“You’ve Gotta Be a Believer”
By William L. Farrell
“In the winter of ’55, the Dublin School ski team threw a scare into the hot shot skiing prep schools at the eastern prep school championships held at Norwich University. At the conclusion of the cross-country race, Dublin School led the pack; Ed Allis won the whole thing, Norm Kitching was 5th, Bourne Knowles was 8th, I was 14th and Norris Nims was 16th.”
Each time I read this passage by Peter W. Floyd from my well-worn copy of Paul W. Lehmann’s Dublin School, I can actually picture that euphoric group of joyous Dublin students as they were embraced by their beaming coach, Norm “Pro” Wight. Experiences like this inspire others and can last forever. I firmly believe that this joy will once again be relived by a group of Dublin Nordic skiers. However, this will require a ton of hard work and a commitment to rebuild the Nordic skiing culture of Dublin School. We must also allow our kids to become believers.
Considerable time and resources have been invested into rebuilding our Nordic skiing culture and facilities recently. The Nordic ski house built by Carl Von Mertens has been relocated (thanks to a Saturday morning work gang) to Alumni field. The new Nordic Center houses the dozens of skis and boots, along with the grooming equipment that was donated by Buddy Bates ’53. The Nordic Center has a fire pit, and 1000-watt halogen lights to keep our local Bill Koch Youth Ski League children skiing well after sunset.
Dublin School is blessed with bounteous physical, geographical and topographical resources that are perfectly matched for developing a Nordic skiing culture. At over 1600 feet in elevation, Dublin School is located in the highest village in New England. We sit high on the ridge that separates the Merrimack and Connecticut River drainage systems. When other New England schools were hill bounding and running on pavement, we were actually skiing on perfectly groomed trails before Halloween! We continued to train and ski each day on machine-made snow at the nearby Granite Gorge ski area. Now we are back skiing on our trails and fields.
Modern day Nordic ski racing is a dynamic sport that requires a balance of power and endurance. More importantly, it requires an understanding of one’s personal health and wellness as well as a commitment to year-round training. Meaningful work and training are inherent to a Nordic skiing culture and they reinforce Dublin’s core values. Dublin School is now nurturing a group of new Nordic ski racers who are displaying the necessary courage to embrace this Nordic skiing culture and go well outside of their comfort zone.
Most members of our Nordic team are new to the sport; and many are rank beginners who are just learning the fundamentals of gliding over snow. However, they are also the believers, the kids who have placed their trust in our program. Because of the nature of inclusion, there is a place for every member of the Nordic team to learn, train and compete to their highest level of aspiration. Nordic skiing has no benches. One thing I’ve come to understand from my thirty years of teaching and coaching is that if you dream big and allow your kids believe in themselves, great moments will come. You need to become a believer!
A week ago, Tyson Laa’13 of South Sudan decided to abandon his snowboard and join the Nordic team. Because we had the necessary equipment, Tyson was able to begin Nordic skiing immediately. Within moments, it became apparent that this was a kid who had a unique feel and sense of movement. By the end of his first day, he was able to easily climb and descend on classic skis.
A few days later, we drove down into the valley to compete in our first classic race in Gunstock, NH. I had previously submitted our team roster of Will Utzschneider ’15, Patrick Nichols ’13, Spencer Hicks ’15, Valerie Williams ’13 and Olivia Rau ’13. Because of their lack of experience, I asked Alexis Andrus ’13, Julia Varon ’13 and Tyson to observe this first race. I felt that it was a prudent request to reduce their anxiety and to better prepare them for their upcoming debut as Nordic ski racers.
Tyson, however had other ideas. As far as he was concerned, he was ready.
“Coach, can you get me a bib? I really want to race, I’m ready.”
“No Tyson, I can’t do that. It is against my better judgment. I don’t want you to have a bad experience.” I responded.
“C’mon coach, let me borrow your team jacket and get me a racing bib!”
As far as I was concerned, this conversation was through, done, finished! And suddenly, in the back of my head I began hearing John Fogerty’s song “Centerfield:” “Put Me in Coach- I'm ready to play today; Put me in, Coach - I'm ready to play today; Look at me, I can be Centerfield.”
I went to pick up the bibs and told the Holderness coach that I had this half-crazy kid from South Sudan with only two days of skiing and he wanted to race.
“Why not, here, give the kid bib number 32 and tell him to have some fun.”
After a careful warm-up lap the Dublin kids threw their heart into this race and gave their best effort. Will finished less than a minute out at 7th place; Olivia and Valerie were 9th and 16th respectively for the girls. Patrick was 22nd and Spencer 28th.
And as for number 32 from Dublin School and South Sudan, well, he had some serious fun. On each lap we were thrilled to see Tyson barreling down the classic tracks holding his own against some of the better skiers. Judging from his wide grin, I sensed a kid who had just been given an all day pass on the Coney Island roller coaster. In the end, he placed 24th beating out several other skiers.
The Believers: Will Utzschneider, Valerie Williams, Julia Varon, Spencer Hicks, Patrick Nichols, Olivia Rau, Tyson Laa-Deng, Coach Shelly Farrell, Coach Bill Farrell