Sunday, September 06, 2015

Why Nordic Skiers are so smart!!!

Why Walking Helps Us Think

I find it so incredible that researchers and journalists still talk about the link between getting outside and brain function like it is an amazing and new discovery.

I have watched generations of Nordic skiers go through my life and they are the most thoughtful, intelligent and successful individuals I have had the pleasure to meet. I believe this to be no coincidence, they not only spend hours/week outside, mostly in the wilderness, but they do so in motion. Always in motion.

In his book Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School, John Medina states, "The brain appears to be designed to solve problems related to surviving in an unstable, outdoor environment, and to do so in almost constant motion."

This would describe Nordic Ski training and racing precisely and I believe the athletes with which I have had the pleasure to work exemplify this perfectly.

We'll start with the 10-15 hours/week they spend training and then add the 5-10 hours of fundraising in addition to their school work. In an environment where time is at a premium these young student/athletes spend a large amount of their disposable time training. With this training comes a necessity for more rest and recovery. All told they spend the equivalent of a part time job focused on skiing.

So now you are asking yourself: Are they taking less demanding degrees? Are they barely passing courses?

The resounding answer is NO!

These amazing young people are in some of the most challenging/time consuming degrees offered on campus: Earth Systems Science, Engineering, Math, Economics, Art, Microbiology, Marketing, and Geology. In addition many of them have multiple majors and as well as large contingent with a concurrent major in Environment and Natural Resources.

And not only are they engaged in extremely difficult and time consuming scholarship they rock it in traditional assessments! It is tough to imagine how they find the time to to be such top notch students but they do and they do it day in and day out.

I often say that the ski team is producing a brand of super heroes who are not only in the top 1% of the fittest athletes in this nation but also some of the top academics and if you truly want to be amazed have a conversation with one of them some day. Their grasp of a wide array of conversational topics will make your head spin.

So if our brains are truly meant to solve problems, outside, in constant motion Nordic Ski Team Athletes must be among the best problem solvers in the world!

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Women's Team Hat Part 1: Leadville Crust Skiing

It’s 3 am and raining. I slowly come to this conclusion as I feel plops falling on the crown of my forehead, the only part of me sticking out of my sleeping bag. After waking up to frost everywhere the morning before, I made sure to keep myself well covered tonight.
            “It’s too early for this…” I think to myself and slink down to the very foot of my sleeping bag, curl into a fetal position, and fall back asleep. It can rain all it wants, I’m not going into the house. Ben, Elise and Victoria seem to share my disposition as they lie asleep next to me.  We had made a beautiful bed on Dick and Evelyn’s deck, despite coaches’ warnings about the temperature. We may have come to Leadville for a half marathon, but staying with the Boggs’ had definitely been a motivating factor.
            Hours later, I wake up not to frost or rain but to the absence of Ben and Victoria. Trying not to wake Elise, I ease out of bed and go into the house. Ben is on the ground rolling. He and Victoria have already gone downtown to the coffee shop (addiction may be a terrible thing, but it gets a man out of bed). Downstairs, Evelyn is making biscuits and gravy. Everyone is in a good mood- sore, but with high spirits. We ready ourselves, and head up the hill to crust ski. There had been a lot of talk the night before about what road to take (5th? 7th? Ben and I were too tired to comprehend and our visual representation was not helpful), so I don’t know where we drove to but we find ourselves at the end of a plowed road in a mining area and leave Clifford for the snow.
            The snow is beautiful, but the day is warming up and it is already softer than I would like. Rain at 3 am means it didn’t freeze last night, so the crust is not ideal. Heading up the slope, every plant of my pole breaks through the crust and leaves me thoroughly frustrated. Thankfully, the crust seems to get harder the higher we climb. Ben has already taken off out of sight- he has a mission to summit Bald Mountain. Perhaps it is because he is the sole man on the trip, but no one seems eager to chase him. The rest of us continue onward, into a flat section, and take in the view. I follow Becca onto what I guess must have been the top of a mining shaft, and Rachel warns everyone to be very careful around mining shafts. As Rachel gives us her warning, Becca breaks through the crust, and most of the rest of us soon follow suit. Skiing down the shaft, Rachel breaks through and falls on her face next to a tree. Weary of the snow, I watch my skis as I move and notice how fast my feet seem to be going over the snow.
            Still following Becca, I find myself going sideways across Bald Mountain. Ben has made it to the top- I wave, and he waves back. I am reminded of the backpacking trip with him last year, when he would take off and be up the side of a canyon before anyone had really noticed he was gone. I am impressed by his courage- even just standing on the side of this steep slope, I feel a bit shaky. Ben comes crashing down from the top, and we ski down into another flat-ish section. As I ski down the hill, the bill of my hat falls into my face and I am blinded. I shake the hat off my head, letting it fall by its strings to the back of my neck, and follow Elise but quickly divert when I see her heading for some privacy in a tree. Finding my own path down, I anticipate a turn but instead find myself face first in the snow, having hit a soft spot and broken through the crust. My skis have dove into the snow at an extreme angle, and I’m not sure I can get them out. After much struggle, I resign myself to the fact that I will never make it back to the rest of the group and will be stuck in this snow for the rest of the day. Little do I know, most of the group is stuck in similar positions. Eventually I wedge my skis out of the snow, and scoot myself to the shade of a tree where the snow is harder and I can stand. I find my way to Victoria, Becca, Christi and Rachel. Elise joins us as we make our way carefully back to Clifford, fully anticipating to break through the crust and be again stuck in the snow. A successful ski in the books, we make our way off the hill and into Nancy’s house for scones and coffee.
 Next up with the hat: Elise!

