NSCD athletes getting ready for 2014 Paralympic’s in Sochi
Jeremy Wagner, Sarah Edwards and Dan Cnossen are living in the Winter Park area to train with the National Sports Center for the Disabled (NSCD) Nordic-Biathlon Team. They recently raced in the Adaptive 7.5-kilometer and 12.5K Sit Ski category.
Edwards has lived in Grand County for 10 years and has worked at Winter Park Resort’s ski school and NSCD as an alpine instructor. She switched to Nordic two years ago and is now a biathlete as well.
“Nordic skiing is different than alpine because it is endurance versus balance,” she said. “‘Fast and steady wins the race, and it takes different strengths and conditioning over a long time to become a top skier.”
Wagner is from Hawaii and was never an athlete until his injury. He started canoeing, rowing, and paddling. He participated in the Warrior Games, an Olympic-style event for wounded, injured and ill service members, where he met other veterans in wheelchairs and became more active in sports. He came to ski camp in Winter Park to train. As he continues to get faster, he is now recognized by the US Ski team and will be going to the camp.
“There are limitations to our lives, so it’s nice to do things like Sit Ski. You can go wherever you want with no help,” he said.
Cnossen was recruited into the Nordic program through Sarah and Jeremy. He is from Topeka, Kan., and said he has always been an athlete. He is a double amputee above the knee and has been in the program since January 2011.
While still on active duty assigned to Fort Carson, he has special permission from his chain of command to train for the 2014 Olympics in Russia here in Grand County with the NSCD program.
“I feel more mobile on a Sit Ski,” he said.
In January all three athletes raced at the 2012 U.S. Adaptive Cross Country Championships at Black Mountain, Maine. Edwards placed first in her class, Cnossen placed second and Wagner placed fourth.
I asked them how they get ready for races and how they overcome the challenges of a new course in different locations.
Prior to races, some of the athletes study course maps and others ski it several times to prepare for hills and curves.
“Over time you learn how to apply techniques to race courses,” said Edwards.
Jeremy skis a course four to five times prior to a race. On race day, he said, “Once the physical goes, the mental takes over, and I just go.”
Edwards talked about the Pain Cave.
“You have to be comfortable there on race day. James Upton, my coach taught me this.”
Upton asks her at the end of each race, “Did you win the mental battle?” she said with a smile.
As a biathlete, when it comes to the transition from skiing to shooting in a race, she said she teaches herself breathing. “Interval training helps, too.”
At the end of the race, Edwards’ self-talk includes: “I paced well, I shot well, I didn’t let the wind bother me.” She practices shooting everyday, mostly indoors, she said. “Target practice builds muscle memory.”
Dan stresses the physical aspect more.
“Training and strength is better and it should be. It feels good to race hard, and flying up hills feels good.”
Jeremy said he visualizes the race the night before.
Their training has paid off and with the continued coaching from skilled coaches like Shawn Scholl, these athletes share the ultimate goal of competing in the 2014 Winter Paralympic Games in Sochi, Russia.
Scholl’s job in the program is to coach and mentor the athletes. His background is exercise physiology so his specialty is creating training programs. He also creates their personalized training plan.
“I saw a gap in their training, they weren’t training correctly so I created one for them. It gives them a plan to follow every day and gives me the control to oversee the athlete while they are living and training in Winter Park,” he said.
Scholl also travel to races with the athletes, which is part of the training plan.
Tom Merkt is the director of the YMCA’s Nordic Center. This is his second year at the Y and he is glad to have the Nordic training team here.
One constant: change
“This program supports our mission,” he said. “We are able to provide groomed trails and help maintain equipment.”
All skis are “engineered on the spot” said Merkt. “It’s part of the adaptive ski program; technology is always changing, and the mechanics are always changing.”
Adaptive ski coaching changes all the time and we have to think outside the box, said Erik Petersen, director of the NSCD competition program.
“All athletes are different, and the equipment changes based on that,” he said.
Petersen oversees three sports at NSCD in Winter Park: alpine, snowboarding, and the 2-year-old Nordic ski program. He was a competitive alpine skier and coach for over 20 years including three years with the US Ski Team.
“NSCD provides funding for athletes to allow them to train; however, it doesn’t cover all the cost,” said Peterson. “We prove training and staff; however, there is none for travel. Athletes must fundraise or provide money themselves.”
If skiers make the national team there may be some funding help to travel to the World Cup, Petersen said.
These three athletes were recruited in various way but Petersen said the Nordic program is primarily word of mouth.
“We have a premier program for adaptive programs in the world.”
In March, NSCD will host an elite training project inviting all the best Nordic and biathlon adaptive skiers to come to Winter Park to train. Athletes will lodge, dine, and train at the YMCA. Their lodging will be ski in/ski out and they will swim as part of their cross training. They will also use the equipment at the Grand Park Community Recreation Center in Fraser.
The great quality of life inspires the coaches, athletes and everyone involved in the program. It is about teaching life skills through sports, according to participants.
“Day-to-day life is hard for these athletes, so whether is it alpine or Nordic skiing, the sport gives them a freedom, and a little gravity push,” Petersen said.
Funding for NSCD programs comes from three primary sponsorships: Winter Park Resort, Sports Authority and Wells Fargo. Despite the economy, Petersen said funding is holding steady.
There are three reason why the Nordic program is so good, said Petersen.
“We have great facilities such as the YMCA, Devil’s Thumb and now the Grand Park Community Recreation Center. We have great staffing and we have great skiers. We have top-level world-class elite skiers in Nordic and alpine training here.”
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