ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Gus Schumacher is used to the little-guy jokes, like when his Alaska Winter Stars (AWS) coach Jan Buron says he weighs less than his dog — or when his Junior Nationals team makes him carry the Alaska Cup all the way to Stowe, Vt., because he’s the youngest one on the team.
But the 13-year-old from Anchorage doesn’t seem to mind because really, the joke’s on them. He can say, ‘What’s up?’ to Andy Newell and Newell will greet him back.
The son of U.S. Ski Team doctor Greg Schumacher, an orthopedic practitioner in Anchorage, Gus even raced in the same event as Newell in Sunday’s 1.4-kilometer classic sprint at SuperTour Finals. He raced the day before, too, aging up into the U16 category for AWS, but Newell didn’t do the distance event. Other Olympians, like Noah Hoffman, Erik Bjornsen and Simi Hamilton did though. And then there were several U.S. Ski Team women from Anchorage, like Kikkan Randall, Holly Brooks and Sadie Bjornsen.
“It was really fun to race SuperTours, to be racing with these guys that I totally look up to,” Schumacher said after Sunday’s race, in which he placed 65th in the sprint (he said he’s more of a distance skier). “I watch them on the World Cup and I’m just amazed at their abilities.”
And Schumacher’s actually seen them in person — he went with his family to Switzerland while his dad worked with the team.
“The fact that I’m racing them right now is incredible,” he said. “They’re people too … so It’s really cool to know who they are.”
Before SuperTour Finals, Schumacher was one of about 26 males to make Alaska’s Junior National team after qualifying in an older age group at the trials.
“I really just tried hard in the races, I knew I could somewhat match [the older racers], but I didn’t know how well I could do it,” he said. “So I did the races and I did well, well enough to make it and it was just a great experience.”
The youngest guy on the team by almost two years, he had to take the Alaska Cup as a carry-on for the duration of their flights to Junior Nationals earlier this month in Stowe. He placed 30th in the U16 men’s 5 k classic race, 38th in the classic sprint, and fifth with Alaska’s second team in the 3 x 3 k skate relay.
When he’s training (which is year-round), Schumacher tries to stick with teammates like 15-year-old Matthew Hoefler.
“He’s a pretty good match for me especially in distance kind of stuff,” he said. “And then some of the older guys … they’re just too hard to stay with sometimes. It’s not good for training if you’re with them.”
But Schumacher’s been on skis longer than most.
“I’ve been skiing since I was really young, since I could walk,” he said. “I’m one of those kids.”
His mom, Amy, is a volunteer at the Anchorage SuperTour Finals and said the family loves skiing and being outdoors. She said Gus got his racing starts with a junior nordic program in Anchorage.
“[That’s] what got him to really love it,” she said. “When you add friends and coaches, it makes skiing much more fun than being with parents.”
She said he works hard “by his own drive,” and will be making the step up from middle school next year in his first year at Service High School.
Buron said he shows a lot of promise and joked that he weighs 85 pounds — more than his dog. Schumacher said he’s 110 pounds. “I think he’s exaggerating,” Schumacher said of his coach, whom Amy described as “extremely encouraging and positive [and] … sincere.”
On July 25, Schumacher will turn 14, and next year, he’ll be racing up in high school as well. But not many high-school skiers can claim to have skied with Olympians.
“It’s a big deal,” Kikkan Randall said of up-and-comers like Schumacher. “We spent all winter on the World Cup and you almost forget what it was like when you were first getting going in skiing and how these local races were so big. We could have some future Olympians out here — kids that you want, people that you want to get fired up about cross-country skiing.”