Monday, June 01, 2015

Skiing and Climate Change: Environmental Assessment of an International Athletic Event

Team USA, AKA UW Nordic Team, in Štrbské Pleso, Slovakia at the 2015 Universiade

Final Project Report

Written by Rachel Watson

In the spring of 2014, the University of Wyoming Men’s and Women’s Nordic ski teams were invited to be the sole representatives of the United States of America at the World University Games to be held January 24th through February 1st, 2015 in Štrbké Pleso, Slovakia. This was the third time that this honor had been bestowed upon our team and, as with our first trips to Erzurum, Turkey and Trentino, Italy, this opportunity was hard won. A partially-funded club sport, the team adds constant fundraising to year-round training. However, through this synergy, over the past decade and a half, the team has integrated social and environmental justice into a unique quilt of volunteerism. Perhaps the newly formulated team mission statement most clearly communicates this integration, “UW Nordic team aims to create a community upon which a foundation of funding and volunteer coaching allows each athlete to reach his or her full potential in both skiing and leadership while making a positive environmental, social and community impact.”

With our invitation to compete in Štrbké Pleso, Slovakia came a new vision fitting to our holistic objectives: we decided to introduce action-based, experiential integrated academic curriculum into an international competition experience. Additionally, with the dual objective of providing monetary support and creating an authentic grant writing and research experience, student athletes collaboratively wrote a Student Research and Creative Activities Grant entitled "The Footprint of an International Competition Venue: Carbon Emission, Community Perspective, Economics and Ski Wax Accumulation". This proposal was submitted to the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources. This competitive, merit-based grant was committee assessed and successfully funded.

In order to provide the framework to properly support students in their pursuit of original research and with the concomitant goal of providing immersive learning about environmental and health (biological – fitness affecting) impacts of climate change, we -  the coaches of Team USA also professors and co-instructors of the class – designed and developed an innovative course entitled Environmental Assessment of an International Athletic Event. Course design was guided by pedagogical knowledge of the value of active (Freeman et al., 2014), inclusive ((Cancian, 1992; Chiapetta & Kobella, 2010; Harding, 1998; Roy, 2004 and Watson, 2009), authentic learning environments (Wolf, 1993; Savery and Duffy, 1995; Nelson, 1999) in which students work to address a problem (Merill, 2002; Pepper, 2009). Additionally, course design was guided by the work of Tarrant et al. (2014) who show that combining abroad travel with academic study allows for increased achievement of global citizenship learning outcomes. These outcomes encompass behaviors associated with environmentalism, social justice and civic responsibility (Winn, 2006). Inspired to knit together an experience that would richly integrate the aforementioned pedagogy with international competition, twelve specific learning outcomes were formulated and assignments and rubrics to assess these outcomes were developed.

