Speech to the USADA DCOs

On Saturday night I had the honor of giving the keynote address at the US Anti Doping Agency’s (USADA’s) biennial DCO Conference in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The USADA DCOs, or Doping Control Officers, are the individuals responsible for collecting blood and urine samples in and out of competition from athletes in the US, both native and foreign athletes.

Here are my remarks, as prepared.

This is such a unique opportunity, and it is such an honor for me to talk to you all tonight. Very few athletes have the chance to get you all in one room, though I am much more used to seeing you in a far more intimate settings.

I want to start with the most important thing that I can do today, and that is to say, “thank you”. Thank you from me personally. Thank you from me and Greta and Tammy and the Athlete Presenter program. Thank you from the U.S. Cross Country ski team. Thank you from Team USA in Pyeongchang. Thank you from all of Ski and Snowboard. Thank you from all 2600 RTP athletes in the U.S. And thank you from the 1 million+ athletes in the U.S. who compete in sports regulated by the WADA code. Our right to compete in clean sport does not exist without each and every one of you and the tireless work that you do. Thank you for leveling the playing field. Thank you for giving us a fair shot at our dreams.

As athletes, we complain endlessly about your 6am knocks on the door, and in the process, we forget that you were up at 2 to drive 4 hours to collect our samples. We get frustrated that you disrupted our day without thinking about the fact that you spent 8 hours in the car to drive across three states to test us. We procrastinate and rush through our Whereabouts without considering the fact that you have to somehow derive meaning from the cacophony of addresses we throw at you. We stress about missing a test, but then move on with our lives, knowing it will be cleared from the record after 12 months. Before this morning, when I learned about the protocol for an “unsuccessful attempt”, I had no idea that one of you sat outside my house for two hours just to turn around and drive home empty handed when I didn’t show up.

I had the honor of being tested by Rob, Mary, Danielle and Travis throughout my career. I was also tested by Steve, who one time showed up at my house in Aspen shortly after my cat had been diagnosed with asthma. The vet had prescribed the cat steroids, half a pill to be exact. One day I came into the kitchen to find my mom cutting the steroid pill in half on the same cutting board that we used for food. When Steve showed up I was so convinced that I was going to test positive for my cat’s steroids that I almost didn’t submit to the test. I was ready to accept my sanction on the spot.

Most often during my career I was tested by Gary. Gary couldn’t be here this weekend because his brother-in-law passed away last week, but I had the honor of speaking to him on the phone yesterday. He wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to tell you all about how he made me make him breakfast every time he showed up to collect a sample.

I know about some of the horrible things that you all put up with. I was dating Emilia when she placed her pee cup without a lid on the edge of the bathtub and it slowly slid to the edge and then crashed to the floor while she was pulling up her pants. I’m glad you all have finished dinner because I heard all about Kris having diarrhea and not being able to stop it from coming out both ends while he was providing a sample. I know how rude athletes can be to anti-doping officials because I showed my extreme displeasure when a WADA tester woke me up in Davos, Switzerland at 6am, thinking he was knocking on Kikkan’s door.

And so that brings me to the second most important thing that I want to say to you all today, and that is “I’m Sorry”. I’m sorry for my behavior. I’m sorry for the behavior of my teammates, friends and competitors. I’m sorry for our rudeness. I’m sorry for our grossness. I’m sorry four our selfishness. I’m sorry for our cockiness. And I’m sorry for our entire lack of shame. I wish I could say that it won’t happen again, but if there’s one thing I know, it’s that athletes will continue to put themselves first. Your patience, persistence and understanding are extraordinary.

This morning Jimmy (Moody) talked about his dream that one day we will never need a USADA because every athlete will have the utmost integrity and personal responsibility. In contrast, Bryan (Fogel) said today that he believes the anti-doping war is one we can never win. Until either one of those things happen, we need each of you.

You all got to hear from Greta and Tammy this morning about our new Athlete Presenter program. I am so excited and grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this organization. I am discovering what you all have known for a long time: anti-doping is not only a fulfilling way to stay involved in sport, it is also full of the most incredible people. Every single person that I have met at this organization is passionate about clean sport and pursues their work tirelessly. I’ve never once heard a complaint when I text Danielle social media content first thing on a Sunday morning. When I ask Tammy a trivial question at 10:15 at night, she …tolerates… it. And we are so lucky to have Travis (Tygart) leading this organization. His determination to fight for the rights of clean athletes and to push back against WADA and the IOC in the interest of clean sport is incredible.

