In early July, the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation announced the launch of the Team Birkie professional racing team. The elite post-graduate training group would pull from the three primary midwestern clubs, the Loppet Foundation, Central Cross Country Skiing (or CXC), and the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation. While the midwest has a strong culture of cross country skiing with a breadth of strong youth and masters racing teams, it has been nearly a decade since the area has had a consistent robust training group that could support athletes at the elite level. In their words, this program fills this gap to allow “the next Jessie Diggins [to] stay home to train, inspire future generations, and win Olympic medals.”
Team Birkie will be based from the Trailhead at Wirth Park in Minneapolis, headquarters of The Loppet Foundation, and led by Head Coach Caitlin Gregg, who will coach alongside co-coaches Leo Hipp and Jeremy Hecker.
Gregg has spent her own career training in the area alongside her husband and fellow professional ski racer Brian Gregg. The duo — known as Team Gregg — forged their own path to the upper echelon of the domestic and international cross country race scene, gaining experience in writing their own training and supporting their careers along the way. [Find Team Gregg on a 2017 episode of Nordic Nation here.]
For those unfamiliar with Caitlin, her resume spans more than a decade of elite level ski racing; Caitlin earned her first World Cup starts in Vancouver in 2009 and was slated to start at the Minneapolis World Cup and Canmore World Cup finals in March 2020 before they were cancelled because of the impending pandemic. Those recent starts would have been just over a year after the birth of her daughter, Heidi, who is now two and a half years old and can regularly be found tagging along for her parents training.
Caitlin is a 2015 World Championship Bronze Medalist, a 2010 Olympian, and a 5 time winner of the American Birkie. She was also a member of five World Championship teams and won eight National Championship titles, with several more podium finishes. Gregg is also no stranger to disappointment; there have also been near misses for team selection, as was the case for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi and when the 2016 US Ski team nominations rolled out.
While she does not yet consider herself retired as an athlete, this transition to leading the charge and growing Team Birkie does mark a shift in the focus of her overall ski career, as we discuss in this conversation. Caitlin also speaks to the evolution of the concept behind Team Birkie and the structure of the training group for the upcoming season. She is now one of only two female coaches at her level in the US — alongside Pepa Miloucheva of the Craftsbury Green Racing Project — and the only mother. Caitlin discusses the support this requires, and how her career as a whole has provided ample insights that allow her to be a role model for her athletes.
Rachel is an endurance sport enthusiast based in the Roaring Fork Valley of Colorado. You can find her cruising around on skinny skis, running in the mountains with her pup, or chasing her toddler (born Oct. 2018). Instagram: @bachrunner4646