Upon successfully completing the course, in addition to writing an externally reviewed and funded grant proposal, we wanted our student athletes to be able to collect on-site data and observations to address the objectives of the funded proposal. Further, successful learners were expected to write an active, reflective journal that integrated competition experience, contextual community engagement and natural environment with self-introspection / intercultural development. We asked learners to write four or more blog posts that clearly communicated the competition experience as it interfaced with course reading material and the Slovakian community and natural environment. At the same time that one of our specific learning outcomes was to gain the necessary poise to handle the stress of an internationally competitive environment, another outcome was to summarize the tangible evidence supporting climate change and the impacts of climate change on human health, fitness (athletic performance) and the environment – particularly as it pertains to the sustainability of international nordic skiing events such as World University Games.

Upon returning from the competition, the student athletes engaged in sample preparation, data analysis and interpretation. Discussions with mini lectures facilitated the process. Students were asked to assess pertinent literature (e.g. Vegetation state and extreme drought as factors determining differentiation and succession of Carabidae communities in forests damaged by a windstorm in the High Tatra Mts, by Šustek and Vido (2013)) when considering how to communicate their results and methods, synthesize a discussion and use proper funneling to guide the reader / listener in the Introduction sections of oral and written presentations. The student athletes prepared a full oral presentation that was presented in short-form at the Shepard Symposium for Social Justice and in full-form at an independent session that was fully recorded and accessible on Youtube.

The individual original research projects conceptualized, proposed, performed and communicated by the student athletes were diverse in nature. However, in many cases, the students paired with one or two other teammates with whom they either shared academic interest or whose interests complemented their own. Elise Sulser, on the same days that she skied to the top American finishes at World University Games, used photo documentation to record activities at the event that contributed to CO2 emissions. Sam Wiswell and Britta Schroeter calculated / quantified the carbon footprint of our teams’ abroad experience in Štrbké Pleso. Their findings estimate total team CO2 emissions of 27.95 metric tons with air travel accounting for 87% of the emissions. Using EPA estimates, Britta and Sam put this impact into perspective and relate that it is equivalent to burning over thirty thousand pounds of coal and would take 22.9 acres of US forests an entire year to sequester our team’s emissions! Our economics students, Sindre Solvang and Will Timmons calculated the offsets needed to defray the team’s emissions and further analyzed the possible effects of buying these offsets on our team’s demand for travel. Additionally, Will and Sindre surveyed local Slovakians to determine their awareness of climate change and carbon offsets. Their data convince us that purchasing carbon offsets for our team’s travel would be affordable and desirable and in doing so, show us how we might sustain international sporting events in an economically feasible way.

Taylor Vignaroli, Kyle Bochanski and Yara Thomas gathered local community perspectives using a critical ethnographic approach. Their findings indicate a positive local community response to the World University Games both with respect to personal impact and local economy. This, they convince us, bodes well for sustainability of future events.

Finally, Ben Noren and Sierra Jech quantified ski wax accumulation in snow at the Nordic venue throughout the seven days of racing. Using toluene liquid-liquid wax extraction and rotavap concentration, wax was resuspended in toluene and analyzed using Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS). With the invaluable assistance of Joe Rovani at Western Research Institute (WRI), hydrocarbon relative abundance and fluorocarbon absolute abundance at three points along the 1.4 kilometer race course were determined. Ben and Sierra’s findings show us that hydrocarbons accumulate in the start area and on the flat section of the racecourse. Fluorocarbons are more uniformly stripped throughout the course thus lending credence to the advertised durability of these waxes. These data challenge us to consider the environmental wax contamination of an international event, the possibility of bioaccumualation of these waxes in air or water and also to revisit racecourse design as it relates to areas of maximum wax accumulation. Many race venues place start areas in sensitive environmental areas such as water bodies and wetlands. Our data indicate that this placement should be reconsidered.

