Note: This is the second profile in a new series about working out with high-performance athletes. While Alex Matthews was in Middlebury to observe and report, she focused on the kids who trained with U.S. Olympian Garrott Kuzzy at a summer camp.
MIDDLEBURY, Vt. — Leaning on the back of his Volkswagen station wagon, Garrott Kuzzy smiled as his training partners arrived at the Middlebury College parking lot.
All seven poured out of two vehicles. With wet hair from swimming, some buzzed about the matinee Smurf movie they had just seen.
Almost 20 years their elder, Kuzzy laughed. The 28-year-old former U.S. Ski Team member and CXC racer had left work less than an hour earlier to meet them. Like the 9- to 12-year-olds, he was excited for the next activity of the day.
With the help of Middlebury assistant nordic ski coach Patty Ross, the kids put on their rollerski gear and followed Kuzzy down to the soccer fields.
“Garrott, do you like being called ‘Parrot?’ ” one boy asked as they walked in ski boots through the grass.
“I’ve never been called ‘Parrot’ before,” Kuzzy replied. “You’re really original.”
On the final day of Kuzzy and Ross’ “Summer FUN Nordic Camp,” Kuzzy began the 1 ½-hour session with a jogging warm up. As the young Bill Koch skiers flailed their arms and swung their legs, so did Kuzzy.
According to Michael Hussey, a father and Rikert Ski Touring Center director, the five-day camp evolved from a mistake. He missed the deadline for registering his two children for the Stratton Mountain School nordic camp, he said.
He knew his 11-year-old son’s would be disappointed and had to find an alternative. Olympians Kuzzy and Ross – both local – seemed like a perfect fit. He asked them to host a small camp, and they happily agreed.
“Stuff that’s fun for college kids is also fun for little kids,” said Ross, one of five American female nordic skiers in the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics.
With previous youth camp experience in 25 years at Middlebury, Ross helped organize activities for the campers, including a day hike, strength training and a rollerski field trip to Jericho, Vt.
Kuzzy, who competed in the 2010 Winter Games, met up with the group after work. As the head of leader operations at Vermont Bicycling and Walking Vacations (VBT), he could leave his desk at 3:30 p.m., drive 20 minutes to Middlebury and work out with the kids.
“I have a ton of energy after sitting at the computer,” Kuzzy said in an interview after the camp. “So I can get out and play with the kids or run or whatever.”
At the Middlebury camp in August, Kuzzy led the little rollerskiers through grass to a hill where they repeatedly mimicked skiing on snow. The children noted going uphill on grass was similar, but descending the short yet steep hill on rollers was tricky. The repeats turned into races, and Kuzzy both officiated and participated.
“I had a lot of fun when I was that age doing this stuff,” Kuzzy said of the camp, which included a cone-laden obstacle course and other games.
“At this point in my ski career, I’d rather work out and be able to help these guys out at the same time,” he said. “It wouldn’t be very productive for me to just go do a 10-mile run in the woods by myself anymore.”
Hussey was grateful to have Kuzzy and Ross coach his children and their friends.
“It’s a great opportunity to ski with a couple Olympians (with) such a small group at this age,” he said.
After a final round of Sharks and Minnows on rollerskis, the kids weren’t ready to call it quits.
“Do we have to stop skiing?” one child pleaded.
“We can keep skiing in the fall,” Kuzzy said.
Later, between signing autographs and bidding the campers goodbye, Kuzzy and Ross chatted with Hussey about the possibility of another camp. They decided to plan on it.
A new direction
Upon graduating Middlebury in 2006, Kuzzy left Vermont to return to his home state of Wisconsin. There, he joined the Central Cross Country Ski Association’s CXC Elite Team in Hayward and began his life as a professional skier.
The training served the Minneapolis native well; he made the 2009/2010 national team and helped the men’s 4-by-10 kilometer relay team to a 13th place finish at the Vancouver Olympics. Individually, he was 47th in the classic sprint.
Without the support of the USST last season, Kuzzy won three U.S. SuperTour races and was second in two others. At nationals in January, he finished seventh in the classic sprintand ninth in the 30 k freestyle.
By the end of the 2011 racing season, Kuzzy was ready for change. He felt his results had stagnated and he needed new motivation, he told FasterSkier in June. A full-time job offer with VBT prompted him to move, and Kuzzy left CXC after five years.
