Basch: Crossing paths with those onto Pyeongchang

  • Jonathan Cheevers makes his way down the course at the SBX World Cup at Stoneham, Quebec in 2012. Cheever first started snowboarding at Attitash and is heading to his first Olympics in Pyeongchang. Courtesy

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Excuse my self-indulgence. The Olympics are coming 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.

Like Kelly Clark.

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

Though the X Games are linked to Aspen, Colo., they were once 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 then she says something like, “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 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 grad from East Montpelier, Vt. 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 cross-country 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 skiers at Dartmouth.

Eventually I did a story about their Big Green 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 boardercross plumber from Saugus, Mass. Cheevers got his start at Attitash in Bartlett and has toughed it out over the years, rising in the ranks in X Games and World Cups, even picking up a national title. He too 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. 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.