#Everyonesalobo is a well-established piece of branding for the University of New Mexico (athletic mascot: the Lobo), as witness the crowd at sporting events, on-campus displays, and even this instructive sing-along video that features a variety of student-athletes good-naturedly chanting, “Everyone’s a Lobo, woof woof woof!” But the hashtag has also recently become a rallying cry for supporters of the UNM ski team, following the surprise announcement earlier this month that the program would be cut.
The slogan’s cheerful inclusivity seems merited these days, in light of the support flowing toward Albuquerque from some of the biggest names in American alpine and nordic skiing.
Here’s what Mikaela Shiffrin – Olympic gold medalist, four-time FIS Alpine World Ski Championships gold medalist and reigning overall World Cup champion, among other accolades – posted on Instagram earlier this month soon after the news broke:
(The reference to the ski team at UAA, or University of Alaska Anchorage, involves the outpouring of community support directed to the University of Alaska Board of Regents urging it not to cut skiing within the University of Alaska system, culminating in what ski team supporters said was one email to the Board of Regents “every two minutes.”)
And finally, here’s former UNM skier Kristina Strandberg. A Swedish native, Strandberg was not heavily recruited to the university, but ended up winning the 2000 NCAA Championships 15 k classic her freshman year. Strandberg would ultimately leave Albuquerque as a four-year All-American and four-year Academic All-American. She went on to spend several more years in the U.S. training and racing, racking up myriad SuperTour victories and at least one first-place finish in a U.S. national championship race while spending a total of 12 years living and racing in America.
“What I thought would be one year’s adventure turned out to be a life changing experience,” Strandberg wrote to FasterSkier in a recent email.
“When I was recruited to the UNM Ski Team I was a mediocre skier by Swedish standards,” she added. “I was right out of a few years retirement and I was looking for a situation where I could develop my skiing while traveling and seeing other parts of the world before ‘growing up and getting a job’. With my short list of results there were not many coaches interested in me. I was waitlisted at Utah without any hope for a spot to open when the Utah coach suggested I’d contact Fredrik [Landstedt]. I did, and since he needed more girls on his roster he offered me a scholarship. …
I spent a total of 12 years living and ski racing in the US and I’ve come to think of Fredrik as one of the best coaches in the nation,” she continued. “He is a skier through and through, with a solid understanding of the sport and an unparalleled interest in the development of technique and equipment. He understands the commitment it takes to be a college athlete and he knows how to offer the support that is needed to succeed. When I was out of college and raced on the Supertour he was still there for moral support. I truly believe that I would not have become the skier I was, in college or afterwards, if it wasn’t for Fredrik and I still consider him one of my best friends.
I can only echo what others have said before me regarding the Ski Team’s impact on the local ski community. Our coaches always made a point of us reaching out to local skiers and to participate in local events. I’ve skied all over NM, in places like Abq, Red River, Santa Fe, Los Alamos and Chama. People have always been very happy to see their “local” university team in action. I also enjoyed weekend camps in Durango, CO, where we interacted with kids and coaches in the ski club.
One aspect that is often overlooked is that we were given fantastic opportunity to explore the Southwest. The Ski Team went on several training trips a year, all around NM and the surrounding states. With no other support needed than a van for transport, we biked in Moab, hiked Wheeler Peak and ran in White Sands. Fredrik made a point of showing us as much more of the country as he could. He’s really proud of his adopted home grounds and I am too!
Strandberg also gained a post-graduate scholarship for additional study at UNM. She ultimately graduated with a Masters of Science degree, which, she added, “I’m putting to good use now at my job as a methodologist at Statistics Sweden.”
Back in Albuquerque, the current members of the ski team continue to hit the books. At the 2017 Lobo Scholar-Athlete Banquet on Monday evening, “the Athletic Director’s Cup for the top academic program went to women’s skiing for the second straight year,” according to a UNM press release. Additionally, three of the nine senior student-athletes who were honored for graduating with a 4.0 GPA hailed from the ski team.
Alpine skier Sydney Staples, a senior from Bountiful, Utah, who is one of the three skiers about to graduate with a perfect GPA, was named the women’s Lobo Club Student-Athlete of the Year. In an emotional speech captured on video, Staples unsuccessfully fought back tears as she acknowledged the elephant in the room when it came to celebrating the accomplishments of the UNM ski team at this particular time:
“My team just barely received an award for [highest] cumulative GPA for the women’s team, and there are three of us skiers up here,” Staples said. “And there are a lot of skiers in this room right now that are going to go on to compete at the highest level of the World Cup or go to the Olympics, and some will stay here and pursue careers. And I’m so proud of all that they’ve accomplished, all that we’ve accomplished. And at the same time, I’m devastated that they won’t get the opportunity to stand where I’m standing today.
“And for the kids that we ski with each year in Santa Fe, and … Taos, and Colorado, all over the states, who tell us that they want to be just like us when they grow up – I’m sad that they won’t get that opportunity either,” Staples continued. “And so I want to encourage you, everyone here, to keep working hard, in your sport and in your classroom, and to keep taking advantage of all the incredible opportunities that are given to you at this school. Because you never know if that opportunity is going to be taken away from you.”
Staples subsequently left the podium to a standing ovation.
Gavin Kentch is a lifelong Alaskan. He skis with the Alaska Pacific University Masters team in Anchorage, plays with his two adorable daughters, and occasionally works as a solo attorney. He has a cat named Marit. He was probably on snow this year before you were.