Long Live the Torch Bearers

  • Jonathan Cheever tears down the course at the SBX World Cup at Stoneham, Quebec, in 2012. Cheever, 32, first started snowboarding at New Hampshire's Attitash Mountain and has earned his first Olympic berth.

Special to the Valley News
Saturday, February 10, 2018

Excuse my self-indulgence. The Olympics are here, and that makes me think about the paths I’ve crossed with athletes seeking gold in Pyeongchang.

It’s my job to write about them. It’s their job to talk to me. Most have been gracious with their time, whether in person or over the phone, or both. I’m just a blur in the media crowd, a face and voice among many. But there have been times those connections have been memorable, at least to me, and I know I’ll be rooting for those athletes with soaring skill sets on a stage most will never come close to touching.

Athletes such as five-time Olympian Kelly Clark.

The most decorated women’s snowboarder grew up around Dover, Vt.’s, Mount Snow and is gunning for her second Olympic gold and fourth overall Olympic medal (gold in 2002, bronze in both 2010 and 2014).

Though the X Games today are routinely staged in Aspen, Colo., they were held at Mount Snow in 2000 and 2001. That’s when I first interviewed a teenaged Clark. Since then, she’s been very generous with her time. Eventually, Clark moved west for larger halfpipes and longer seasons, landing at Mammoth Mountain in California.

In 2013, I was at Mammoth and getting off the gondola with my wife when we heard chatter about Clark being outside. I gave my wife that wondering look and before her eyes gave me the answer, I was tromping across the snow. I wasn’t the only one looking to say hello and soon she was getting ready to strap in and go. I approached cautiously, introduced myself, and she responded with something like, “Oh yeah! We talk on the phone all the time!”

She obliged for a photo.

Black Mountain in Rumford, Maine, has hosted the U.S. Cross Country Ski Championships. Not only are national champions crowned there, but the competition also serves as trials for Junior and U23 Cross Country World Ski Championship teams. In 2011, some members of the U.S. Ski Team spent time with the younger skiers during the championships, traveling, sharing meals and lodging with them.

One of those mentors was Liz Stephen, a Burke Mountain Academy graduate and East Montpelier, Vt., native. The ski team veteran is going to her third Olympics and has made her mark in distance races. Stephen actually called me after the story was published to thank me for writing it.

That was a first.

Another crosscountry connection had its roots during a top-to-bottom Vermont mountain bike ride about 10 years ago. My wife and I decided it would be fun to bike on as many dirt roads as we could during our journey. I figured I wasn’t the first person to have this idea and sent out some email feelers to people I knew. Soon I connected with two cyclists in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom willing to share their route.

The engineer and school librarian invited us to dinner. We accepted and soon we were in their home, dining on venison he had harvested and garlic from their garden. On the walls of the home were photos of their children, all cross country skiers. Turns out all three of their children — Eben, Elsa and Ida — were Dartmouth College skiers.

Eventually, I did a story about their Big Green team skiing children. One of them is Ida Sargent. She’s competing in her second Olympics and has more than 20 top-10 World Cup finishes in freestyle and classic techniques.

Olympic dreams don’t come easy. Ask Jonathan Cheever. The plumber from Saugus, Mass., got his start in boardercross at Attitash in Bartlett, N.H., and has toughed it out over the years, rising in the ranks in X Games and World Cups, even picking up a national title. Cheever has been benevolent with his time over the years whether over the phone or in person, like when the World Cup came to Sunday River in 2009.

At age 32, Cheever finally is going to his first Olympics.

Congrats, Cheever!

Shawn White’s back for his fourth Olympics. I met him at the 25th U.S. Open at Stratton (Vt.) Mountain Resort. A consummate pro, he’s always an animated interview, and always has a screener call ahead. Lindsey Jacobellis has always been approachable, and hopefully it’s her golden year. Cross country skier Andy Newell, freeskier Devin Logan and alpine skier Nolan Kasper have all taken time to share their stories with me.

So go get ’em and continue to work hard long after your Olympic flames have faded.