Vail Daily column: Lifetime skills outweigh results for Nordic team
The Ski & Snowboard Club Vail Nordic Program is off to a great start with multiple podiums at its first Junior National Qualifier in Crested Butte, a national champion, personal bests and first time experiences for junior athletes at U.S. Cross Country Championships, a successful high school race at Maloit Park and two well-attended Vail Summit Orthopaedics Nordic Town Races for community members of all ages.
Nothing is more rewarding than seeing athletes develop in all areas of their lives during their journey at Ski & Snowboard Club Vail. Recognition goes out today to Eric Zdechlick, Elsa Perkins and Vlad Shambarger for their personal growth as members of the Ski & Snowboard Club Vail Nordic community.
Eric Zdechlick is a 17-year-old full-time Ski & Snowboard Club Vail Nordic athlete in 11th grade at Ski & Snowboard Club Vail Academic Partner Vail Mountain School. He has grown up in the Ski & Snowboard Club Vail Nordic Program, where his coaches have watched him develop not only as a Nordic athlete, but also on the pitch as member of the VMS varsity soccer team, a student and, most importantly, a person.
Eric lost his father in a slow, brave battle to cancer this fall. John Zdechlick, affectionately known as “Zeke” to the Ski & Snowboard Club Vail Nordic community, was a longtime Ski & Snowboard Club Vail Nordic coach, great teacher and mentor. Through these unimaginably difficult times, Eric remained committed and on task with his summer dry-land Nordic training, his fall soccer season and his Nordic skiing. He drives himself back and forth over Vail Pass almost every day for academics and athletics, impressing us with his mental fortitude, quiet, unassuming leadership role on the team and maturity beyond his years. Eric continues to steadily improve in his sport and is a source of inspiration, setting an example that all of us admire and learn from.
Elsa Perkins is in her second year as a Ski & Snowboard Club Vail full-time Nordic athlete and Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy student. Elsa came to Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy as a fifth-grader. At the time she applied to become a full-time athlete she did not have any formal cross-country skiing experience. As part of the admissions process, Elsa did an on-snow evaluation with Ski & Snowboard Club Vail Nordic Program Director Dan Weiland, looked him in the eye and said she wanted to be a Nordic skier. Although a bit of a risk, Dan went with his gut feeling, having confidence that Elsa would follow up on her words with actions. Elsa did just that.
Elsa worked relentlessly throughout her fifth-grade year both on and off snow to achieve her athletic and academic goals. Academically, Elsa is a strong student. Athletically that first season, she finished seventh in her last race, moving up from her middle of the pack results in her first race. Elsa committed last summer to dry-land training with the Ski & Snowboard Club Vail Nordic team, oftentimes training with athletes almost twice her age. She is two for two this season, winning the first two races of the Junior Nordic Qualifier series for the U12s (ages 10-11) in Crested Butte last month, finishing a whopping 23 seconds ahead of second place in the classic portion of those races.
Vlad Schambarger is a fifth grader at Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy and in his first year as an Ski & Snowboard Club Vail full-time Nordic athlete. Fluent in Russian, he is both a strong student and experienced Nordic skier. Vlad has been quick to seize the athletic and academic opportunities of attending Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy.
Vlad is listening to his coaches and progressing very well on snow. There are certain indicators that any coach watches for as to the long-term commitment and future outcomes of an athlete. It is Vlad’s meticulous attention to detail and focus on learning the process of ski racing that goes a long way in turning an enthusiastic 11-year-old into a top level athlete down the line.
Vlad is becoming an unassuming leader among his peers, modeling behavior and processes for them to follow. If Vlad does it, others do it, too. He and his five teammates are displaying a healthy level of competition among each other, while supporting each other to improve each day. It will be exciting to watch them progress up the pipeline together both on and off snow into their U16 years and the next stage of their sport.
In sport, competition is the focus but not as important as the relationships formed and skills developed along the way, skills which will allow our youngsters to become winners in life.