“I mean, day to day not too much has changed,” U.S. Nordic Combined A-teamer Bryan Fletcher said over the phone in late October about his new-dad status and training for the World Cup. “Then there’s the time-management stuff. You get home and you just find every little free minute you have in the day is filled with something, before it was kind of like, ‘Oh, I’ve got an hour, I’ll just hang out watch some TV or whatever.’ ”
At 30 years old, Fletcher, along with his wife Nikki, became new parents in September. If you haven’t experienced the feeding, cleaning and washing, it’s a laborious and exhausting cycle.
“I think that a little bit more of that time has been eaten up,” Fletcher said of his past slightly more-carefree and child-free life. “If it’s not school, it’s hanging out with the baby. If it’s not the baby, you are catching up on other work or training. … For sure we are in the early stages. Nikki is home with the baby which helps, and her parents have been coming out and we have had a lot help with her being home. It will definitely be a lot more interesting come January when Nikki is back at work full time, and I am on the road full time and then will we have to obviously find other ways to manage the day care. I will certainly be a little more challenging then.”
“On the road,” means a full International Ski Federation (FIS) Nordic Combined World Cup schedule. From Nov. 26 in Finland, to March 19 in Germany, Fletcher will be jumping and skiing for points, podiums and medals. Along with his younger brother and teammate Taylor, the older Fletcher remains a skiing powerhouse during any World Cup competition. He’s also a former World Championships bronze medalist in the team event at 2013 World Championships, and a winner of the 2012 “King’s Cup,” standing atop the podium at Norway’s famed Holmenkollen venue.
Like many elite cross-country athletes, Nordic Combined World Cuppers will gather in Lahti, Finland, for World Championships from late February to early March.
“I’m looking to peak at World Championships. I’d loved to have my best results of the season at those events,” Fletcher noted as he looked towards the season ahead.
Yet a skier’s goals are often set with muted expectations — hopeful, but realistic.
Historically, Fletcher has been a feared hunter during the ski portion of a nordic-combined event. He’s been known to close big gaps with his skiing. Even with a two-minute lead for the first skier out, sometimes that margin isn’t safe from a Fletcher “catch”.
“For this season obviously, the number-one goal was to improve jumping, to get myself into the race,” said Fletcher of his offseason priorities. “I think cross country has been really good the last several years. However, jumping has been the biggest factor for me. A lot of my goals are set around my proficiency in jumping and so going into the season the focus will be on achieving a higher level in the jumping aspects.”
This year, Fletcher and his U.S. Nordic Combined team have been working with Austrian Nick Huber. New to the U.S. Team, Huber is no stranger to coaching elite jumpers: he’s a seasoned coach with a long track record with both Austrian and Norwegian jumpers.
“He just brought a lot of expertise,” Fletcher said of Huber. “Coming in, anytime you have a new coach there’s always that period of trust that you are working with … with Nick, we didn’t really have that. I didn’t really have that phase at all. Immediately we connected. He was able to answer a lot of questions or concerns I had right away.”
Fletcher added that bringing better technical proficiency and consistency to his jumping were priorities.
“I think that technically we broke everything down and rebuilt it back up, “ Fletcher said of his work with Huber. “There is a solid foundation for the level at which I’m jumping right now. And when things start to slip or they are not going very well, it is easy to just point it out take a step back and start from that point … I still think that there is work to be done. but I feel more confident going into the season this year than I have definately in the past several years.”
Although his season goals remain both grounded and aspirational, the new dad maintained his is a trajectory of improvement with more long-term payoffs.
“I don’t want to expect career-changing results overnight this year,” he said. “I want to build into a higher level for PyeongChang next year.”
Along with the life of a professional athlete, Fletcher is a student working toward a bachelor’s degree in health education and promotion with a health science emphasis. He said he plans on pursuing an advanced degree upon completing his bachelor’s.
We asked Fletcher to give our ’17 Questions for 2017′ a go. Here are his responses:
1. Biggest change in your life in the last five or so months since the ski season ended?
Without a doubt the biggest change for me and my wife was the birth of our daughter Ellery. The whole process leading up to, during and after her delivery has been amazing and I have a whole new outlook on life, training and competition.
