The biggest and best news story coming out of the Adirondack Mountains these days is all about the five skiers from various Adirondack neighborhoods who will soon be, or have already been named to the 2010 United States Winter Olympic Team. This is an awe-inspiring moment if you love sport, competition, and seeing nice people achieve their goals.
Each of the following athletes grew up in the Adirondacks. I know all of them and they are extraordinarily nice young people. That they possess a solid work ethic and are extremely focused people will come as no surprise, but their exceptionally positive and unique personalities are nearly as noteworthy as their athletic accomplishments.
The athlete I know the best, Lowell Bailey, will compete in his second Olympics this year in Vancouver. In 2006 he achieved what was his and is every Lake Placid ski racers’ childhood dream when he made the US Biathlon Team and competed in XX Winter Olympics in Torino. Lowell grew up and lives in Lake Placid. He trains at the neighborhood ski center, Mount Van Hoevenberg, (MVH) when he is in town. Lowell’s musical interests are an integral part of what makes him tick and if you are lucky you can catch him playing locally in the off season. We all hope Lowell does well at the Olympics, but I promise if he gets a medal at the upcoming Games, I will not to ask him ever again how the turkey ham got on the kitchen ceiling that afternoon 18 years ago when he and my son were hanging out at our house after ski training.
Tim Burke, our Paul Smith’s, New York Olympian, wears the Biathlon World Cup yellow leader’s bib, which means he is currently the world’s best biathlete. For those of you who do not follow Nordic skiing, this is the first time in the history of competitive biathlon when one could type that sentence. “An American is the world’s best biathlete.” Wow.
Another Torino Games veteran, Tim grew up skiing in the Adirondacks and also trains at MVH. Tim comes from a family of dedicated and friendly skiers; I’ve never seen his mother without a beaming smile on her face and his Dad has always been generous with waxing tips when I see him at our old-people ski races. Locals are not surprised to hear Tim Burke is known as one of the nicest guys in competitive skiing.
The Adirondack Nordic Combined Olympian Billy Demong, has the most Olympic experience under his belt. A ten-year veteran of the US Ski Team, Billy holds a number of US records in this sport we sometimes call “Nordic Confused;” a combination of cross-country ski racing and ski jumping. Although it is safe to say Billy is the best American Nordic Combined competitor in the history of the sport, the real story concerns his incredible come back after cracking his skull open on the bottom of a swimming pool at a hotel in Germany in 2002. Billy says he is mentally stronger as a result of the accident. Excellence and good humor seems to be part of the Vermontville native’s destiny as his Mom, who was pregnant with Billy when she attended the 1980 Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid, is a performance musician and music teacher. His Dad was one of our family’s favorite fisheries biologists who good naturedly tolerated much ribbing as a member of our volleyball team many moons ago. I particularly like Billy’s words to live by: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. -Theodore Roosevelt”
The lone female Adirondack member of the US Ski Team is biathlete Haley Johnson. Born and bred in Lake Placid, Haley will compete in her inaugural Olympics next month in Vancouver. Another Adirondack skier with ski racing in her blood, Haley hails from a family of top-notch ski racers, dedicated to skiing. She is a past winner of the alpine race that bears her grandfather’s name, the Hovey Memorial Race, held at the local Olympic Mountain, Whiteface, for the past 30 years. Although she was a top alpine competitor, Haley also has a great engine for endurance events which made her switch from downhill racing to biathlon in high school a great decision. Her commitment to hard work, excellence, and community is easy to see when you read her blog designed to encourage and inspire young skiers.
Our Adirondack Alpine Olympic hopeful is another Lake Placid native, Andrew Weibrecht. If named to the 2010 US Olympic Alpine Team, it will be Andrew’s first appearance at an Olympic Winter Games. Andrew’s prowess is in the alpine speed events; Downhill and Giant Slalom. No events for those of us without plenty of gumption, this genre of skiing is highly competitive and downright scary. Child number four in a skiing and competitive family of five, Andrew had to ski hard and fast to keep up with his older siblings. Because he trains hard and skis fast on the most challenging ski runs in the world is exactly why we’ll see Andrew in Vancouver next month.
If you run into these athletes out of the competitive arena, you might be surprised by their laid back manner and the way they seem to epitomize cool. Don’t be fooled; like most successful athletes, they’ve learned to be fierce competitors when it matters. In a time when authenticity is a rare commodity, (despite the endless supply of reality shows on Tee Vee) athletic achievement at the Olympic level is refreshingly real. You can’t fake it; either you have it or you don’t. You simply cannot buy the requisite raw talent, focus, and tenacity to be an Olympian.
We are obviously pretty proud of our Adirondack Olympians and I think this is the biggest Adirondack Lifestyle story of the year thus far. Stayed tuned, however, as the Olympic Games kick off in a few weeks and if the World Cup races are any indication, I think we are destined to hear more big news about the Adirondack Olympians.