The lifestyle of the elite U.S. ski racer may conjure up images of Bode Miller living the high life, appearing on magazine covers, defining après ski in Aspen.
For a slightly different experience, go to the list of elite ski racers at the Maine Winter Sports Center, one of just a handful of top national training programs for Nordic skiers, and read about Fred Bailey ’07.
Sure, there’s a difference between a gold medalist and a young up-and-comer—and between an alpine and Nordic skier. But Bailey’s decision to tackle the pinnacle of competitive skiing by training at the facility in northern Aroostook County has led him to a life that evokes more monastic solitude than jet-set glamour.
It’s about living in an old farmhouse on top of a windswept hill, working out two to five hours a day, then fulfilling community service requirements building trails or working with schoolchildren. It’s about wondering how he’ll afford both the vast quantities of food he requires and repayment of his student loans. It’s about focusing on training for the next three years just to see if he has what it takes to race at the international level when he reaches the peak for endurance athletes—the late-20s through early-30s.
In his blog he writes: “Since my return [to northern Maine] I have had to adapt to life with limited television, but that’s really not such a bad thing. I read a lot more now.” Driving through Caribou’s modest downtown he reflects on the life of a single-minded 22-year-old athlete: “Yes, it’s a distraction, but you do need a bit of a social life.”
Which is not to suggest that Bailey complains. About anything. He’s thrilled to be chasing his dream. He’s passionate about the science of turning his body into an optimally tuned endurance machine, though it will take years and there are no guarantees. He spent parts of the fall training at Lake Placid and Sugarloaf, and he will spend much of the winter traveling to meets in the United States and abroad.
He’s psyched to be sponsored in a program that gives him coaching, housing, health insurance, skis, wax, and, perhaps most important, time to both work out hard and rest sufficiently.
It’s a rare job that requires an afternoon nap most days. And that can be a major problem for endurance athletes attending colleges like Colby.
“For sure, it needs to be a good fit,” said Bailey’s coach, Will Sweetser, about matching skiers to the program. While Caribou isn’t right for everyone, it’s a great place for someone who appreciates the great outdoors, a supportive community, and the need to focus.