I have some personal experience when it comes to feeling the effect of doping on sport. One of the first of my international competitors that I got to know well was an Austrian by the name of Johannes Duerr. Johannes was my age, and we first got to know each other at the World Junior Championships in Mals, Italy in 2008. We were both distance specialists and were about the same level. We quickly became friends as we discovered that we had a lot in common outside of skiing. Our friendship strengthened over the years as we both progressed to the World Cup circuit. We were often close to each other on the results sheet and truly wanted to see each other succeed. We remained at a similar level until the 2013-14 season when Johannes jumped from being a top-30 skier to a consistent podium contender. I too took a large jump and earned my first World Cup stage win during the opening weekend of the season, but I was much less consistent than Johannes. I was impressed, jealous and full of wonder about how he made such a leap. Rumors started flying immediately that Johannes might be doping but I refused to believe them. I still believe in innocent until proven guilty. And he was one of my good friends.

Both Johannes and I came into the Tour de Ski with a lot of confidence. The Tour de Ski is the most important World Cup event of the year, consisting of seven stages in nine days at four venues spread throughout three countries. The first couple stages included two sprints. I am a terrible sprinter. By day five I was a long way back in the standings. The fifth stage was a 35 kilometer point-to-point race up and over a pass from Cortina to Toblach, Italy. The pursuit start format meant that I was starting well behind the main group. That day I had the race of my life. It was one of those days that athletes dream about having and after they experience it once, they spend the rest of their careers trying to recapture the feeling. I literally couldn’t go hard enough to hurt myself. I was essentially skiing as fast as I could for the entire 17 kilometer uphill to the top of the pass. I was rolling by other skiers without giving them a second glance. I knew they couldn’t stay with me. With one kilometer to the top the main group of over 20 skiers came into view. It’s super unusual in cross country skiing for an individual athlete to catch a large group because of the advantages of the group working together. Most of this group had started more than two minutes in front of me. With a huge final surge, I caught the group just as they crested the summit, and I got a much-needed draft on the 17 kilometer blazing fast downhill to the finish. My timing in seeing and catching the group could not have been better, and with my incredible climb, I knew I’d had the race of my life. There was nothing I would have done differently. I thought I must have had the fastest time of the day. I doubted anyone could ski faster than what I’d just done. Not only had I felt better than I ever had before, including when I’d won only two months earlier, I also timed it perfectly by catching the group and getting a “ride” down the final 17 kilometers.

During the Tour de Ski, with back-to-back-to-back races, there is no time to worry about results. I had to immediately cool down, shower, pack and get in the car to the next venue. It wasn’t until several hours later, lying on my bed in a new hotel, that I found out the results from the stage. I was second. Not only did I not win, I was 56 seconds slower than the winner, a margin so big I might as well have been in a different race. The winner, of course, was Johannes. I had mixed feelings. I was still proud of the way I’d skied. I was happy to be second but was disappointed that I didn’t win with an effort that I knew was special. I was happy for Johannes, but I was also bewildered at how he’d done it. How did he ski that much faster than me? He didn’t even have a group to draft off on the downhill!

A month later I was sitting at breakfast with Johannes in the Olympic Village. It was the day before the Olympic 50k, the final race of the Games and the most important race to both of us. We chatted about the course and the shenanigans of our teammates who were done competing. I don’t remember anything remarkable about the conversation. Four hours later I was again lying on my bed when I received a New York Times News Alert on my phone stating that cross-country skier Johannes Duerr from Austria had been sent home from the Olympics and conditionally suspended from sport for testing positive for EPO. I have not seen or spoken to Johannes since that day, not because I hate him or hold a grudge against him, simply because I have not reached out to him and he has not reached out to me. He was one of my good friends. As you all know, doping is complicated.

Johannes later admitted publicly that he had been taking EPO since June. In press conferences he said that he doped because he felt huge pressure to ski faster to financially support his wife and their newborn son. Sometime later that summer the results on the International Ski Federation website changed to say that I had won the fifth stage of the Tour de Ski. Nobody noticed but me.

