculler, Kevin Meador. The only thing Lucas hadn’t foreseen was having to dodge people as they finished in front of him well short of the finger he barreled into with reckless abandon. He also hadn’t accounted for Steve’s wake as Steve sped to catch the finish of everyone else. Yet, Lucas’ ingenious plan payed off.
After the 4k, the group talked again to the remainder of the Junior program who hadn’t gotten a chance to listen to the GRPers wax poetic about training and the art of sculling. Both groups of high schoolers were great students and seemed to really enjoy hearing the experiences of the Greenies as they look towards the horizon of collegiate rowing.
Sunday afternoon after the 4k, Steve gave the group a quick power lift to… power through, before spending most of the evening relaxing as he made his promised Muddy Buddies (Puppy Chow for us midwesterners) and the guys watched the latest adventures of Newt Scamander and Albus Dumbledoor in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The rest of the trip unfortunately flew by in a blur of one of the windiest rows that the guys had yet experienced followed immediately by some gorgeous conditions for quad rowing and singles drills. We even got to end everything with some excitement as Lucas flipped Monday evening while doing stationary drills followed by Wes flipping Tuesday morning with the continuation of the same stationary drills.
As the guys headed north Tuesday morning, Steve drove even further south towards Trials I which will be hosted in Sarasota, Florida at the end of April. The full GRP Rowing team will be rejoining the trailer in DeLand, FL on March 19th for their long training trip in preparation for Single Trials. Until then, they’ll be taking full advantage of the pristine skiing conditions at the Center and dreaming about warm sunshine.