Justin Easter is the Editor for SkiPost and Head Coach for Summit Nordic Ski Club, CO. This article first appeared in SkiPost – http://www.skipost.com For more information on the Saab Salomon Factory Team, visit http://www.enjoywinter.com
I’ve been sitting in my basement office for the last week thinking of how nice and warm it was compared to what was being experienced in Alaska at US Nationals.
It didn’t take long for my mind to wonder back to my days of racing in, but more importantly dealing with, race situations that are right around a legal starting temperature. The toll that this type of weather takes on the mental and physical state of athletes is extraordinary. It involves an amazing amount of discipline and race experience to deal with this type of adversity. Most athletes are very concerned about their race, their warm-up, their wax, themselves. But at the core, athletes can be some amazingly gracious, and humble individuals.
The reason for writing today is to take the athlete perspective and put it into words of graciousness to the volunteer base in Alaska and around the country. Without the volunteers, races don’t go. Without dedicated volunteers, it would be simply impossible to have a race in adverse conditions. My last US Nationals experience was in Houghton, Michigan where the snow was nearly non-existent. Somehow, the volunteer base in the UP was able to salvage every scrap of snow within a mind-staggering radius and pull together a truly noteworthy competition.
My early memories of US Nationals are similar. I was in the fifth grade when my father took me out of school to help volunteer alongside my late grandmother and still-volunteering grandfather at US Nationals in Rumford, ME (1992 – wow, time is going by). We hiked to the highest point on course to be technique control, we came in after and acted as, US Ski Team Coach, Justin Wadsworth’s shadow before drug testing, and we were part of something special. To each volunteer there is a reason for being on course or in the start/finish area, but to each volunteer this is a special opportunity. As a young skier my experience eventually, without me knowing it at the time, changed the course of my life. My early memory of volunteerism at US Nationals has had a lasting impression, and led me to this computer week after week to bring you stories from some of the finest athletes, and people in the sport.
Volunteers are the backbone of our sport. The community that is created around race venues is the community we wish we lived in every day of our lives. It is the type of community that will risk their own wellbeing to make sure someone else has finest experience possible.
As a coach, it is difficult to relay to an athlete how hard a volunteer works to make a race happen. Everyone has a job, and every one of those people will put in some very discernable form of sacrifice to make an event take shape. When I was talking to one of my athletes in Anchorage about her experience, I asked her if she had warmed up enough before the skate race. She said, “Well, I warmed up like you said, went to the line warm, and right when I got there I was wrapped in a big wool blanket by one of the volunteers.” That volunteer didn’t have a big wool blanket around them, but they were out there in that unforgiving weather to be sure you were safe…if only that lesson could have been the point of our conversation.
This week has been one for the history books. Some of the finest athletes in the country were not ready for the weather. Some of those athletes were shaken in their head by the never-ending warm-up. Some of those athletes pushed beyond the limitations that were out of their control and stepped to the line ready to race. Everyone reacted differently, but the volunteers didn’t falter.
It is my intention to simply extend, on behalf of all the racing community, a healthy and sincere THANK YOU to all volunteers out there this week. It is my further intention to say to everyone who has volunteered, and will continue volunteering to insure the safety of our athletes and preserve the experience of the race, perpetual thanks. Without you, this sport would no longer be possible.
You are the silent hero among us who quietly do what is asked, and never ask for anything in return. Thank you.