Kicking off her second year as assistant coach at the College of St. Scholastica (CSS) in Duluth, MN, Kristen Bourne was recently named one of ten recipients of the Women’s Sports Foundation VanDerveer Fellowship. The program, named for revered Stanford University Basketball coach, Tara VanDerveer, aims to increase representation of women in coaching at the collegiate level through the development of the rising generation. This is the first time that the award has been granted to a cross country ski program.
According to the WSF, “this pioneering program provides grants, paid fellowships and mentorships for aspiring female coaches. Emphasizing hands-on training for female coaches in all collegiate sports, from basketball and volleyball to water polo and fencing, it is a salute to the extraordinary compassion, optimism and leadership that its namesake has shown over the years.”
Along with opportunities to collaborate with coaches across a variety of sports nationwide, the program offers institutions $15,000 to use in support of their fellow, along with $2,500 that goes directly to fellow to put toward additional professional development opportunities. FasterSkier connected with Bourne to learn more about the fellowship, her path to coaching, and how this opportunity will support her growth and long term goals in cross country ski coaching.
Originally from Lake Elmo, MN, on the eastern side of Minneapolis, Bourne attended Northern Michigan University (NMU), where she graduated with a degree in Sport Science in May, 2018. While racing for NMU, Bourne raced on four NCAA championship teams, and was a member of the 2015 U.S. World Junior Championships team and the 2016 U23 World Championships team. Post-college, she headed to Norway to train with Lyn Ski and Team Obos in Oslo, while competing in numerous FIS races throughout the country.
Bourne returned to the US in December, 2019 to finish her racing career at the 2020 U.S. National Championships in Houghton, MI. It was there that she met Maria Stuber, head coach at CSS and the founder of the Women Ski Coaches Association (WSCA), who recognized Bourne’s potential as a coach and recruited her to the CSS program.
“I was just deciding that my ski career was about done and trying to figure out what to do next,” Bourne explained in a call. “I was at U.S. Nationals, I was leaving a parking lot, and Maria drove up and essentially slammed on the brakes, and yelled out the window, ‘Hey! My name is Maria. I heard that you’re interested in potentially coaching. You’re gonna get an email from me sometime soon.’”
Bourne went on to explain that Stuber emailed her the next week asking if she would be interested in joining her as the assistant coach at CSS. Tying the fellowship opportunity into the offer, Stuber knew about the VanDerveer grant and would help oversee the school’s application on Bourne’s behalf. CSS was not chosen after the first year of application, but they were selected this year on the second attempt.
Bourne explained how receiving the VanDerveer fellowship allows her to pursue a number of development opportunities beyond her role at CSS.
“Right now I have a few things in mind that I’m going to put that money towards. I would really like to go to the NCAA Women Coaches Academy, which happens every May. They have a bunch of super awesome female speakers and head coaches that all talk, and it seems really valuable. I think Maria did it a few years ago. Then the other professional development opportunity would be: I’m currently working on a trip over to the World Cup this winter.”
Though her education and wealth of experience lends itself well to coaching, Bourne did not always see this as a path she would choose.
“People were always telling me that I would probably end up being a coach, and I didn’t want to do what everyone thought,” she laughed. “And then, you come to this realization: I love the sport, and I want to learn more about it, and I’m really passionate about it. I can take my personal experiences from being in Norway and seeing how they work over there, I can apply what I learned there, and through college, my own [time as an athlete]… Right now I’m also working on my master’s in exercise physiology. So being able to take all of that experience and knowledge and be able to apply it as a coach, I think it’s kind of a no brainer.”
Though improvement is trending, women remain underrepresented in leadership roles in the ski community. According to the 2020-2021 Women in College Coaching Report Card issued by the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport, only two of nine NCAA Division 1 cross country ski coaches are women.
Stepping into this realm without significant experience in coaching, Bourne spoke to the importance of having a strong mentor and role model in Stuber, who has helped her realize her potential in the role.
“The other [factor influencing my transition into coaching] has been working for Maria. She has just taken me on and put me under her wing, and really gets me to do things that I wouldn’t normally do. It has boosted my confidence in myself knowing that I can do this and that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. That was a huge piece of it, too.”
Expanding on Stuber’s formal role as a mentor for the VanDerveer Fellowship, Bourne explained that both she and Stuber will have the opportunity to connect with the other fellows and mentors involved in the program, which spans a variety of sports from basketball to water polo to track & field. This collaboration allows the women to discuss their successes and challenges in their respective sports, and learn from each other’s experiences.
In a 2019 presentation at the U.S. Ski & Snowboard annual meeting on the importance of women in coaching, Dr. Nicole LaVoi of the previously mentioned Tucker Center explained the importance of women in leadership roles to inspire the next generation of coaches and improve the experience of developing female coaches.
“When you see women being successful, it inspires people,” LaVoi said. “‘Oh, I could do that. That seems cool, she seems cool, I want to do that.’ And in they come. It’s the same thing with women in positions of leadership.”
Bourne emphasized that this concept rings true for her in working with Stuber, who has stoked her fire to become an example for future women in the sport.
“She said so many times that the Women’s Ski Coaches Association and empowering women — this is her passion. I just feel so honored that I get to be right alongside her. She’s so powerful, and she has such a strong impact, and she’s doing this incredible thing that I think quite a few people are scared to do. She just says, ‘No, I’m doing it. We’re gonna change some things here.’ And I think that’s just — it’s pretty dang cool.”
Looking to the future and the role she hopes to play, Bourne aspires to be a head coach at or above the college level. She enjoys the environment of collegiate programs, but remains open-minded. Reflecting on the dearth of female coaches in her own athletic experience, she concluded with her intention to be part of the solution in the slow progression toward gender equity in sport leadership.
“When coming to the decision of becoming a coach, there is this thought of, ‘Well, I’ve never really experienced anyone like me in that position before. Can I do that? Can I have the same impact on a team as a man would? But really it’s [lack of] representation. There’s also the concept that women are proven to improve work environments — having more women is better. And being able to support female athletes — and being able to support male athletes — with a different perspective is super important. There’s a lot of pieces — it’s a huge question. I just hope I can be a role model for more women coming up who want to get into coaching and stay in the sport.”
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