PARK CITY, Utah - The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, as part of its ongoing outreach to alumni of its 15 teams in seven sports, held the first U.S. Ski Team and U.S. Snowboarding Alumni Weekend with nearly 30 alumni honored. "It was so cool, so good to be part of it," said Olympic snowboard medalist Rosey Fletcher (Anchorage, AK).
Twenty-eight athletes from alpine, nordic, freestyle, disabled and snowboard
teams - national teams (from A Team to Development Team) and Olympics,
Paralympics or World Championships teams - were honored (March 23) in a special
program that included a recognition dinner, awarding a varsity jacket and a
certificate documenting their years on a team, plus a variety of other informal
activities, on-snow and off.
"This is the first of what we plan to do every year to honor ski and snowboard alumni," said USSA President and CEO Bill Marolt. "We've done this in previous years on a smaller scale, but with more than 1,400 alumni, we've wanted to expand it...and this was our first step in doing so."
Former alpine World Cup skier Gail Blackburn (Brunswick, ME, when she competed in the Seventies, now from near Wolfeboro, NH) said, "They've set the bar high with this program. It's going to be extremely popular with alumni, and I'd expect the enthusiasm and energy will grow each year."
She brought her two daughters, 17 and 21, and said, "This was so much fun in so many ways...just a great start for the alumni recognition."
Blackburn: Recognition trumps a simple reunion
The simple recognition was good, she said, but even more important "was the fact this wasn't simply a reunion of some Olympic Team, or some team from World Championships. This was across the board, all the teams, disabled as well as able-bodied, not just Olympians or medal-winners, and they went from last year to back in the Fifties" with Dick Mitchell (Sun Valley, ID, and now Pasrk City, UT), who was named to the 1956 alpine Olympic Team.
Fletcher, who lived in Girdwood, AK, when she competed, retired after the 2006 Olympic season and currently works in the Anchorage mayor's office. She was "psyched" to meet a couple of former teammates "even though it's only been a year, and then to meet athletes from other teams. That was great, too."
She added, "I've been retired for just a year, but I really enjoyed it, was glad to see Lisa [Kosglow, Boulder, CO - her two-time Olympic teammate] and Stacey [Hookom, Edwards, CO - her teammate on several Worlds teams]...and I know the alumni who have been retired longer really enjoyed it. It was an amazing time.
"And it wasn't just cool to see my teammates but it was great, and I heard this from a lot of alumni, it was great to see other teams. Y'know, we don't - we didn't - get to spend a lot of time with other teams, so this was fun in a lot of ways," Fletcher said.
Jed Hinkley (Andover, NH), a 2002 Olympic nordic combined skier and now a student at the University of North Carolina-Asheville, agreed. He liked the opportunity to put a face with a name. "Meeting athletes from other teams was good. We've heard of some of them, of course, but this gave us a chance to really find out about some," he said.
"I put in my two cents..."
He also enjoyed the camaraderie "but the coolest thing for me was getting to attend some of the board meetings, and I put in my two cents in a couple of cases. I felt the [Foundation] trustees and board members were not only pleased to see us but to hear from us, too."
Disabled cross country skier Mike Crenshaw (Boulder, CO) lost his right foot and part of his leg in a tractor accident but went on to win a couple of World Cup races and medals at the Paralympics and World Championships. He didn't know what to expect, he said.
"It turned out to be a great weekend. I'm not so sure we, as alumni, should be honored - it was such a privilege to compete for so many years and being taken care of in Norway or Japan or Switzerland. To me, it was a stroke of luck to get on the Ski Team. They're some of my best friends...and will be that way for life," he said.
He was happy to see trustees' interest in the disabled program, and to meet many of them. "I wasn't sure of my role for the weekend, but it was nice to be invited to their meetings and feel their genuine interest," according to Crenshaw.
Two-time Olympian Tiger Shaw (Stowe, VT, when he competed and now Norwich, VT) echoed Blackburn and is pleased with the scope of the alumni outreach. "Some people left the Ski Team when they were cut, and that's not an enjoyable experience. But this isn't modeled on college alumni programs because those athletes graduate and move on, there's no being cut from a team. Well, this gives everyone who's got a bone to pick a forum to discuss their issues. It's a very different environment at the Team...and I've found the Team certainly receptive to all kinds of feedback...
Jamison: Alumni should ask, "Why aren't we...?"
"People I talked with are excited that the Team is trying to pull this together, and doing it on a large scale. [USSA] is making a strong effort to reach out to all alumni."
Former disabled alpine skier David Jamison (Tabernash, CO) spent 16 seasons with the U.S. Disabled Ski Team. He said, "It was great to see old friends but the important part was the fact that it brought people together that ask themselves 'Why aren't we doing more to help the sport for the people that are involved now?' So, dialogue starts here for those that want to continue to help their sport grow."
Alumni, according to Shaw, can contribute on several levels to the current athletes. "There's a strong bond among the older alumni, and I think they can make some big contributions in terms of experience. They can provide coaching help, of course, but they can provide mentoring, too, which may help today's Team members learn how to deal with so many things they face for the first time...or simply have trouble with."
He was impressed, Shaw said, that when he returned from a post-weekend trip, he already had received a followup survey from USSA for feedback on the reach-out/recognition weekend. "They're serious about reaching alumni and finding out how to improve the alumni weekend program.
Blackburn voiced a comment for many of the participants: "The word is already out there. I think the next alumni recognition weekend will be huge...and it's only going to grow."
Alumni data sought
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Former athletes honored included (years of membership):