Sport is really an amazing thing. It brings people together in a way that almost nothing else can. It transcends political and class lines. It is a source of joy and happiness and health in almost every society in the world. It teaches young people goal setting and persistence. It gives athletes a sense of accomplishment like nothing else I have ever felt, and it lets fans believe in miracles. Like referees and judges, coaches and physiologists, none of it happens without you.

As a middle schooler, I believed in Lance Armstrong. I watched all 7 of his Tour wins. In fact, he was my inspiration to be the best in the world. When I decided I wanted to be an endurance athlete, I modeled my training after him. When I went out on 100-mile solo bike rides as a 14-year-old, simply because that’s what I saw Lance doing on T.V. He was my hero.

I have not watched a single bike race since October 10th, 2012, the day USADA released the US Postal Service Investigative findings. I still feel anger, betrayal and shame when I think about pro cycling. The whole thing was a lie.

On a more positive note, I am only 6 months into retirement, and already, as I look back on my career, the biggest highlight, the thing that I am most proud of, is not any of my results, it is watching my teammates Jessie and Kikkan win the first medal in U.S. Women’s Cross Country Skiing history, the first gold medal for U.S. Cross Country Skiing. I will never forget standing at that finish line and watching those women, who are both like sisters to me, cross that finish line. I believe that moment will be one of the highlights of my life. Not only am I full of love and admiration for Kikk and Diggs, I am also certain of the integrity of their win.

I believe that if we as a sports community prioritize anti-doping, push for a stronger and more independent WADA, fund anti-doping in the same way we fund the Olympic Games, and keep our strong belief in, passion for and tireless commitment to clean sport, we can create more Jessie and Kikkan moments and fewer Lance moments.

No matter how thankless your job may seem, not a single Jessie and Kikkan moment happens without the work of each and every one of you. The early mornings, the late nights, the long waits in a stranger’s kitchen, the endless logistics and paperwork, the struggles with Google maps, the interminable car rides… All of it adds up to an entire generation of kids growing up with heroes who are actually worthy of being heroes, heroes like Jessie and Kikkan. You all make those moments possible. You all are the ones behind the scenes ensuring that a win is actually a win, that inspiring moments are actually worthy of being inspiring. You all allow us to believe. Thank you for everything you do.

TrueSport Message

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), whom I have started to work for as an Athlete Presenter, has a partner brand called TrueSport. TrueSport works to instill positive values of sportsmanship, character building and healthy performance in young athletes, primarily ages 8 to 14. The TrueSport values also include integrity, respect, teamwork, courage, and responsibility. It is a brand that I am truly honored to support.

When I was filming with USADA for my Athlete Presenter Introductory Video, I also had the opportunity to talk about TrueSport. In particular, I wanted to highlight the importance that young athletes take ownership over their careers. The content team then put together a great 3-minute edit for TrueSport.org. You can check it out here or by clicking on the picture below.

USADA Introduction

I am honored to be working with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) to talk to athletes about their rights and responsibilities in the anti-doping process and what it means to compete clean. During my training, I got to sit down with the USADA content department to discuss my career, my core values and my passion for the anti-doping movement. They produced a really high quality 3-minute video introducing me as one of their athlete presenters. I think you’ll enjoy it! Check it out here.

Next Step

I am very excited to share that I have been accepted to Brown University and will begin taking classes on September 5th in Providence, Rhode Island. I am honored to be enrolled at such a prestigious school, and I believe that Brown will help me develop the skills necessary to transition into the next phase of my life.

I will begin my postsecondary studies from the very beginning with no transferred credits, and I plan to spend four years completing my undergraduate degree. At the start of school, I will be 29 years old (after my birthday on August 1st).

Specifically, I was accepted, along with 12 other students, to Brown’s Resumed Undergraduate Education (RUE) Program. The RUE program is designed for older, non-traditional students. To be eligible to apply, students must be out of high school for six or more years and cannot have more than two years of full-time college experience. As a RUE student, I will take the same classes and earn the same degree as other Brown students. The application deadline for the RUE program was March 1st. The deadline for traditional students was January 1st. The additional two months to complete the RUE application allowed me to work on it at my convenience without disrupting my preparations for the Olympics. In addition, the RUE application did not require SAT or ACT standardized test scores. This was important to me because my ACT scores from 2006 had expired. Lastly, as a RUE student I am not required to live on campus, and I will work with an advisor dedicated specifically to the RUE undergraduate population.

