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Archive for April, 2013

Homeward Bound!

24.Apr.2013 by Steve Whelpley

We’re headed back North! However, it’s hard to say that we’re really headed home just yet since our first important race of the year is upon us. The fall season is still racing and entertaining, but in actuality, has no real bearings on making the National Team for rowing. The first National Selection Regatta (ie NSRI) still may not yield a selected boat for the National Team, but it’s an important first step towards jockeying for position. Some other day we can do a post with diagrams and graphs to illustrate roads to the National Team.

For now, I just wanted to share some closing images from our time in Clemson.


Dan’s Office

If you look closely, you can see Dan perched atop the second story of the dock. It became his “office” from time to time.


Ref Driving

We wound up helping with four different regattas while staying in Clemson. Three were with the varsity women’s program and one was with the Clemson club program. Whether we were stake-boating, launch driving, or acting as a runner, Dan saw to it that we were the best and most efficient workers out there.



The last regatta we helped with was EPIC! Clemson planned to host a race with a handful of solid NCAA teams that wouldn’t face each other until NCAAs. Then, someone else asked to come and someone else after that. Before you know it, they had 19 teams coming to this almost impromptu regatta. Overall, things went swimmingly, but the second half of Sunday morning presented a patented Clemson crosswind that forced them to move to floating starts. This was a bit of an issue since the race results become much more ambiguous and aren’t as useful for NCAA standings.


Finish cam.

I can’t seem to escape timing duties! I was driving a launch Saturday morning, but by the afternoon, got shifted to help with finish line timing….. then, they never let go of me. It was sort of cool to see some of the differences and similarities between timing rowing and timing ski races. Not knowing my limited experience timing ski races, they thought I was some timing natural at this race. Props to our guru back home, Sheldon.

Now, last but not least….


Scorpion (not the character from Mortal Kombat, but the real one)

Sooooo, on Saturday, Charlie drove a ref around that told him about how scorpions were in the area and head indoors around this time of the year. Upon hearing this, we were all a mix of “yeah right” and “oh geez.” Then, that VERY night, Charlie starts yelling between laughs as he found a scorpion in our kitchen. It was time to go.


NANANordic and the Alaskan Arctic

24.Apr.2013 by Susan Dunklee

Last week, I lived for a few days in an Alaskan school to teach the students how to ski through a program called NANANordic. NANANordic and its sponsors provided skis and coordinated different instructors to do week long visits to all 11 villages in the NANA region this spring. I was one of five instructors sent to the village of Noorvik, armed with about 60 sets of ski equipment. We worked with kindergarten through 12th graders both during their gym classes and after school hours. The kids loved it!


This kid’s name is Smiley. Fitting, don’t you think?


The NANA region contains 38,000 square miles, 11 villages, and is home to the Inupiaq People. I flew into the largest town, Kotzebue and then took a small bush plane to the village of Noorvik, which was the first town in the nation to be counted in the 2010 census: population 668. This was my first visit north of the arctic circle and my first visit to Alaska.


The scene at a village airport (Selawik). Villages are connected by snowmobile highways, rivers, and bush planes. For the most part, there are no traditional roads for cars and trucks except within villages.


As our plane landed, we parted a large herd of caribou which separated to either side of the runway.


Within 15 minutes of landing in Noorvik we found ourselves put to work handing out skis, boots and poles. Our team leader, Andrew Kastning from UAA, had put out a message on the town vhf radio that there was Sunday afternoon skiing available for the kids and a full crowd showed up within minutes. NANANordic had first visited Noorvik in 2012 and the kids couldn’t wait for the skiing to come back this year. Despite bringing a wide selection of gear and sizes, we often didn’t have quite the right sized gear for everybody, but it didn’t matter. They were happy to make it work, even if the boots were 3 sizes too big or the skis were two feet taller than they were. Every day after school we would outfit over 50 kids with skis then have to turn the rest away once we ran out of gear.


Passing through downtown with a gym class during the school week.


The most popular and our most commonly visited ski site was the beech of the frozen Kobuk River at the edge of town. There was a big hill that created hours of entertainment for some kids and gave others the freedom to ski across and explore fish camps and tributaries on the other side. One morning we even saw a moose running across the river.

Part of my role with NANANordic was to introduce the skiers to biathlon. I brought a rifle out to the river one day after school for a show and tell to talk about the sport. Biathlon originated in northern cultures as a means of hunting and could still be very applicable today.


We also adventured into the forest behind the school. I bet these little trees are over 60 years old and grow slowly in such a harsh climate.


Notice the Brooks Range in the background. You are looking at the northernmost section of the Continental Divide.


Sticks in the air! It took me a little while to get used to some new lingo: “sticks” were poles, “sliding” meant skiing downhill, “skates” sometimes were skis, “flying” meant hitting a jump, and a “snow go” is the same as a snowmobile.


We devised an organized gear storage system for the week in the back closet of the gym. After all the villages have been visited, NANANordic will divide up all the skis and leave some in each village. Part of our job was to think about who in the village might be interested in coordinating and caring for the gear after we left. We tried to encourage some of Noorvik’s older students to form a student run ski club to fill that role.


Noorvik Instructors: Odin Brudie, Frankie Pillifant, Dylan Watts- coach with APU, myself, and Andrew Kastning- ski coach at UAA. Odin and Frankie live in Juneau where they have spent years running a junior ski program (and hopefully a future biathlon program!) through the local 4-H club. Frankie also works in the NANA region’s Red Dog mine and had some great stories about life there.


