GeneralNewsUS Ski TeamNational Team Updates: Paddy Caldwell Retires from High-Level Competition

Gavin Kentch Gavin KentchNovember 19, 2019

The 2019/2020 World Cup season is nearly upon us; Americans are preparing to cheer on those athletes currently wearing red, white, and blue for the U.S. Cross-Country Ski Team, or USST. But before you turn all your attention to this year’s national-team athletes, FasterSkier wanted to take a moment to remember those skiers no longer named to the USST.

This spring, FasterSkier published a long piece on Ida Sargent’s retirement, then more recently a brief blurb on her casually running a 2:57 marathon in New York City earlier this month. In September we profiled Katharine Ogden, or KO.

Ogden’s update, and current career path, are interesting but perhaps not too surprising: After the application of age-graded national-team criteria left her 23 spots back from being re-named to the D-Team when she was ranked “only” 123rd in the world on the latest FIS Distance List, Ogden is happily continuing her collegiate ski career at Dartmouth, where she has been wreaking a path of destruction through the EISA carnival circuit.

The next athlete featured, fellow Dartmouth Ski Team product Paddy Caldwell, perhaps presents somewhat more surprising news. The words “Paddy Caldwell” and “pipeline” have appeared together in FasterSkier multiple times, including in articles headlined “Saxton, Paddy Caldwell Capture U.S. Ski Team’s Attention, Invited to Revived D-Team” (from May 2014) and “From D to B: Paddy Caldwell’s Natural Progression” (from June 2017). Caldwell, who is famously the cousin of longtime USST skier Sophie Caldwell and comes from a pioneering New England skiing family, has seemed for several years now to be on, well, a natural progression, from the D-Team to the B-Team to Olympic and World Cup success.

Paddy Caldwell racing to 53rd in the World Cup 15 k freestyle in December 2017 in Toblach, Italy. (Photo: Fischer/Nordic Focus)

Which is all well and good, but what happens when overtraining and an overuse injury run into the development pipeline? Life happens. And that’s the short version of explaining why Paddy Caldwell will be spending this ski season working in the renewable energy sector in Denver, and not pursuing full-time cross-country skiing for the first time in several years.

Caldwell, like Ogden, answered questions via email earlier this summer. His responses have been reprinted verbatim. FasterSkier’s questions have been paraphrased from what this reporter originally asked for the sake of narrative flow.

Caldwell is asked, in so many words, “What happened?” That is, and while acknowledging that every athlete is a real person who gets to lead his or her own life, the move from a steady trajectory and a rise up through the pipeline to retiring from high-level skiing at age 25 took many by surprise. Here’s Caldwell:

“This last season was a challenging one for me. Starting in August [2018] I have been dealing with an elbow overuse injury (medial epicondylitis or ‘golfer’s elbow’). This is still bugging me now [summer 2019] as I never gave it adequate time to heal. The larger – and related – issue was overtraining. I struggled with getting my heart rate up all year starting in mid-late summer. I made the mistake of putting my head down and grinding through it despite obvious signs of overtraining as well as deteriorating performance. Of course it is easy to see in hindsight but in the moment it felt like what I had to do to achieve my goals and to improve on the World Cup. The big mistake was not giving myself time to recover from either the injury or overtraining. Both issues just got worse and worse as the year went on.

Although I might not have achieved my ultimate result-based goals in skiing I have gotten so much from our sport and I have had so many positive experiences. Regrets? None! I am proud of what I have accomplished in our sport and am so grateful for all of the experiences, friendships and opportunities I have had. Wouldn’t change a thing.

“Starting the year [that is, the 2018/2019 World Cup season] I was not in a great place physically or mentally. I got sick twice in the first few weeks in Europe and eventually decided to fly home after getting sick again in Lillehammer. It was more of the same at nationals in Craftsbury [in January 2019]. After racing at Nationals I acknowledged that I was not going to recover in time for any of the races I wanted to participate in so I decided to take dedicated time off to rest and let my elbow heal. I had a procedure done on my elbow a week or two after nationals then took six weeks totally off from skiing.

“Finding the right balance in skiing has always been a challenge for me. I am someone that will always tend towards doing more rather than less and I set very high expectations for myself. I always performed best when I had other things going on like school or work.

“During my time off this winter I had time to reflect on skiing and realized that I was ready for new challenges. Although I might not have achieved my ultimate result-based goals in skiing I have gotten so much from our sport and I have had so many positive experiences. Regrets? None! I am proud of what I have accomplished in our sport and am so grateful for all of the experiences, friendships and opportunities I have had. Wouldn’t change a thing.

“I will always be a cross country skier. This sport has been my life and it will continue to be a defining part of who I am. Skiing is a family tradition that I cherish and hope to continue. I think it is safe to say that I am done with high level competition, though I certainly have more racing in me. I’ve been feeling the Birkie fever coming on recently… And I would love to do some running races sometime this summer. I’m still getting out the door to ‘train’ everyday and I don’t think that will change anytime soon.

“I am working for Invenergy LLC in Denver, CO. I am on the renewable energy development team. Our projects are focused on wind and solar energy as well as energy storage. I am really excited about this opportunity and I am loving the job so far. It has been a big change and a fun and exciting new challenge.

“And lastly I would like to thank everyone in the ski community – teammates, friends, competitors, coaches, fans, volunteers and supporters. I can’t thank you all enough and am so grateful to be part of such an amazing community.”

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Gavin Kentch

Gavin Kentch

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.

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