I do not know what exactly I will study at Brown. Eventually I want to work to change public policy to address social justice issues including income, wealth and opportunity inequity. Therefore, I am interested in studying public policy, economics and law. I also want to develop my public speaking and communications skills, and I want to continue to grow the marketing skills that I learned as a professional skier. I am grateful to be starting college as a freshman because I will have the opportunity to take courses in many different subject areas to help me choose my eventual degree path. Fittingly, Brown is known for their ‘Open Curriculum’ which gives students responsibility for the direction of their learning.

Along with my acceptance, Brown awarded me a huge need-based financial aid package. The cost of attending Brown for the 2018-19 academic year is $61,097. This price includes student health insurance, books and supplies, and an academic records fee; it excludes room and board and personal expenses. To cover this cost, I was awarded a Federal Pell Grant totaling $3,470 and a Brown University Scholarship totaling $53,234. Consequently, my cost for the 2018-19 school year will be $4,393 + room and board and personal expenses. I am eligible for this huge scholarship because I am over the age of 24 (and therefore financially independent from my parents) and because I only made $9,206 in 2017 (after deducting skiing business expenses).

To cover my remaining expenses, I have a 529 College Savings Account totaling $68,282.16 that was funded by my parents and both sets of my grandparents. Also, I have started working for the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) doing presentations to athletes. I hope to continue this well-paying work throughout my time at school.

I am very aware of my privilege; it is a motivating force in my life. I am a straight, cisgender, able-bodied, healthy, white male from a strong nuclear family who was raised upper-middle class in one of the most affluent communities in the richest country in the history of human civilization (Aspen, Colorado). Subsequently I have lived in Sun Valley, Idaho, Hanover, New Hampshire and Park City, Utah, all of which are amongst the most affluent communities in the world. I have never been discriminated against. I am an embodiment of privilege.

Now, I am moving from a successful career as a professional cross-country skier and two-time Olympian straight to an Ivy League education. I am both grateful for and uneasy about my opportunities. My privilege makes me feel a sense of guilt and shame, but more than anything it instills in me a drive to close opportunity gaps.

Thank you for supporting me in the first chapter of my journey. I hope that you will stay with me through this next installment. I will do my best to share my story. When the time comes, I hope that you will join me in creating lasting, positive and deliberate change.

Update from Emilia

If you followed my blog from 2013 to 2016, you read a lot about my girlfriend-at-the-time Emilia Wint. Emilia just graduated from Westminster College. She also just published a piece of writing that, for the first time, talks about her diagnosis of Retinitis Pigmentosa. She was diagnosed while we were dating. It is a very personal piece; I think anyone who followed my career at that time will find it interesting. (Even if you didn’t read my blog then, Emilia’s piece is worth the read.) You can find it here:


Declining the White House Visit

This morning I have chosen to decline my invitation to the White House as a part of Team USA to protest the Trump Administration’s lack of leadership on the issue of Climate Change and the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord. Today the White House is celebrating winter sport, and yet their actions to scale back the Clean Power Plan threaten to render many of the winter Olympic sports obsolete. The US and the world need strong leadership on environmental issues, the defining challenge of our generation. This administration’s policies are exacerbating an already deadly problem. They are sacrificing our future for short-term economic gain. I believe in our ability as a global community, lead by a strong United States, to overcome any threat. That optimism fuels my anger about the lack of leadership on climate issues. We can and must tackle this issue head-on, and we need strong federal leadership to do it.

Instead of spending my time at the White House this morning, I am excited to be talking to elementary school kids about climate issues and chasing dreams.

Funding My Career

As I prepare to file my taxes for the final time as a “self-employed skier,” I have been thinking about how funding my career has been a challenge in and of itself as well as a valuable learning experience. Since I graduated high school 11 years ago, my funding model evolved into something more-or-less sustainable even without exceptional results.

This post is an overview of my yearly financial support. My hope is that up-and-coming American athletes can use my funding structure as a starting point for how they may support their own careers. Being an American Olympic athlete presents unique funding challenges and unique opportunities relative to Olympic athletes from other countries.