He reiterated his deep gratitude for the team’s support and maintained close ties with head coach Jason Cork. Kuzzy’s sponsors stuck with him as well.
“I’m not completely retired, but there were a lot of things I missed out on when I was ski racing,” Kuzzy said. “It’s just a time for me to get out and do a lot more stuff, like I can’t wait to get out and go tele skiing this winter.”
Upon arriving in Vermont before starting work on April 1, Kuzzy followed his ambitions and did some alpine. That month, he backcountry skied every weekend, often with friends and roommates Jake Whitcomb and Matt Trueheart.
Aside from Whitcomb, who was also his college roommate, and Trueheart, a Dartmouth grad and assistant ski coach at Middlebury high school, Kuzzy lived with two others in New Haven. Cam MacKuglar, the Frost Mountain Nordic coach, and Muchadei Zvoma, an assistant rugby coach at Middlebury College, helped share the rent and the cost of food, as Kuzzy often made homemade bread in the morning. By the evening, it was usually gone.
“I’m probably eating less now, which is good because I actually have to pay for my food now,” said the 6-foot-5 Kuzzy who figured he lost five pounds this summer.
He estimated he weighed 190 pounds, but wasn’t sure since he hadn’t stepped on a scale in while. He wasn’t sure where his heart-rate monitor strap was and guessed he last lifted weights in May.
But if the kids did pull-ups in practice or at clinics, he joined them, Kuzzy said. That spontaneity dictated his training this summer, and he loved it.
Although Olympic and World Cup goals remained on his mind, he was currently focused on doing what he enjoyed: being outside, playing tennis, hiking, biking and most recently, riding his Ducati motorcycle.
“I’m trying to do more stuff that will improve my skills at this point as opposed to endurance,” Kuzzy said. “I’ve realized that endurance, if you’re not keeping it up all the time, it sort of goes downhill in a hurry. But with skills, you get good at something specific.”
That could be anything from tennis to ski technique, he said. A few weeks ago, he spent an entire Sunday at a motorcycle skills class and more recently went golfing.
“There’s all sorts of ways to get in trouble here in Vermont,” he laughed.
With various hunting seasons in the fall, he looked forward to searching for grouse on old dirt roads. Of course, he would also ski to prepare for perhaps a dozen races, including those in the Eastern Cup circuit, he said.
The day before many of his former teammates endured the annual Climb to the Castle challenge at the USST camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., Kuzzy drove over to meet them. He hoped on his motorcycle after work to join their afternoon run, ate an early dinner with the team and was home by about 9 p.m., he said.
“It was awesome,” Kuzzy said. “That’s why I did it.”
A week earlier, he rode 100 miles in the Kelly Brush Century Ride. In May, he ran the final leg of a mixed gender relay at the Burlington Marathon. His team placed third.
Aside from desiring a new job and different activities, Kuzzy moved to Vermont to work directly with young skiers. CXC planted the seed when Kuzzy joined the team in 2006, hosting some 25 clinics each year. All the community interaction made him realize he wanted others to get excited about skiing.
“I’ve learned so much over the years,” Kuzzy said. “Being able to have that connection between the U.S. Ski team and these kids, that’s the pipeline right there.”
Upon moving to Vermont, he started helping the Mansfield Nordic Team and hoped to foster relationships with other New England ski clubs while maintaining those in the Midwest.
He planned to join the Mansfield team for a Thanksgiving camp in Craftsbury, Vt. With the area’s new snowmaking capabilities, he said it would offer an alternative to the West Yellowstone camp, especially for someone like him with a tight schedule.
“I only get a couple days off a year now,” he said.
While initially concerned about transitioning to a desk job, Kuzzy said it was ideal.
“Granted, being able to get out at 3:30 is really nice,” he said. “Just being about to get done with work and look outside and be like, ‘Oh, it’s a beautiful day. I’m going to ride my bike,’ or ‘It’s really rainy. I’m going to go for a run.’ It’s based on weather or your friends and whatever they’re doing.”
And when the kids need someone to ski with, Kuzzy’s more available than many top-tier skiers.
Twelve-year-old Nick Wilkerson, whose mother heads the Middlebury cross country team, knew Kuzzy on a first-name basis. In a way, that made him more inspiring.
“Garrott was on my mom’s team for one or two years,” Nick said. “It makes me think, ‘Oh, I hope I can do what he does.’ ”
Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.