When considered collectively, the individual projects holistically address the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resource’s Mission Statement to “advance the understanding and resolution of complex environmental and natural resource challenges.” Sam Wiswell and Britta Schroeter express this eloquently in their project summary, “In order for the UW Nordic Ski Team to advance our understanding and resolve complex environmental issues related our world travel and competition, it is crucial to have a tangible grasp on our CO2 emissions, the primary driver of anthropogenic climate change. It is important to realize that this project, in combination with the other studies put forth on the team’s trip to Slovakia are useless without application. With the valuable knowledge of how much CO2 the team has emitted during our trip we can start moving toward potential next steps to taking responsibility for our carbon footprint. As we progress forward, the knowledge of the impacts we have from international travel can inform and inspire people to take action towards sustainable alternatives.”

The formal integration of science and sustainability curriculum into the travels of Team USA to a major international competition is, to our knowledge, unprecedented. The fact that the coaches of that team were also professors of this integrated course makes this immersive, experiential learning process even more of a rarity. Perhaps our athletes most clearly express the impact of this learning in their final reflections when asked how integrating curriculum into their skiing has impacted their expectations, dreams, goals and life:

I thought this class did a wonderful job of making me apply my knowledge to sustainability/skiing/and travel such that it greatly enhanced my WUG experience. I now know that it is possible to have integrated curriculum that goes beyond the traditional "study abroad". It is possible to make every single experience as investigative and meaningful as possible (but requires a lot of planning by those in charge to make it happen). Integrated curriculum is incredibly inspiring to me. My favorite part of this class was being able to read others' posts and see how as a team we are not only contributing different athletic talents/goals, but also academic talents/goals. It greatly enhanced my understanding of my teammates to be able to see them as whole people (athlete and scholar), and not just the idea of that.

The integration of curriculum into my skiing has shown me the beauty of the merger of a sexy mind and body. I love seeing how things I am intensely passionate about in the classroom can be applied to athletics I am equally passionate about. The integration of this has certainly impacted my dreams and goals, as it has led me down a path of furthering my education and my athletic pursuits. I feel that this merger of a sexy mind and body transcends any particular classroom pursuit or structured course material. The integration of curriculum and athletics is greater than the sum of its parts. It is a synergy of people with curious minds. It is going on early morning runs and reveling in the sweat of our bodies as we revel in the stimulation of our minds. It is an earnest, forthright curiosity about the world we experience together. It is an integration of mind, body, and spirit of people who share common passions. I believe that it is this atmosphere that truly impacted, my life, my goals, and my dreams. It is as unique and beautiful as the people who comprise it, and this is no coincidence. 



Individual Donors:
  • Maggi & Nick Murdock
  • Ava Bell
  • Melissa Gangl
  • Ferne Watson
  • Evelyn & Dick Boggs

Bill Gern and Bryan Shader for inspiration!

Cancian, F. M. (1992). Feminist science: Methodologies that challenge inequality. Gender and Society, 6(4), 623-642.

Chiapetta, E., & Koballa, T. (2010). Science instruction in the middle and secondary schools. Boston: Allyn.

Dunlap, Joanna. "Problem-Based Learning and Self-Efficacy: How a Capstone Course Prepares Students for Profession." Educational Technology Research and Development. 53. (2005): 65-83. Web. 19 Sep. 2012.

Freeman, S., Eddy, S. L., McDonough, M., Smith, M. K., Okoroafor, N., Jordt, H. and M. Wenderoth. (2014). Active learning increases student performances in science, engineering, and mathematics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(23), 8410-8415.  

Gilbert, M. (2010). Educated in agency: A feminist service-learning pedagogy for community border crossings . (Unpublished doctoral dissertation)Retrieved from

Harding, S. (1998). Women, science and society. Science, 281(5383), 1599-1600.

Merrill, M. D. (2002). First Principles of Instruction. Educational Research Training and Development. 50. 43-59.

Nelson, L. M. (1999). Collaborative problem solving. In C. M. Reigeluth (Ed.), Instructional Design Theories and Models: A New Paradigm of Instructional Theory (Vol. II) (pp.241-267). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Pepper, Coral. "Problem-Based Learning in Science." Issues in Educational Research. 19.2 (2009): 128-141. Print.

Roy, D. (2004). Feminist theory in science: Working toward a practical transformation. Hypatia, 19(1), 255-279.

Savery, J. & Duffy, T. (1995). Problem based learning: an instructional model and its constructivist framework. In B. G. Wilson (Ed.), Designing Constructivist Learning Environments (pp. 135- 148). Englewood Cliffs: Educational Technology Publications.

