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First Years take unexpected leadership role on nordic ski team

November 20, 2020

Bryant Ung
LINE UP: First-year skiers organize themselves for a team photo.

Since the majority of upper-class skiers are dispersed across the world and distanced from Bowdoin’s campus, first-year skiers have filled the void this semester with unexpected leadership roles.

“[The first years] have had a lot of ownership and autonomy in planning what the team does,” Head Coach Nathan Alsobrook said. “The campus and the team ended up being all their own, so they were able to build the team and community that they wanted right away.”

The first-year skiers’ self-leadership has allowed the newcomers to heavily contribute to their own team culture and environment.

“We’re making a whole new team, all at once,” captain Gabby Vandendries ’21 said in a Zoom interview with the Orient.

The model of self-leadership has provided athletic and social benefits to the first-year skiers, who have been training together all semester.

“The level of skiing is much higher here, and I’m always being encouraged to push myself,” Silas Brown ’24 said. “Having the team—a group of people that I know—has really helped me build relationships. There’s a really great skiing community on campus this year.”

Alsobrook has been facilitating virtual conversations and meetings between all team members, regardless of their location. Many of those Zoom meetings have involved discussion about race, equity and diversity, topics that the College and Bowdoin Athletics have made an effort to highlight this year.

Bryant Ung
NIGHT OWLS: First-year skiers train by floodlight.

“[DEI discussions] have been a good way for us to grow as a team and bridge the gap between skiers who are on campus and those who are off campus,” Alsobrook said.

Through those conversations about inclusion and diversity, upper-class skiers were able to connect with first years.

“[Developing a social atmosphere] is definitely hard, but we’ve had some good talks surrounding race at Bowdoin and in the country as a whole,” Luke Bartol ’23 said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “It’s not the way you expect to bond with the first years on your team, but we still got to meet them through that.”

Despite creating these connections, the semester has not come without challenges, especially for skiers who are living off campus.

“With skiing, you’re able to do a lot of [training] on your own, but it’s still difficult to see other colleges such as Colby who have their whole ski team back and are able to train together,” Bartol said. “They’re almost back to normal, while we’re stuck in our homes, scattered across the country, doing Zooms every once in a while.”

Although there has not yet been snow in Brunswick, the team practices every day by roller-skiing, running and doing strength training. Some of the team’s on-campus training has been limited by the College’s COVID-19 regulations.

“The only rule that’s been difficult to work with is that we have to stay on campus,” Vandendries said. “It’s frustrating to ski and run the same loops around the parking lots over and over.

Instead of planning for specific races, undergoing high-intensity training and focusing on achieving personal best times like they would be during a regular season, the skiers are devoting themselves to team-building, technique and achieving small, day-to-day goals.

“Some people want to train hard and race as fast as they can, and others want to use this time off to take a step back from skiing and explore new opportunities,” Bartol said. “Usually our race schedule is super rigid, but this year, we get the chance to do more fun and non-traditional activities.”


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