The biggest challenge for Americans is that, unlike almost every other country competing at the Winter Olympics, American athletes receive no governmental support. Many of our central European competitors receive salaries during their careers from governmental organizations like the police, the military or various customs agencies. Our Canadian friends get “carded,” which allows them to draw a small stipend from the federal government and/or the provincial government. Athletes from Norway and Sweden receive salaries straight from their National Ski Federations. I am in no way implying that all international skiers are fully supported and never have to worry about finances. I know for a fact that one Norwegian athlete who finished on the World Cup podium both this season and last season has to work a second job in addition to training in order to make enough money to keep his/her finances stable. I am simply saying that the funding challenges are different for American athletes than they are for athletes from other countries.

The biggest advantage of being an American athlete, when it comes to raising money, is that we have a culture of giving. Many people and organizations understand our financial challenges and want to help. My understanding is that it would be very odd, and potentially not well received, for central European athletes to ask their supporters to give them money to support their careers. The funding structure for my career has benefited from the American culture of giving.

It has been a difficult process for me to learn how to ask for money, and I still feel a sense of guilt every time somebody donates to my career. I have never squared this nagging question: Why should anybody give me money to support my privileged lifestyle of flying to posh ski resorts all over the world when there are many people who work hard and still struggle to pay for basic human necessities like housing, food and health care? The privilege and opportunities that have been defining features of my athletic career will be a motivating force for me for the rest of my life to work to give others opportunities to chase their own dreams.

The funding structure that I outline below is representative of the final 4 years of my career, from the Sochi Olympics to the PyeongChang Olympics. In order to protect my supporters, I do not always give exact dollar amounts. Instead, I will use the following ranges:

  • Title level support: $7,000-$20,000/year
  • Grant level support: $1,000-$7,000/year
  • Sponsor level support: $200-$1,000/year
  • Personal level support: $5-$200/year

As a broad generalization, it costs +/- $50,000 per year to compete at the Olympic level in cross-country skiing. Here is where that money came from for me:

  • Thoughtforms Builders
  • Madshus Skis
    • Title level support
    • I started working with Madshus when I was 16, and they stuck with me throughout my career. As a junior athlete, I didn’t have a contract with them; they simply gave me product. As an Under-23 athlete they offered me a “victory schedule” where I made sponsor level support from them based on my results. When I became a senior athlete, they offered me a retainer with title level support.
  • Anonymous donor
    • Title level support
    • This third “title level support” is really a product of two individuals. The first is the donor himself/herself. This individual filled a large funding gap for me. The support would not have happened without another supporter consistently lobbying the donor to support me and one other athlete. Not only do you need to be well connected as an athlete, you need supporters who are well connected and who are willing to fight for you.
  • Rocky Mountain Nordic Angel (RMNA)
    • Title level support (or hundreds of donations of personal level support)
    • This organization was founded in 2010 to help Colorado athletes cover the new funding gap that was created when the U.S. Ski Team stopped funding B Team athletes. RMNA raises money from personal donors at yearly fundraisers in Colorado, via online donations and from direct solicitations. Along with the NNF, RMNA covered all of my expenses that were previously covered by the U.S. Ski Team including airfare and room and board costs directly associated with international racing or U.S. Ski Team camps. In total, RMNA  covered +/-$15,000/year.
  • National Nordic Foundation (NNF)
    • Title level support (or thousands of donations of personal level support)
    • The NNF raises money from the ski community to support American cross-country skiers at all levels of the development pipeline. The NNF has given me up to $8,000/year towards U.S. Ski Team related expenses.
  • John Callahan and Zach Caldwell/Caldwell Sport
    • Title level support
    • This amount is not included in the $50,000/year estimate of costs to compete at the international level. My personal coaches, John and Zach, in addition to Zach’s company Caldwell Sport, have donated thousands of hours to my ski career. Besides coaching, they have both travelled internationally numerous times to support me. Zach, via Caldwell Sport, has also managed my ski fleet, waxed and ground hundreds of pairs of my skis and picked most of my skis from the factory in Norway.
  • Host families
    • Grant level support
    • Host families have been a huge part of the funding for my career. The Adams in Park City, and before that the Sinnotts in Sun Valley, plus other families around the country, have given me free rent (in-kind support of approximately $500/month x 7 months/year = $3500/year) plus food (in-kind support of approximately $100/week x +/-25weeks/year = $2500/year) for a total of around $6000/year of in-kind support
  • Ski and Snowboard Club Vail (SSCV)
    • Grant level support
    • SSCV has provided me in-kind support via waxing and logistics at domestic races and camps
  • Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club/Coldwell Banker Mason Morse Grant
    • Grant level support
    • The Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club (AVSC) and realty firm Coldwell Banker Mason Morse have teamed up to offer yearly, grant-level support to international level alumni of AVSC.
  • USOC direct athlete support/ Marolt Athlete Endowment/William E. Simon Olympic Endowment
    • Grant level support
    • On some years, the US Olympic Committee gives athletes direct financial support. Three or four times during my career I have received between $2,000 and $4,000 from the USOC. The USOC also administers the William E. Simon Olympic Endowment, which an athlete can receive once during his or her career. I received the Simon Grant before the Sochi Olympics. The US Ski and Snowboard Administration administers the Marolt Athlete Endowment, which I received twice during my career.
    • Not all athletes are eligible for these grants, and there are numerous other grants which target specific demographic groups or geographic areas that weren’t available to me but could be to others.
  • USOC Elite Athlete Health Insurance
    • Grant level support
    • While I was on the US Ski Team, I received health insurance through the US Olympic Committee valued at around $5,000/year
  • My parents
    • Grant level support
    • First and obviously, my parents provided me with way more than grant level support throughout my career. However, since this outline is focused on the final four years of my career, the direct support that I received from my parents included my cell phone and phone plan and health insurance until I was 26 and was no longer eligible to be on their plan. It was important to me that I did not take cash support from my parents in the latter part of my career.
  • Julbo Eyewear
    • Sponsor level support
    • I have had a great relationship with Julbo over the past 4 years and received sponsor level support in my contract with them.
  • Toko gloves
    • Sponsor level support
    • I have worked with Toko since the US Ski Team stopped having a team-wide glove sponsorship, and they have supported me at the sponsor level each year.
  • Personal donations
    • Personal level to grant level support
    • Besides supporting my career through RMNA and NNF, many people have given directly to me, solicited or not.