Šustek, Z. and Vido, J. (2013) Vegetation state and extreme drought as factors determining differentiation and succession of Carabidae communities in forests damaged by a windstorm in the High Tatra Mts. Biologia, 68/6: 1198-1210.

Watson, R. (2010, April). “I” Found Paul in the Social Sciences. Oral Session Presented at the Shepard Symposium for Social Justice, Laramie, WY.

Wolf, D. P. (1993). “Assessment as an episode of learning”, in R. E. Bennet and W. Ward, (eds.). Construction versus choice in cognitive measurement. Hilldole, N. G. Laurence Erlbaum, 213-240.

Monday, May 11, 2015

A Note from Dick & Ev

Dear Christi,

I want to tell you a short story about one senior on this years UW Ski Team. This happened four years ago so I don’t remember all the details, in fact I am sure I have many of the details wrong but it is the main idea of the story that is important. At the Nationals in Maine, all the talk was about a girl from Nevada, who was so good that the question was not if she would win every race, but by how many minutes she would be ahead of the next skier.

At the finish of the first race, the girl expected to win came into view in first place but not far behind her was another skier who was gaining on her.  All the talk after the race was not about the Nevada girl who was leading the whole race but about Sierra, the girl from Wyoming, who caught her from behind to win the race!

The next race was an individual start race and as usual the waxing for the Eastern conditions was a nightmare.  Christi was on the course testing wax ; Rachel was in the waxing tent getting last minute instructions over the radio about which wax was working. Sierra was the last girl to start so Christi and Rachel were making last minute changes to her wax which caused her to miss her start by a lot! As you would expect, Rachel and Christi felt terrible about Sierra missing her start, in fact, they were in tears! 

    After the race, we expected to see Sierra, with good reason, to be either furious or in tears or upset about her race BUT she came back from the race with a smile on her face and said that she felt like she had a good race. At this point we realized this lady is something special. We knew she is a great athlete but more important she is an amazing person.

    The next four years has shown us over and over that Sierra really is a person of character who does her best at everything she undertakes. She has shown to be an outstanding leader who leads by example. It has been an honor to know her!

    I have just written one incident about Sierra but the rest of the UW Ski Team have their own stories. The UW skiers make us feel very, very good about what will happen to the world in the future. We love you all just the way you are.

Dick and Ev Boggs

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

What We Remeber

When I think back on incredible opportunities that I have had my memories are never of the things that I expect. While it was amazing to walk with all the other countries to the opening ceremonies and the experience of a lifetime to race with all these athletes in a foreign country, the details of these times will probably fade from my mind. On the other hand, I will never forget the image of the moon lit Tatra mountains with their white slopes flowing into the pool of light from the stadium and resort. The landscape seemed paralyzed, so still that crystals in the air created a halo around the moon. I wondered why the stars here shown so steadily while, in Jackson, they twinkle like some mechanical device. I will never forget building a snow wall to shield us from the chilly wind as we watched the girls fifteen kilometer race. Not only was it vital to our survival, we had to make sure it was more sturdy and a better wind block then Britta and Kyle’s snow wall. Between the girls laps we would run the fifteen feet over to their fort and jump around yelling “house party” until we were sufficiently warm. More then anything, these seemingly trivial moments are what build great experiences. I don’t mean to discredit the value of the actual event and reason that we were in Slovakia in the first place. It is an accumulation of new and exciting things that lead to these pinnacles of experience. Perhaps these random moments that are burned into my memory where just the times when I could really relax and take in the full scope of where I was and what I was doing.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Skier of the Week: Will Timmons!

Will skiing to victory in the 5km Classic
We usually start these posts by saying how hard it was to choose the skier of the week. While that is often the case this week was extremely easy.

Will started the season solidly and has just gotten stronger and stronger in every race.

To say that this weekend was a huge success for Will is am extreme understatement. Just 8 days after lying in bed for an entire day in Slovakia and 5 days after skiing an extremely competitive 30km at the World University Games Will skied to a double victory at the Western State Colorado University Invitational in Crested Butte.

Despite the fact that Will was fighting fatigue from the 30km, jet lag, time change, the first week back to classes and PT for his ROTC he dominated the field on the weekend beating athletes who had a weekend off racing and some of his teammates who did not recover quite as well.

