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Extraordinary Athletes: How Rowmark Ski Academy Develops Future Olympians
Posted 02/22/2018 04:22PM

Rowmark Ski Academy has never been for the faint of heart. The physical and mental demands of ski racing, coupled with the academic pressures of attending a college-preparatory school like Rowland Hall, push young athletes to their limits. The payoff is worth it, though—Rowmark alumni benefit from their intense schedule and training far into the future, whether or not they continue skiing in college. They excel at time management, are more resilient than many of their college peers, and embrace a growth mindset in all endeavors, not just those related to athletics.

Of course for some alumni, Rowmark is just the beginning of their competitive skiing careers. In the 35 years since its founding, 16 Rowmark alumni have been named to the U.S. Ski Team, including current Rowland Hall senior Katie Hensien. Others have represented their home countries on national teams for Japan, Canada, and Spain. Kristi (Terzian) Cumming '85, Alex (Shaffer) Wubbels '94, Keely Kelleher '03, and postgraduate* Alice McKennis '08 all have national championships under their belts, and alumni continue to collect international podium finishes almost every year. But perhaps what's most impressive to both the casual and die-hard ski-racing fans is the number of Olympic qualifiers and winners that Rowmark has developed:

  • Hilary Lindh '87 and Picabo Street both won silver medals in women's downhill skiing, in 1992 and 1994, respectively. (Picabo attended Rowland Hall and Rowmark her freshman year, 1985-1986, and is considered an honorary alumna by the school.)
  • Picabo Street also won a gold medal in 1998 in the women's super-G.
  • Alex Wubbels skied for the U.S. Olympic team in the 1998 and 2002 games.
  • Postgraduate* Erik Fisher '04 represented the U.S. in the 2010 Winter Olympics.
  • Ovidio Garcia '86 skied for Spain in two Winter Olympics, as Gota Miura '88 did for Japan.
  • Chirine Njeim '03 competed for Lebanon in skiing at three Winter Olympics and in the women's marathon in the 2016 Summer Olympics.
  • Levi Leipheimer '92 represented the U.S. in cycling at two Summer Olympics, winning a bronze in the men's individual time trial in 2008.

Rowmark also boasts two graduates in the 2018 Games in PyeongChang: Alice McKennis—who also skied in the 2010 Olympics—and Breezy Johnson '13, pictured together below.

Head Women's Coach Jim Tschabrun believes a combination of periodized training and the development of self-coaching techniques helps our athletes succeed at the highest level. Since our high-school skiers are accountable for the academic requirements of Rowland Hall—which are far above those of most other ski academies—they can't train quite as much. As a result, their training must be more efficient, which teaches them to focus completely on the task at hand, and ultimately keeps our athletes fresher.

Along with honing their focus on the slopes, they learn how to advocate for themselves and how to communicate their needs to their coaches. "We really work to help athletes grow into their own best coaches," Mr. Tschabrun said. For the skiers that go on to join the national team and compete internationally, those self-management practices are essential. "The World Cup circuit and the Olympics are filled with stressors, time demands and distractions," he said. "Breezy, Alice, and others learned how to manage and thrive with a higher level of stress than their peers, and I believe that capacity continues to serve all of the Rowmarkers now."

The international success of Rowmark athletes is not really a surprise to co-founder and former director Olle Larsson. He described many of his former students as "contrarian thinkers," meaning they did not simply follow what others were doing but learned to listen to their own voices—much like becoming their own coaches. Mr. Larsson also believes that the athletes who learned the value of delayed gratification were more likely to achieve their personal and professional goals.

And it doesn't hurt that Rowmark Ski Academy is located at the base of the Wasatch Mountains, providing young skiers with some of the best training ground in the country. "Salt Lake City is really the ultimate location for a program like this," Mr. Larsson said.

Indeed, Salt Lake City's ideal positioning for winter sports is what helped secure the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, and what many local leaders hope will make the city a strong candidate to host again. Alumna Alex Wubbels, for one, said she'll never forget how surreal it was to walk in the opening ceremonies here. "You're representing not just yourself but your country, and everyone that makes us who we are as a nation," she said. "It's an amazing gift to be given." Alex earned that gift twice. In her first Olympics, Nagano's 1998 Games, she didn't necessarily have to live up to any performance expectations. Still, competing in the Games drove her to do her best, and she placed an impressive ninth in the women's combined. "I went in thinking, 'I'm going to show my art to the world,'" she said. "There's just something that elevates everybody at the Olympics—spectators and athletes alike."

As Breezy Johnson prepared to compete in South Korea this month, she didn't hesitate to look back and credit Rowmark with helping her get to the Olympics. "The resourcefulness, time management, and ability to think outside the box helped me continue to grow after my time at Rowmark, and enabled me to develop the many different aspects—besides skiing fast— required of a professional athlete," she said. "I am forever thankful."

Top banner image, from left: Hilary Lindh '87 gets silver in the 1992 Albertville Winter Olympics, and two-time Olympian Alex (Shaffer) Wubbels '94 skis in Park City in 1995.

*Rowmark Ski Academy postgraduates, as defined by Director Todd Brickson: A ski academy postgraduate (or PG) year is typically for a high school graduate who's close to making a national or college team, or earning a scholarship position on a college team. They take another year or two to more narrowly focus on ski training, racing, and conditioning, all without the pressure of school. Some PGs may take a college-level class or get a job or internship during their PG years. The two PGs mentioned in this article aren't Rowland Hall alumni, but they are Rowmark alumni—meaning they trained with Rowmark for at least a year.

Hilary Lindh gets silver in 1992 Olympics; Alex Shaffer in 1995

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