This outline is not comprehensive. It does not include every dollar that I have received throughout my career. It is merely meant to demonstrate what it took to fund my Olympic ski career. Of course, simply saying thank you to all of you for your support and for giving me the opportunity to chase my dreams feels completely inadequate. I will never forget the community that made it all possible. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. All of the giving that I have received has energized me and reinforced my desire to give back.

2018 Olympic 4x10k Relay. Photo: Cody Downard

Thoughtforms Sponsorship

In addition to outlining my funding structure for the final four years of my career, I want to share a piece about my partnership with Thoughtforms Builders. I feel incredibly lucky that Mark and Thoughtforms came into my life, and I hope that all athletes can have as rewarding a relationship with their sponsors as I have had with Thoughtforms. For me, the money that came from the sponsorship provided a great deal of financial stability for my career. More importantly, I have gained a lifelong friendship with Mark and his family, and I have learned about corporate responsibility which has shaped my ideas about what I want to do in the future.

The International Ski Federation (FIS) regulates the size and the number of advertisements that can be displayed on an athlete’s race suit. Of the advertising spots that we are allotted, the US Ski Team sells all but one of them to corporate, team-wide sponsors. Each athlete is left with the one remaining spot to sell to a personal sponsor. We call this personal sponsor our title sponsor because the allocated spot is on our hat or headband, either above or directly adjacent to the US Ski Team shield. Our title sponsor logo can be up to 50cm2.

(Not every National Governing Body (NGB) leaves the title sponsor spot for the athletes to sell individually, and there has been talk within the US ski community that it might be easier and/or financially advantageous to lesser-known athletes to sell the entire team’s title sponsor spot as a group.)

This title sponsor position can be extremely valuable and extremely stressful for athletes. Because we are only allotted one spot, there is pressure to get a substantial amount of money for it. Of course the space on your forehead is extremely obvious, making it valuable but also making it a clear indicator of whether someone believes in you enough to fill that space. Cross-country skiing is not the most popular sport in the US, and it can sometimes be hard to find any sponsor at all to buy your title sponsor position. Several current US Ski Team athletes do not get any money, or get very little, for their title sponsor spot.

