copyright the Chronicle January 29, 2014
by Natalie Hormilla
On the week of her twenty-sixth birthday, Ida Sargent of Barton got some very big news — that she had officially been named to the U.S. Olympic women’s cross-country ski team.
“I think when I found out I couldn’t stop smiling,” Ms. Sargent said in a telephone interview Friday from Toblach, Italy, where she will compete in two World Cup races this weekend.
The weekend’s events are the last for Ms. Sargent before she heads to her first Olympic games, in Sochi, Russia.
“Then on Sunday, we’ll drive to Munich, then Monday we do all the processing — fill out the forms, get the visas figured out, and get our uniforms. Then on Tuesday, we fly to Sochi.”
Even with the Olympics around the corner, Ms. Sargent is still focused on the tasks at hand.
“Right now, I’m still kind of focusing on these next World Cup races and trying to just take each moment in stride,” she said.
Her birthday plans included hard training sessions in the morning, followed by fun with a couple of friends who just happen to be in Italy, too.
“Hannah Dreissigacker and Susan Dunklee are training about 30 minutes from here, which is really unique, because we usually don’t cross paths,” she said. “That’ll be a really special way to celebrate my birthday.”
Ms. Dunklee and Ms. Dreissigacker are newly named Olympians themselves, having been nominated to the U.S. women’s biathlon team.
The three women have known each other most of their lives, through skiing together at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, first as kids in the Bill Koch League, then as young women in the Craftsbury Green Racing Project.
“The three of us will be going to Sochi together, which is pretty amazing,” Ms. Sargent said. “It’s pretty funny. We’ve been skiing together, all of us, since we were really young.”
All three skied for Dartmouth College, too.
Ms. Dunklee is a Barton native, and is the daughter of an Olympian herself. Her father, Stan Dunklee, represented the U.S. in cross-country skiing at the 1976 and 1980 Olympic games.
Ms. Dreissigacker went to high school in Morrisville and also comes from an Olympic family. Her father, Dick Dreissigacker, rowed for the U.S. at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany, and her mother, Judy Geer, rowed in both the 1976 and 1984 Summer Olympics, and was named to the 1980 team, which boycotted that year’s Olympics in Moscow, Russia. The Dreissigackers bought the Craftsbury Outdoor Center in 2008 and turned it into a nonprofit.
There are no professional athletes in the Sargent family, but a brief account of Ms. Sargent’s life seems to lead to the Olympics.
“My family grew up skiing together, and I chased after my older brother and sister to keep up with them,” Ms. Sargent said. “I feel like any success I have I should credit to them, and my parents who’ve supported me every step of the way.”
“We have two other children who were both cross-country skiers,” said her father, Dave Sargent. “Ida is the youngest one, so as soon as she could, she wanted to go skiing.”
Mr. Sargent and his wife, Lindy, helped coach kids in the Barton and Glover area through the Bill Koch program.
All three of the Sargent kids skied for Dartmouth.
Ms. Sargent went to Barton Graded School, then North Country Union High School. After two years, she switched to Burke Mountain Academy so she could ski at a higher level, Mr. Sargent said.
“She also was a junior national champion in several disciplines,” he said. “I can’t remember how many times she was national champion.”
Sometimes she’d win several races at a single event, he explained.
Ms. Sargent majored in biology, with a concentration in physiology and a minor in psychology, at Dartmouth College.
After college, she returned home.
“When I graduated, the Craftsbury Outdoor Center had started the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, and so I was able to join that and stay close to home and train,” Ms. Sargent said.
It wasn’t long before she was asked to join the U.S. women’s ski team at the age of 22.
That’s led to plenty of traveling during the winter months.
“I’ve been in Europe since the beginning of November, which is kind of our home away from home,” she said. “We travel from one hotel to the next.”
As a skier for the national team, Ms. Sargent spends the months of November through March traveling and competing in World Cup races.
“We race against the fastest women in the world,” she said. “It’s fun to watch and progress, and make improvements, and set new goals.”
“This year we started in Norway, then we went to Finland, then Switzerland, Italy, Czech Republic, Poland, and now I’m back in Italy,” she said.
Not that she has much time to be a tourist.
“Sometimes we do get to get out and do some sightseeing, but sometimes we’re so busy we only see the hotel and the race venues,” Ms., Sargent said. “It’s our job to be skiing and focusing on the skiing, so you have to forego sightseeing trips to just focus on the races and training and recovering and preparing to ski fast in those races.”
She competes in the World Cups almost every weekend while in Europe, and figures she does about 30 races a year.
“The rest of the year, I live in Craftsbury, so it’s really awesome to live so close to where I grew up.”
Ms. Sargent also does some regular work there, too, which is required of all the Green Racing Project members.
“All the different athletes work on different events and projects and programs that are happening there, and one of the things I do is help coach the Bill Koch League, and I organize the two day camps every summer,” she said. “For me, it’s really fun because I grew up skiing in the Bill Koch program in Craftsbury, and that’s how I got my start in ski racing.
“I love that I can still be involved in that and help younger kids follow in the same footsteps and give back to that community that supported me.”
Ms. Sargent will help coach that league in Craftsbury again this summer.
It’s fair to say that falling in with the right crowd has helped keep the momentum in Ms. Sargent’s career.
