Caitlin Gregg’s 2012 season couldn’t be considered a disappointment – she finished second in the American Birkebeiner by just 0.4 seconds to her friend Holly Brooks, notched four SuperTour wins, landed third in the overall standings, and twice stood on the podium at U.S. Nationals.
And yet the 2010 Olympican, 2011 Birkie winner, and 2007 SuperTour leader found herself considering life after skiing come spring, when roster and coaching changes rocked her CXC team. As of early May, her status with the squad was uncertain.
These days, she’s very much on board, but rather than focus on training all summer like she has so many times before, Gregg decided to go back to school.
“I wanted to start taking classes and focusing on the next phase of my life,” Gregg said in an interview earlier this week. “CXC was fantastic in allowing me to do school. It had been eight years since I graduated college and 13 since I had taken a science class, and I really felt that I needed to be in daily classes in a classroom with a professor to really maximize my potential there.”
The anatomy and physiology classes are part of a schedule of prerequisites that Gregg needs for the next phase of her education; having now completed a few blocks of five-week intensive courses, she’s free to move into the realm of online classes, which can fit more easily with the rest of her schedule.
And what a schedule it was this summer. School wasn’t the only thing Gregg found to keep herself busy.
“Brian [Gregg, her husband] and myself also work for In The Arena,” Gregg explained. “So that’s another passion and direction that we put a lot of our time towards. I was coaching at Loppet Nordic Racing, I was working with children for In the Arena, and I was also going to school. And I do other clinics for sponsors and other groups, and private coaching. I was pretty busy.”
While most elite athletes don’t fill quite so much of their time with things that aren’t training, Gregg said it worked out well, and definitely didn’t see it as a detriment to the rest of her year as a skier.
“For sure the summer was a time for me to take some time off from completely focused training, where I was kind of going after it every single day, and really take a step back and experience a different schedule,” she said. “I think it worked out great.”
After eight years of training since college, Gregg said, she knew that she needed something different – and it wasn’t because CXC wasn’t working for her. She just needed to get out of the daily grind. As it turned out, she now appreciates her athletic routine even more.
“To be honest, sitting in a classroom for four months and watching the mornings go by – some of my classes were sort of early and those are the best times of the day to train,” she laughed. “So I’d think how it was going to be so hot later and I wasn’t going to want to do anything, and I’d rather be outside biking or something right now. It kind of refreshed me.
“You forget how awesome your lifestyle is until you’re told to sit in this classroom all day,” Gregg continued. “Then you think, oh my God, it’s so awesome to be an athlete. So if anything it totally inspired me in a different way, which I think is always good. It was a good kind of break from traditional summer training.”
Winter Goals: The World Stage
After more or less missing out on international racing since the 2010 season, Gregg has her sights set on making the World Cup races in Quebec and Canmore this December.
“Now I’m tearing through this fall and things are going great,” she said. “The Canadian World Cups are a huge goal. I’m really excited about those being on the calendar this year.”
After that, she would like to make her return to the World Championships, where she last competed in 2009 in Liberec, Czech Republic. In 2011, she was not selected for the championships in Oslo despite being near the top of the National Ranking List; at the time she said that she hadn’t trained as well that season and that other women were indeed more deserving of their spots.
This season, with just one year to go before the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Gregg is surely hoping for a different outcome.
“I think that for a lot of us who are skiing and training full-time, the World Championships is always a huge goal,” Gregg said. “So seeing how the beginning of the year goes and those World Cups will be a huge focus to qualify for and then perform in, and then sort of seeing how things lay out after that.”
There’s only one thing to slightly dampen her enthusiasm about the potential trip to Val di Fiemme, Italy, and it has to do with one of her favorite races, the Birkie. Like in many other years, the country’s biggest ski marathon is scheduled to overlap with World Championships.
“It’s such a fun race, and one of my favorite events of the year both because of the people I get to see and the whole environment,” Gregg lamented. “But it coincides with World Championships and so it’s one or the other. I wish I could say that both of them are on the schedule.”
CXC Regroups, Retools
To help her get back on the world stage, Gregg is relying on her two usual support networks: CXC, and Twin Cities coach Piotr Bednarski, who now coaches at Loppet Nordic Racing (for more on Bednarski, tune in on Monday).
And despite the loss of Jason Cork and Gus Kaeding from the coaching staff, and Jessie Diggins from the athlete roster, Gregg says that CXC is doing just fine, thanks.
“We’ve got a really motivated group,” she explained. “Igor [Badamshin], who took over as the head coach, had been working with the juniors in the past, and he is probably one of the most qualified coaches in the country. You can see his passion in what he is doing and how he has coached the juniors in the past. And he’s transferring that knowledge and excitement to the seniors. I think it’s going to continue to be a strong program this year.”
As part of its restructuring, CXC combined its elite senior team with its junior development program for this year; it’s all one big CXC team. Gregg, who was able to go to training camps on the weekends this summer before heading back down to the Twin Cities for class, said that she has been enjoying the change.
“There’s a great opportunity for some of the older elite athletes to join up with the CXC juniors,” she said. “So that was really fun because they were more incorporated into our workouts.”
After finishing her last class in August, she flew out to Telluride, Colorado, to do a high-elevation camp with the CXC team – and all those youngsters.
“It was a huge camp with a lot of athletes, and a lot of the younger, up-and-coming athletes were there,” Gregg said. “For me it was a great experience after being in the cities all summer to get out and do something new.”