For the first six years of my professional ski career, I failed to find a title sponsor. Instead of getting paid for the valuable spot on my hat or headband, I put the National Nordic Foundation (NNF) or Caldwell Sport logo in that position. Both the NNF and Caldwell sport were giving me valuable support, but neither organization gave me additional funds for putting their logo on my hat.

I spent a lot of time and energy looking for a title sponsor. I went before the city council in Aspen, without success, to try to get the city to allocate marketing dollars for the Aspen Nordic Trail System (city owned and operated) that they could spend on my title sponsorship (and other Nordic marketing efforts). I approached numerous companies, to no avail, trying to sell my marketability as an up and coming Olympian. Older athletes with valuable title sponsors kept telling me that the best sponsors are the ones that come to you, not vice versa. Of course, when you are in need of a sponsor, that is a completely useless piece of advice.

Then, in the spring before the Sochi Olympics, I got an email out of the blue from Mark Doughty, president of Thoughtforms Builders. Thoughtforms builds high-end custom homes and is based in the Boston, Massachusetts area. I had never met Mark or heard of Thoughtforms, but in his note, he told me that he was a close friend of Austin Weiss, one of my high school cross-country ski coaches, and that he had become friends with Zach Caldwell, one of my current coaches. He said that Thoughtforms may be able to come on board as my title sponsor.

Of course, I was pleasantly surprised to receive Mark’s note, but I was also skeptical. What justification could a Boston-based home builder use to support a Colorado cross-country skier living in Utah? I was encouraged that Mark had already talked to Austin and to Zach about me, but it was also important to me that my title sponsor get something in return for supporting me. I was not looking for charity; I was looking for a mutually beneficial partnership.

Mark and I started talking, and as I learned more about Thoughtforms, the more impressed I was with the company. Thoughtforms expertly constructs unique, complex and incredibly cool structures, many of which only they could build. (I’ve had the privilege of touring some of the homes they built.) The company is also serious about its corporate responsibility to be a positive part of the community. It is a leader in sustainable construction and promotes healthy, active and community-based lifestyles.

Mark raced road bikes professionally in his 20s. After years away from endurance sport, he found cross-country skiing through Austin and another friend in Norway. Reaching out to me with an offer to be a title sponsor was his way of giving back to the sport. He and I devised a plan for me to add value to Thoughtforms’ marketing efforts. I would be a model of the active and healthy lifestyle they promote. In addition, I would come to Boston once or twice a year to connect with the Nordic community and to visit schools to talk about the perseverance, hard work and goal setting that helped me be successful in chasing my dreams.

My relationship with Thoughtforms became an integral part of my professional career. Not only has the company supported me as a title sponsor for the remainder of my career, Mark, his wife Pilar, his son Nathan and his daughter Anneka have become like a second family to me. The Nordic community in Boston has supported me as one of their own, and with the outlet to give back, I was able to find more purpose to my skiing than just focusing on results.

Photo: Reese Brown

End-of-Career Articles

A quick post to share two published pieces about the end of my career. I shared both of these on Facebook as well, but if you follow my blog and missed them on Facebook, I think you will enjoy them now. One is a print piece by Austin Colbert of The Aspen Times, and the other is a podcast by Jason Albert at FasterSkier.com. Both Jason and Austin have helped tell the story of my ski career over the last decade. I am grateful to both of them for their kind words in these two pieces, and I hope you enjoy them.

Noah Hoffman retires from cross-country ski racing, readies for next phase of life, Austin Colbert, The Aspen Times

Nordic Nation: The So-Long-for-Now Episode with Noah Hoffman, Jason Albert, FasterSkier.com

Final Race

Saturday’s World Cup at the famed Holmenkollen Ski Festival in Oslo, Norway will be the final race of my professional ski career. This decision comes with excitement and gratitude mixed with sadness and some fear. In many ways, this decision has been a long time coming, but there is also an abruptness to the ending that is unavoidable. I will wake up on Sunday morning and my identity as a cross-country ski racer, which has been my primary identity for my adult life and the better part of my adolescent life, will be gone.

