VAIL — When hometown Nordic skier Sylvan Ellefson learned he didn’t make the Olympic team this week, it allowed him to reflect on something else.
“Having the Olympics looming this season has, for me, overshadowed a lot of my accomplishments, I think,” Ellefson said Wednesday. “It’s taken me basically until today to realize that I am a national champion for the first time in my life, and that’s something I need to celebrate.”
After nearly a month on the road, the local cross-country skier is now back at home celebrating that accomplishment with his friends and family in Vail.
“It’s great to have him home,” Ellefson’s wife, Sarah, said on Wednesday. “We’re looking forward to spending time together, skiing, enjoying the valley and doing those things we haven’t had a chance to do over the last few years with Sylvan’s schedule.”
‘THE RIGHT DECISION’
For Ellefson, those past few years have been both rigorous and rewarding, feelings which have now come to a culminating point.
“It’s been a fairytale season regardless of the Olympics,” Ellefson said. “The lowest I finished in a race this season was fifth.”
And the highest was first, at the national championships 30K Mass Freestyle event two weeks ago in Utah.
“One of my best memories from this season would be the point in the 30K when it was 8K from the finish and I had to make a decision whether I was going to hold back and save energy for the finish, or whether I was going to go for it,” Ellefson said. “With all of my family and friends there, just thinking about them, it was a big decision.”
Ellefson charged, creating distance between him and the rest of the field, and finished with enough time to break form and celebrate a little for his fan gallery, which had gathered along the home stretch.
“It turned out to be the right decision,” he said. “I’ll never forget that moment.”
ONE THING FOR CERTAIN
Ellefson’s best friend, Michael Busenhart, was at the race, along with Busenhart’s brother, sister-in-law, their baby, his mom and dad, his fiancee and a handful of other friends.
Busenhart said 30-40 people traveled the seven hours it takes from the Vail Valley to support Ellefson.
“On every turn, on every hill, there were people all over the race course rooting for Sylvan,” Busenhart said. “It was an awesome moment, and I’m really glad we were all a part of it.”
For Ellefson, the moment will be one that always stays with him, he says.
“At the end of that race, I got to hug the guy that has guided me all the way through this, over 10 years of going from never being on a pair of Nordic skis to being a national champion, my coach Dan Weiland.” Ellefson said. “Less than 30 seconds later there was a crowd of people there congratulating me, and I looked over at Dan and saw him crouched down in a squatting position on the snow, he was just shaking his head with a smile, he just couldn’t believe it. I think I saw a tear come down his cheek which, if you know Dan Weiland, that’s not something you see every day. Seeing how happy he was really meant a lot to me.”
Weiland describes Ellefson as a once-in-a-decade type of athlete.
“He’s one of those kids blessed with some God-given talent,” Weiland said.
The Nordic program Weiland and Ellefson helped create at Ski & Snowboard Club Vail, Team Homegrown, will continue to be a source of focus for Ellefson.
“I would really like to start coaching at some point,” Ellefson said.
Moving forward, Ellefson said he’s going to take a long, hard look at how much of his life he will continue to commit to training and competing. He says he’s not sure where he will go from here, but one thing he knows for certain is that one of his main goals is to vest himself in his community.
“The Vail Valley has, literally, paid for my journey in competing and supported me in so many other ways I can’t explain,” he said. “One thing I know for sure is that I want to give back.”