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A Poet and a Skier

Whether it’s Nordic skiing or reciting poetry, Lebanon High junior Kenny Weitzman isn’t afraid to try new challenges — and excel at them.

Last fall, Weitzman won school and regional “Poetry Out Loud” contests, events run by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation. The event scored participants on physical presence, dramatic appropriateness, evidence of understanding and other criteria.

Then, this winter, Weitzman took up cross country skiing for the first time and won the NHIAA Boys Division II Skimeister Award, given to the athlete with the best combined scores of both alpine (giant slalom and slalom) and both Nordic events (classical and skate). He was 23rd in the giant slalom and 16th in the slalom in the Alpine meet at Cranmore Mountain Resort on Feb. 12, then placed seventh in the freestyle (11:25) and 11th in the classical (13:52) one day later in the Nordic state meet.

Weitzman became the second Raider in three years to be named Skimeister — Micah Berman captured the honor in 2011 — and earned a trip to the Eastern High School Championships in Presque Isle, Maine, this weekend.

To join the hundreds of others from around New England and New York at the regional competition this weekend, Weitzman had to surrender a spot at the New Hampshire’s Poetry Out Loud Championships Friday at the State House in Concord.

It was an easy choice for Weitzman, who decided to dabble in poetry reading strictly as an artistic endeavor on the side.

“I didn’t think I had an artistic bone in my body,” said Weitzman, who read Weldon Kees’ The Coming of the Plague, and two other poems to Poetry Out Loud judges. “It’s really just a fun hobby that I only recently got into,” he said.

Skiing, on the other hand, has been part of Weitzman’s upbringing since age 4, first with the Lebanon Outing Club youth skiing program and later with the Whaleback Core Team, joining it for training trips to both alpine and freestyle competitions.

Weitzman earned two top-15 placements at the state meet as a freshman alpine racer with the Raiders, landing 15th in the giant slalom and 17th in the slalom at the D-II state meet. He watched that year as teammate Micah Berman, then a senior, won Lebanon’s first Skimeister award since Ben Perham in 1983.

“When I saw Micah do that, I knew I wanted to be the next (Lebanon skier) to do it,” Weitzman recalled yesterday. “It’s a great accomplishment; it means a lot.”

Weitzman honed in on his Alpine skills as a sophomore, landing in the top 10 in almost every regular season race and placing ninth in the slalom at the state meet to earn a spot in the Meet of Champions.

This year, Weitzman set his sights on competing for the Skimeister. His coaches never doubted that he’d contend.

“The great thing about Kenny is that he always goes 100 percent,” said Raiders’ Alpine coach Mike Anikis. “Some guys who have only done Alpine might start doing Nordic and say ‘This is hard,’ and sort of back off. With Kenny, once he decides he’s going to do something, he’s going to keep his mind set on it and just roll with whatever changes come out of it.”

Weitzman took to the cross country disciplines fairly smoothly, though he admitted they required more physical exertion than downhill.

“Alpine is maybe a little bit more technically difficult, but you’re mainly just looking for speed and (maintaining) a side-to-side pattern,” he said. “With cross country, you have to be really focused, and it’s more about endurance. You can be less athletic and still have a pretty good Alpine race, but you can’t really be unathletic and still be good at Nordic.”

Luckily for both Weitzman and Raiders’ cross country coach Les Lawrence, he joined the fray already in strong condition.

“That made it a lot easier for me,” Lawrence said. “He came in good shape and could focus mainly on the balance and about getting used to gliding along the snow as opposed to skiing down it.”

Weitzman had strong seasons in both sports, capturing six top-10s in alpine, including runner-up placements in both the GS and slalom at the Connecticut Valley Conference meet in January.

He got progressively better at Nordic, cracking the top 10 by his fourth race when he finished seventh in the skate in Plymouth.

By the Con-Val race a couple weeks later, he came in tied for third.

With his mind set on winning the Skimeister award, Weitzman took a conservative approach at the state meet and placed 23rd in the GS and 16th in the slalom. The idea was to avoid falling, since a single spill would likely mean falling out of contention for the all-encompassing award.

“By the time you get back up and hike back up (to the nearest gate), it’s almost impossible to recover,” Anikis said.

The tactic paid off, as Weitzman’s performance at Nordic states was just enough to dethrone defending Skimeister Torin Laliberte, of Kennett.

A high honors student, Weitzman said the most challenging part of competing in both sports this winter was the lost class time. Both teams made regular road trips into the White Mountains for away meets.

“It was great not to have to be in class, but there was a lot of make-up work,” Weitzman said. “That added to the stress, but it was definitely worth it.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.