There are many reasons why it is the right time for me to step away from the sport. The most important is that I now want to invest my time and energy in things other than training and racing, but I would be lying if I said that results had nothing to do with this decision. The reality is that my career was on a steady upward trajectory through the 2013-14 season, culminating in two wins in World Cup stage races and a great Olympics in Sochi. Over the past four years, I have not come close to repeating that success, let alone continuing to build on it. My coaching team and I have taken nothing for granted and have continually tried to find creative ways to break through. Unfortunately, we have not been successful in putting me back on a path towards being the best in the world. Even still, I look back on my career with nothing but pride and gratitude.

One of the reasons I know it is time for me to move on is that results are no longer as important to me as they once were. It is ironic that my signal to turn the page is also one of the greatest gifts of my career: I have learned that results do not define me nor do good results guarantee happiness. That is not to say that I won’t look back with pride upon my stage world cup wins, my silver medal at the Under-23 World Championships, or my performance in the Olympic 50k in Sochi. I do, and I will. But I doubt that any of those moments will stand out compared to the memories of laughing and crying with my teammates and friends at ski resorts all over the world.

It is a fairy tale ending to finish my career at Holmenkollen, two weeks after the conclusion of my second Olympic Games. Not only is this the most prestigious World Cup race of the season with the best fans and the hardest course, it also has particular significance to me and my career. I raced my first World Championships at Oslo 2011 and have competed here six times since. Some of the best performances of my career have come on these trails. On top of that, both my dad, Mike Hoffman, and my coach, Zach Caldwell, will be in Oslo this weekend to watch and support me.

Very few athletes are afforded the privilege of ending on their own terms. Somehow, despite less than stellar results, I raced an almost full World Cup schedule, was named to represent the US in PyeongChang and will finish in Oslo. I am so grateful to have had each of these opportunities.

Of course, I am indebted to more people than I can possibly name for making my career possible. Skiing professionally has been the greatest honor and privilege of my life, and I am overwhelmed with love, humility and appreciation when I think about all of the people who have supported me throughout my journey. You all helped me grow into the person I am today and gave me more than I could ever repay. I will forever hold you in my heart.

My future is full of uncertainty and opportunity. Most likely I will pursue a bachelor’s degree in public policy, economics or law, but I also plan to take Zach’s advice and savor the transition with patience.  I will find new goals to pursue with the same dedication I committed to skiing, but I will also enjoy the moment and the unique freedom of my present situation.

Ironically, as I retire from a career as a professional athlete in an outdoor sport, one of the things that I crave most is more time in the outdoors, without a watch or a heart rate monitor or a training plan or a destination. I am also looking for more stability and less travel. I want to spend more time with the people who matter most to me in my life.

I do not know what my future online identity will be. I am grateful for the personal marketing, blogging, social media, photography, podcasting, website management and video editing skills that skiing has taught me, but I also know that my digital life is not contributing to my happiness. I will search for balance as I move forward.

Of course, I am nervous for and anxious about my uncertain future. I am grateful that I have many friends to lean on who have gone through this transition and others who are also in the midst of it. I plan to take advantage of resources available to transitioning athletes at the US Olympic Committee and US Ski Team.

My greatest fear about this transition is losing the amazing community that surrounds and supports me in everything that I do. This group includes my friends and family, coaches and teammates, supporters and fans. I do not know what my future involvement in cross-country skiing will be, but I do know that cross-country skiing is full of the most driven, successful, motivated, smart and caring people I have ever met. I hope that you will continue to consider me one of your own.

I would be remiss to end this essay without naming a few of the individuals who sacrificed the most to make my career happen. First and foremost, my parents have challenged me to justify each of my decisions, but, ultimately, they have fully and unequivocally supported me in everything that I’ve done. My sister has been my rock, always and unquestionably there for me. Zach Caldwell and John Callahan have given more of their time to my career, without pay, than any of us care to remember. Mark Doughty and Thoughtforms, the entire team at K2/Madshus, the Rocky Mountain Nordic Angel team (Mike Elliot, Craig and Becky Ward, Ruthie Brown, Dan Weiland, Dave Peterson and many, many others) and numerous other people and organizations have made my career financially possible. Last but certainly not least, the families who have taken me into their homes have shown me what true love and openness and generosity look like. Thank you all.

I will give everything I have for 50 kilometers on Saturday, and when I cross the finish line I will be proud of everything that I have given to the sport, tremendously grateful for everything the sport has given me and so very excited for the future. Thank you for being a part of my remarkable journey.

Photo Credit: flyingpointroad.com