Learn more about Team Gregg on their website: xcskilife.com
We believe! We believe in the NNF because together we can give our athletes a chance. We think about the opportunities and support that our community has shown us and all US skiers through the NNF. The organization of the National U16 camp, coaches’ education grants, the International Junior Camp, Regional Elite Group camps and the subsidizing of races such as the U18 trip, World Junior Championships Team, U23 World Championship Teams, Europa Cup racing, and World Cup and the World Championships. The NNF has taken the expense of these developmental experiences from several thousand dollars to under a grand plus a plane ticket.
This is huge! How big? Well, I know a girl who finally paid off the loan she had taken out to cover the expenses of a 2000 World Junior Championships to Štrbské Pleso, Slovakia. She paid this loan off 15 years later, with the prize money she won from her World Championship bronze medal. Sometimes we reflect upon what it was like before our nation came together through the Drive for 25 to support US Skiing. I would like to share Caitlin’s story in an effort to encourage support for the NNF, the Drive for 25 and just how big a difference a bit of financial support can make for a developing skier.
One of my greatest memories to date is watching Jessie and Caitlin win the first distance World Championship medals for US Women’s skiing when they took the Silver and Bronze in the Falun 10km Freestyle. That day in February is well known in the skiing community, but Caitlin’s history before that day is not. As Caitlin’s teammate for ten years and husband for five years, I have come to know Caitlin’s story well and am continually amazed by it.
Caitlin’s first World Championship experience came in 2007 in Sapporo, Japan. She was responsible for the cost of all of her travel and accommodations for this trip and therefore the trip was short. This was her first international race in seven years. She was not named to the National Team in the spring, as the US Ski Team was focusing on younger athletes and felt she needed more international experience.
USA Biathlon approached Caitlin and offered her support and international experience. She decided to go for it and qualified in trials races for the IBU Cup. Her performances there brought her to the World Cup and the World Championships. She raced her 7th Biathlon race on snow in the 15km Individual at the 2008 Biathlon World Championships and finished a respective 37th and was the top American. USA Biathlon exposed her to racing around the world including Pyeongchang, South Korea. Her cross country skiing improved along with her shooting and she claimed her first individual US National Championship in 2008 in the 5km.
Missing the cross country community and her home in Minnesota, Caitlin returned to cross country for the 2009 season. She earned her first two World Cup starts in Vancouver 2009 on her way to the 2009 World Championship in Liberec, Czech. In 2010, Caitlin qualified for a spot on the Vancouver Olympic Team and the Pre-Olympic World Cup in Canmore. Caitlin had finished the trials with a 2nd and 3rd, however, the prize money from US Nationals is paid by USSA and takes several weeks or months to process and be sent. At a Fast and Female event after the races, Caitlin received a $500 donation from Betsy Haines (Kikkan’s Aunt). Without this donation, Caitln would not have had enough money to pay the baggage fees to get to the next Super Tour race.
With a win and a second at the next Super Tours in the Methow Valley, Caitlin cashed her checks and went all in for her final month of Olympic preparation. She finished 14th in the 10 km Freestyle in Canmore one of the top World Cup distance results of the year. She went on to finish 6th in Olympic Team Sprint with Kikkan Randall and 30th in the 10km Freestyle. Caitlin’s result earned her an invite to her first Europa Cup in France and first European World Cup at the 2010 Holmenkollen. Sadly, her results did not put her on the US Ski Team.
In 2011, Caitlin qualified for the World Championships in Oslo but had to make the tough decision to decline her spot on the team. She felt that she needed to break the financial pattern of her skiing career, pay off the $6,000 of debt from the 2010 Olympics and create a platform for future success financially and athletically. She worked more hours and won multiple marathons including her first American Birkebeiner, the largest purse in North America. She invested the money by purchasing our one-bedroom house in an up-and-coming part of North Minneapolis for $10,500. She put her own training on the back burner, to help her husband (me) make my goal of competing at the 2014 Olympics. Our goal was to both compete, and we did everything we could to make that possible. Caitlin took not being named to the team better than most and focused her energy on preparing for the 2015 World Championships. This included not attending the 2014 Olympics to cheer me on, but to return to the States and win the American Birkebeiner and Overall Super Tour.
In the Fall of the 2014/2015 season, Caitlin became sick with shingles, likely brought on by too much stress. Her results on the World Cup that Fall were not good, yet she continued to believe and have the support of others who believed in her. Returning home for Christmas, she rested up and won her 6th National Championship. Recognizing that she needed a training block, we flew to Colorado for a mid-season altitude block of training. We actually called up Olympic Champion Billy Demong to help Caitlin with a training plan to prepare to win a medal at the World Championships in Falun, Sweden. Caitlin wrote a plan she believed in and focused on executing everything perfectly. Challenges came up, including the cancellation of the Boulder Mountain Tour the morning of the race after a freak weather event. Our original plan included the prize money for the race in our yearly budget, and the cancellation of the race actually had Caitlin concerned about whether or not she should attend World Championships. Knowing that NNF and the ski community had her back helped her make the right decision to execute her Falun plan.
When I returned to my room after the two American flags climbed the flag poles at the awards ceremony in downtown Falun that night, I realized that the muscles in my face hurt from smiling so much. My smile slipped a bit when the bill from the US Ski Team arrived for the costs of the World Championships, but my smile returned even bigger when an email arrived a few moments later saying that the NNF was taking care of the bill in entirety. NNF funded all of the ground expenses for the unfunded athletes at the World Championships.
The United States’ international success makes us very proud! Plus, it is way more fun to watch the World Cup races when on any given day we have someone who can be a contender in the race. I reflect on Caitlin’s story and the impact the NNF has had on her career and am so proud that with our ski community coming together, our current developing skiers can have the opportunities they need to succeed.
The National Nordic Foundation has made this possible, and we wholeheartedly endorse and support the NNF. You can count on each of us putting in our $25 donations for the Drive for 25 every year for the rest of our lives, and I would encourage everyone else to do the same. There is no better time to donate to the NNF than now. If we can reach an additional $39,303 in donations by December 1st, the NNF will receive a matching donation of $40,000. Please donate today at www.NNF.ski, I bet your next ski will be even better if you do.
The NNF's mission is to support athletic excellence in developing nordic athletes in the United States.
Thank you so much! I am here at the U23 World Championships in Val di Femme, Italy. It would not be possible to be here without the support of the NNF.- Ben Lustgarten