The Nordic Character
An individual sport that builds a community
PHOTOGRAPHY Mark Oliver
(page 2 of 4)
Droege admits she was never the star of the team, racing with peers like Picabo Street, but she became an NCAA Division 1 competitor and an accomplished racer. More than that, she learned life skills and perseverance that have served her well in other endeavors. She took away “all those lessons that you learn being part of a team, like great camaraderie, even though it’s an individual sport,” she said.
After earning a master’s degree from Idaho State University, Droege went on to nine years practicing physical therapy with Koth Sports Physical Therapy in Ketchum. But even while working full-time mending the Valley’s many broken bones and torn ligaments, she stayed involved with the SVSEF. She coached alpine racing part-time and in 2006 became a Foundation board member. In July 2008, she left therapy’s weight rooms and training tables and took a full-time position as the Foundation’s development director.
“I feel I’ve come full circle,” she said. “And I feel very passionate about what this ski foundation does, in terms of the number of kids we are impacting.” Intoning the Foundation’s holistic message, she added, “It’s not just about athletics, but the lessons you learn being on this team.”
Despite all the talk about prioritizing life lessons over athletic performance, the SVSEF Nordic Team consistently produces winners.
“If you attract enough kids and do a good job, ultimately, you’re going to have a fair amount of kids move into the competitive level,” Kapala said.
The program starts kids young. The youngest are 7- to 10-year-olds in an entry-level after-school program. From there, the team progresses through middle school and high school and retains the most competitive collegiate skiers on the Olympic Development Team (ODT).
Last winter, the cross-country program served roughly 80 entry-level skiers; 40 on the middle school prep team; 25 on the high school competitive team; and about a dozen college-age athletes on ODT. In total, Kapala oversaw 150 skiers last season.
“The first priority is to provide development to all kids in the Valley,” Kapala said. “It’s expensive to be a ski racer, but at the younger level, there’s no question any kid can ski.”
The timeframe for skiers to reach peak performance is narrow. Elite cross-country careers rarely begin before an athlete is 22 years old and rarely last past 26. “Very few numbers of kids, even among our very best kids, will choose to continue ski racing in college and beyond,” Kapala said. >>>