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The New Guy's Perspective: Riding in the Shadows of Olympians

February 25, 2014 6:00pm home winter tngp

Before we get going, I'd like to just say a huge congratulations to the entire Burke Mountain Academy family. Students, alums, staff, extended family, what BMA has been able to do over the last five decades with education and ski race training is absolutely amazing. I can only imagine what it felt like for a BMA alum to watch Mikaela have a gold medal put around her neck, or to see Nolan, Liz or Ida proudly represent the US Ski team. Or to see Trace race GS and Slalom on the Olympic stage. Or what it felt like for their coaches and teachers. Or what it felt like for current BMA students to grab their skis Monday morning and head out, knowing that their training could very well lead them to the 2018 Games in South Korea or the 2022 Games, wherever they might be held.

For the rest of us, it's pretty amazing that the woman who just won an Olympic Gold medal and set a record as the youngest ever Gold Medalist in Women's Slalom was skiing this very mountain not-so-long ago, isn't it? It's pretty amazing that four other athletes who spent a substantial amount of time in East Burke training and developing just competed in the Winter Olympics, isn't it? So before we go any farther, let's all take a second and (to yourself - not out loud; I wouldn't want people to look at you funny....) congratulate Mikaela Shiffrin, Nolan Kasper, Trace Smith, Ida Sargent and Liz Stephen one more time. 

So this morning, just a few days after the closing ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, I found myself on a solo journey up the Mid-Burke Express to take a few runs. As I rode the chair up, I was distracted by the typical medley - emails pinging, texts popping through, calls coming in. Before I knew it I was unloading and strapping in at the top of the mountain. As I was deciding where the run would take me, a group of current BMA students passed by. As I watched them ski away, I was struck by the fact that every one of their turns seemed to have purpose, as if every turn was a chance to practice, to improve, to be more prepared for the next race. So as I made my way down the mountain, I found myself stopped at the top of the training hill, watching racers smash gates into oblivion, pulling every ounce of speed out of their line. To be clear, most of what I know about ski racing I've picked up in the last few months. I grew up surfing, playing soccer and eventually snowboarding, all of which are quite a bit different than the sharp, precise, every tenth of a second counts world of ski racing. Still, I found myself amazed by these kids. Inspired by these kids. Amazed by their precision, by their dedication, by the fact that they get mad at themselves when they miss a turn in a practice run. Amazed that on their ride up the Poma, they intently watch and evaluate their fellow skiers, as opposed to drifting off and letting their mind relax. They seem to always be striving to get better, always striving to find a way to shave a tenth or two from their next run.

As I rode away (about 100 times more conscious of my turn shape and body position, mind you) and got back on the lift, I thought "no wonder BMA has had so many Olympians and so much influence on the US Ski team over the years." It's obvious that Mikaela Shiffrin, Nolan Kasper and Trace Smith have something innate, something special about them that makes them as great as they are. And that Ida Sargent and Liz Stephen have something different in them that allows them to push past what seem to be the limits of cardiovascular endurance in the Nordic events. But it also seems that BMA does a great job of taking athletes like Mikaela, Nolan, Trace, Liz and Ida, and helping them turn their gifts into truly great talent. Based on a recent experience I was fortunate enough to have (lunch in the BMA cafeteria with their Director of Development and Communications), I can say that the work that BMA does to create the right culture and help these kids succeed extends beyond the training hill and the race course. It permeates everything that they do. And it's because of this that BMA will no doubt continue to produce Olympians and US Ski Team members far into the future. 

So next time you're on the hill, take a run down the side of Lower Warren's and pretend you're running gates. Watch the BMA kids train from the lift chair. Follow their line if you see them taking a few warm up runs on the hill. Who knows, you just might be skiing in the tracks of a future Olympian...

See ya on the hill,

Andrew