Before the Games we challenged the athletes to rest and recover well enough to complete the 30km and then turn around and ski well at the WSCU races. The mark of a true champion is not only the quality of training but how well they recover and Will has done both to perfection.

Will lead an extremely strong UW contingent to a full podium sweep both days!

Will's dedication to training and to recovery have set him above the pack as we head into the final race of the regular season and we are looking to great things at Nationals!

Will Timmons - YOU ROCK OUR WORLD!

Monday, February 09, 2015

Yoga on the Finish Line

Almost every night the team would gather in the bowels of our hotel to relax and do some yoga! The only place that we deemed suitable was a dingy little weight room that looked like it hadn’t been cleaned since the 70s. Each one of us left body prints in the light layer of dust that blanketed the floor. It disgusted me when I considered the many dead skin cells, or microorganisms such as Staplylococcus bacteria, or fungal spores that could happily be culturing in the spongy mats that our faces rested upon. Even though the floor wasn’t the most cleanly and peaceful place to spread my body, I was still able to forget about the life growing in the mat below my face and focus on Rachel’s prompts to breath through my discomfort and focus on my body’s placement. This concept of breathing through your uneasiness and putting yourself into a “happy” place is something that we focus on quite a lot when we do yoga. We continued and soon found ourselves in my most treasured position, savasana! After a hearty stretching, twisting, and flowing session I am able to relax my mind and feel my body’s place. In this moment I feel accomplished, beautiful, and empowered. I am able to reflect on my previous races while in Slovakia. I have completed a skate sprint and a classic 5K. Both of these experiences were characterized by many emotions. Sometimes racing against such a tough field can make me feel lowly and maybe a bit undeserving. The courses were challenging, and there were moments during the 5K classic that caused me to question my racing intentions. Although racing can sometimes be emotionally draining, the same feeling I get in savasna floods over me when I have glided across the finish line. Negative thoughts may linger in my mind for a short time, but as I finish my race and see my team mates and coaches waiting with open arms, I am flooded with feelings of worth, I am aware of my bodies place instead of my name on the score board. I am able to walk away from the racing arena with a gigantic grin on my face. For me, this place can be achieved through finding comfort and satisfaction in the discomfort of being physically spent and emotionally drained. I know that my body has found its place and I am able to relax and enjoy a few deep breaths.

A Little Pizza Meeting

This summer, early on Christi and Rachel had a small meeting with the team. We had some pizza from Papa Johns and our life’s were from then on changed for the next six months or really forever. We weren’t really going to do anything different in terms of training, the plan is always to train hard but smart and try to get as fast as you possibly can for the up coming season. There is something special about gearing up for the World University Games especially for this team. For one thing we began to prepare for another crazy, eventful summer and then fall semester, full of big fundraising, scholarship/grant writing and of course good school-work. I think another important piece of this is mental preparation. When you go to WUG you will probably be facing World Cup “B” teams and some of the best skiers the world has to offer at the college level. We are also facing World Cup grade courses with live Eurosport Coverage. Not to mention you are carrying “USA” on your back, you are representing this massive country.

The real theme of that meeting last summer was about choices, big choices and participating at the 2015 World University Games was definitely a big one. You will always have big choices in your life and you going to have to deal with the consequences and also you get to lose your self in the amazing rewards and at the same time you will find yourself. There was a long period in my life where all I wanted to do was be a professional athlete or be an Olympian or something to that caliber. I will never for get when my dad would say something jokingly are you ready for Sochi in 2014 for the Olympics. Then I would say: “Yeah, it’s not going to be a big deal” with loads of sarcasm. When I sat there in Christi and Rachel’s dining room I felt like my dream was realized…twice now. I really couldn’t say anything, we were all shocked, some of us shrieked with excitement, some us gave hugs, some of us jumped around and I was just frozen. Wow my life is cool.

The United States Ski Association could have taken the fastest college Americans and I’m sure they would have done well. It was a little hard to feel deserving of this big privilege. We represent so well though because we are the real student athletes, we are all fully immersed in our class work at home and in our skiing and in our fundraising and in our lives.

30 Km is a long way to ski.