“When you have a good team, and they had an excellent team at Dartmouth, they just push each other,” Mrs. Sargent said. “They really push each other when they’re all on the same team together. So they get to that level quicker.”
She credits her teammates, too.
“I really used to not like it when I was a little kid,” she said of skiing. “I used to go out with my parents and wished I was inside.
“But then at the Craftsbury Center, I met really cool kids, like Hannah, and I spent a lot of time skiing with my sister, so I just had all these awesome teammates that kept me in the sport.”
So what’s it like to be a professional cross-country skier?
“I ski probably six days a week — sometimes twice a day, sometimes once,” she said.
She trains the most during the summertime and fall, about three to four hours of hard training a day.
“But then in the winter time it’s a little bit less training but at a harder intensity, and trying to recover more so you can race fast.
“That’s kind of my job — pushing your body to the limit then trying to recover. It’s like a continual state of exhaustion,” she said. “Recovering, then coming back faster and stronger.”
Ms. Sargent said she always sees a lot of room to improve her sport, but she’s also still young and has plenty of time.
“In cross-country skiing, it’s an endurance sport, so your peak is not until like your early thirties,” she said. “And for me this is my first Olympics. So there’s still room to grow, I’m not close to my peak yet.”
Being a professional skier isn’t as lucrative as it might seem, she said.
“You’re not doing it for the money,” Ms. Sargent said. “There is prize money at the World Cups, and sponsorship money from ski companies or personal sponsors, but I wouldn’t say I’m putting away a substantial life savings. I’m getting by, but I’m really just doing it because it’s something I love, and if I’m not losing money on it, I can continue.”
Ms. Sargent pointed out that the U.S. is one of the only countries that doesn’t fund its national ski team.
“We don’t have a salary from the U.S. ski team,” she said. “Cross-country skiing is obviously not like some other pro sports, like baseball or football — we’re not pulling in those profits. But it’s really fun. I get to be outside and active and healthy.”
Ms. Sargent’s parents won’t be traveling to Sochi. They just returned from watching their daughter compete in Szklarska Poreba, Poland.
“She had the best distance race of her career,” her father said.
Ms. Sargent will be joined by her coach, Pepa Miloucheva, of the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, who is in Italy right now, too.
“Pepa has been her coach since Ida was nine,” Mrs. Sargent said.
Ms. Sargent’s parents aren’t exactly shocked that their daughter will compete in the Olympics.
“I don’t know how this sounds, but I really never doubted that she would be, because it’s been her lifelong goal,” Mr. Sargent said. “And she’s worked very hard at it.”
“When it actually comes to pass, you’re like oh my gosh, but it’s not too unusual because she’s on the U.S. ski team,” Mrs. Sargent said. “And she’s worked really hard to race at that level.”
Ms. Sargent, Ms. Dunklee and Ms. Dreissigacker aren’t the only Vermonters representing the U.S. at the Winter Olympics. The women’s cross-country ski team includes Liz Stephen of East Montpelier, who was a Burke Mountain Academy classmate of Ms. Sargent’s, and Sophie Caldwell of Peru, who was another of Ms. Sargent’s classmates at Dartmouth.
Andy Newell of Shaftsbury is one of the men’s cross-country ski team members.
Other Vermonters competing in Sochi next month include Hannah Kearney of Norwich on the ski freestyle aerial team; Kelly Clark of West Dover, Hannah Teter of Belmont, Serena Shaw of Stratton Mountain, Ty Walker of Stowe, Lindsey Jacobellis of Stratton Mountain, Alex Deibold of Manchester Center, and Jackie Hernandez of Londonderry to the snowboard teams; and Devin Logan of West Dover to two free skiing teams.
The variable and sometimes funky ski conditions found in the Green Mountain State may be an unexpected plus for Vermonters competing at the Olympics.
“I like to think we’re a lot tougher for all the conditions we’ve experienced,” Ms. Sargent said.
That experience came in handy at the World Cup races in Szklarska Poreba.
“They didn’t have any snow and they’d been shoveling snow to bring it in, and it was dirty and sloshy and warm, because Europe has been warm this winter,” she said. “But I’ve been prepared for that with lots of skiing in Vermont, because it’s not the perfect, bluebird powder days you see in some other spots.”
At this point, Ms. Sargent isn’t exactly sure what the Olympic games will be like, though she has raced in Sochi before.
“I am not sure yet which races I’ll do,” she said. “It’s kind of depending. We have seven girls going, and the U.S. can start four girls in each race, but I’ll probably be starting at least a couple races. It’s kind of exciting and it depends on how the next few weeks go.”
Asked if she’s nervous for such a grand venue, she said she’s very nervous.
“I mean, I still get nervous on the start lineup,” she said. “I probably started my first ski race when I was four or five years old, but each race is new and different — you don’t know what’s going to happen. I get nervous for every race and I love it, that nervous excitement is fun.”
Ms. Sargent sounds nothing short of grateful.
“My job right now is to play outside, to run and ski and bike. I’ve wanted to go to the Olympics and be a World Cup racer since I was a little kid, and it’s exciting that it’s coming together for me now.”
Her Olympic goals echo where she comes from. Ms. Sargent talked about Bill Koch, who is a native Vermonter. So far, he is the only American to have won an Olympic medal in cross-country skiing.
“We have our sights set on changing that in Sochi,” she said.
contact Natalie Hormilla at email@example.com
For more free stories like this one, please see our Sports pages.