2. Biggest change in your training?
The biggest change in my training this summer was less travel and more time at home in preparation for the birth of Ellery. This turned out to be an awesome decision as the consistency in my training has been really good this summer and I feel I am seeing those benefits as I head into the last phase of fall training and the competition season. Also I changed quite a bit in my jumping this summer.
3. Major areas of improvement you’ve seen so far?
It’s hard to say without being in competition but I feel my jumping has been the biggest area of improvement I have seen this summer. Also XC technique has been modified some to improve efficiency and power.
4. Whom you’ve been working closest with this offseason (coaches or training partners)?
This summer has been the most solo training I have ever done in my career. Most of my team has been in Europe training and I was home. However, I did work closely with few people. My brother Taylor and I trained a lot together while he was home, our head coach DJ [Dave Jarrett] and I also worked together a lot, and lastly our jumping coaches Martin and Nik and I spoke a lot and worked together to change my technique on the jump hill.
5. Best trip in the last five months (and why)?
The best trip for me has been the fall training camp. The camp started in Oberstdorf, Germany with some jumping focused training. The second half of the camp included some skiing on the Dachstein glacier and more jumping in Bischofshofen and Ramsau, Austria. The camp was very productive and focused for me.
6. Favorite cross-training?
Definitely biking. I enjoy mountain biking and road biking quite a bit. I have had a lot of fun doing both over the years. It’s certainly the most enjoyable way to get the long hours in.
7. Favorite non-athletic activity or pastime this summer?
Home improvement projects. My wife and I bought our first home and it needed some work. So I spent some time laying tile, painting, landscaping etc. I learned a lot and it felt good to put in a hard day’s work in a different way this summer.
8. Song that was your jam this summer?
My Jam was the entire “Stomp and Smash and Slash and Crash and Bash and Bust and Burn Live at the Mystic Theatre” Album by The Devil Makes Three.
9. All-time favorite race moment?
My all-time favorite race moment of me racing is when I raced for the win at Holmenkollen in 2012. However, my all-time favorite moment of watching racing was when I watched Bill and Johnny ski for 1st and 2nd in the Vancouver games.
10. First thing you pack in your bag when you leave for Europe?
My boots first. Mostly because that’s the only way I can get them in the suitcase and still have some room for some clothes after.
11. Venue/event you’re most excited to visit this season?
Kuusamo/Ruka for sure. The main reason is because of the excitement that the World Cup has returned for another season. The excitement and anticipation of that event is always exciting. Everyone has so much optimism at that point in the season, it’s contagious.
12. Who will win the men’s and women’s World Cup titles this year?
In NC this will be the first year of higher level NC Women’s competitions so it will be exciting to start learning some of the new athletes. On the men’s side Jarl Riiber has a great shot. I also expect many of the German athletes to be on a high level. Akito Watabe could also be a contender this season.
13. Biggest sacrifice you feel you’ve made choosing this career path?
There have definitely a few small sacrifices made in order to continue pursuing skiing. The first is obviously financial stability. Making a living in skiing, while training full time is very difficult. There are certainly days when you watch your peers who chose a different path, i.e. school, job, etc. take big steps in life and for a second it feels as if you are falling behind because you don’t have a retirement savings or even the normal amount of financial stability for your age. However, money isn’t everything! Also I would say the other sacrifice is social freedom. Being an athlete is a 24/7 job and every day you’re on the clock and certainly you miss out on social events with your non skiing friends, random trips etc. I know I have declined many of the vacations, or weekend getaways in my life simply because I have to train or because it would be too expensive to do. Obviously on the flip side I still get to do a lot of cool travelling. So that’s why I would say these are only small sacrifices.
14. If you could change one thing about your sport, what would it be?
Definitely the popularity. I would love to see the sport grow in popularity. I think if it was more popular we would have more athletes in all countries, more funding, etc.
15. What did you have for breakfast this morning?
Coffee, currently I am sick with a cold so it’s not a very active morning for me.
16. In 5 years, I’ll be ____?
Probably trying to finish a degree and finding a job. I hope I will be able to work in a field that I enjoy. I will also be tremendously enjoying fatherhood and transitioning into a life without competitive skiing.
17. In 50 years, I’ll be ____?
Hopefully a retired grandparent who is still skiing and blissfully enjoy life and everything it has to offer!