At this time of year, the sun stays up in the arctic until about 11 pm, and the town kids would be outside playing during all daylight hours. If they weren’t outside, there was a good chance they were playing basketball in the school gym- which is an incredibly popular sport in the area.


One couple in town, Dave and Audrey, invited us to their house for dinner several times and offered us some local specialities including muktuk (whale skin and blubber).


They were very generous and also shared caribou stew (above), wild swan (“arctic turkey”), salmon, and wild blueberries, food they had harvested themselves.


The most impressive part was that they invited us over while they had an 11 day old newborn, Helen. Check out her traditional Inupiaq swing, made from rope, canvas, and a wood frame.


The first day we were in the arctic, we saw a couple sled dog races, including the finish of the multiday Kobuk 440 race in Kotzebue.


Some teams were still passing through Noorvik and stopping at an aid station there when we arrived.


Check out these sealskin pants. Very warm.


At the end of our stay in Noorvik, we had the option of doing a village-to-village ski before flying home. We skied 35 miles to Selawik on one of the snowmobile “highways” and our new friend Dave supported us on a snowgo. We carried packs loaded with food, water, dry clothes, and a few survival supplies. We also carried a rifle for safety. A real life application of biathlon! During the ski we saw a caribou herd and spotted wolf tracks in the snow.


The ski took almost 6 hours and despite mostly flat terrain, I bonked hard at the end. It was too cold to stop for very long to refuel. Luckily we had muktuk to snack on. During the first few hours, we were skiing thru mist and couldn’t see much in front of us. Most of the route went over flat tundra terrain without trees.

I had a wonderful time in Noorvik and can’t wait to go back to arctic Alaska again! I already miss being mobbed by friendly kids, aka “death by hugging.” Photo: NANANordic

“The Purest of Spirit”

16.Apr.2013 by Steve Whelpley

Good to see Griz’s thoughts on it as well.  I feel that I’d be remiss if I didn’t allocate some words to what happened in Boston in light of posting a comparatively trivial post on fungi.  That being said, we are still close enough to the incident that even the most graceful words (assuming I magically gained access to them) may prove insufficient.

In exchanging some texts with Lynn Jennings about the tragedy, I headed down an avenue of thought that I often do during my pursuit of rowing, where I view my endeavor as unjustly privileged.  In light of this tragic act exacted upon a pure and innocent athletic endeavor, I don’t think anything is necessarily gained from being hard on yourself with a hint of self-hatred.  However, the positive direction to take it in is to simply recognize and appreciate the extreme good fortune one is granted when allowed to pursue such a beautifully simplistic goal in the world of athletics.

We are also very fortunate that no one in the extended Craftsbury family was physically affected by the attack.  Even so, there are many condolences and sympathies to be had.  Additionally, the road to internal resolve will be complicated and difficult, considering the stark nature and weight of the event.  Although it is an extremely meager and humble offering, I’m sure all of us GRP rowers will do our best to “row with the purest of spirit(s)” as Lynn phrased it in honor of those who suffered such immense misfortune at the marathon.

One City, One Nation, One Resolve

16.Apr.2013 by Phil Grisdela

As an athlete, it is unthinkable to me how somebody could intentionally attack an event like the Boston Marathon that has been promoting international competition in sport for 117 years. Such an event seems to me to be above nationalities and is one of the purest expressions of our human drive to compete we have today. Having lived in Boston and the New England area for the past five years, the thought of an attack there strikes close to home, as I am sure it does for many in the Craftsbury community. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of those who died, and hope for a swift return to health to those who were injured.

While the rest of the GRP is finishing up training camp in Clemson SC to prepare for the first NSR, a group of us (myself, Phil Henson and Kyle Lafferty) have been training in Oklahoma City at the USRowing training center for the lightweights. While we look forward to returning to the GRP, the value of the competition here and the focus that vying for the four seats in the Olympic-class boat brings are invaluable. With the tragedy that happened in Boston yesterday on our minds, the head coach of the program Brian Volpenhein changed the morning practice plan by adding a team run to the Oklahoma City National Memorial in town. A group of around 20 of us ran from the boathouse through the city in the early morning to the quiet and stirring memorial to the bombings that happened on April 19, 1995.

When we got to the memorial, Volp brought everyone together and gave some history on the memorial, including its motto: “One City, One Nation, One Resolve.” We were all given some time to walk through the monument with its tribute to the 168 that died in the attack and to reflect on what has happened and what we are doing. It’s easy to get caught up in the minutia of training, trying to make a technical change or reaching that next level of fitness to try and earn the right to compete in the Olympics. In times like this however it’s important to remember that by competing at the Olympics or in any international competition we are striving to represent the United States as much or more than ourselves. Walking around the memorial with this group of athletes all working for the chance to represent their country, I was struck by the inspiring stories of Americans in times of conflict. Knowing the history of how Oklahoma City and the country came together after the bombings almost 18 years ago and seeing how Boston and the country are coming together now give me hope in the power of our nation. Hearing stories of how runners who had just finished the marathon yesterday kept on going to get to a hospital to donate blood or the doctors from MGH who competed in the race and were ready to answer the call to help make me proud to be an Olympic hopeful working to earn the right to represent our country on the world stage.



-Phil G