One year at a time
Olympic veteran Caldwell takes on leadership role as new skiers filter in
LAKE PLACID — Two-time Olympian Sophie Caldwell has had a lot on her plate, from training as a member of the US Ski Team to getting married earlier this month. And while the 29-year-old continues to train, she said she’s taking it one year at a time as the 2022 Olympics loom on the horizon.
Caldwell and other members of the national team, including her new husband Simi Hamilton, were in Lake Placid last week for a training camp. The Peru, Vermont, native said she’s always loved Lake Placid since it’s as close to home as her national team training gets.
“Lake Placid is definitely the closest to home we ever have a training camp, and this is my favorite time of year,” she said. “We used to do camp here pretty much every fall, but we took a little break and went out to Park City (Utah), but I was really excited to return. The scenery and everything is just like home.
“The living is good, the training is good, so it’s really the perfect setup.”
Peru is on the northern border of the Green Mountain National Forest, not far from Glens Falls. Caldwell and Hamilton tied the knot there earlier this month, and while the pair has been on the US Ski Team for more than five years together, Caldwell said she’s planning on assessing her views of the 2022 Beijing Olympics one year at a time. Caldwell has competed for the U.S. in the past two Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea last year and in Sochi, Russia in 2014.
“I still don’t know that I’m for sure going to ski through the third (Olympics),” she said during an interview at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid. “I try to take it a year at a time and kind of reevaluate after each year to make sure I’m still enjoying, see what my goals are — skiing goals, life goals.
“But I still really love it and feel really lucky to have been part of this US cross country skiing movement. I joined the team when I had a lot of good role models to look up to and a great coach and I just feel really lucky to have joined it when I did.
“And now it’s funny kind of being one of the veterans because I don’t know where the last six or seven years went, but they happened and now I’m one of the oldest ones,” she laughed. “I think Simi is the oldest one, and now there’s all these younger girls who are 19- and 20-years-old who are looking up to us. It’s really cool to have that overlap because I know exactly what they’re going through, how they feel. And to be able to race with them for a few years before we retire and they take over is a pretty special thing.”
Caldwell said she’s noticed an influx of new cross country skiers since teammates Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall won the U.S.’s first Olympic gold in women’s cross country skiing.
“I think Jessie and Kikkan winning the gold medal definitely brought a lot of attention to our sport,” she said. “We needed it because in the U.S. a lot of people don’t even know what cross country skiing is and if they do they don’t realize that anyone does it full time or there’s a World Cup. And then you go over to Europe and Scandanavia especially, and that’s their national sport.
“So the differnce between being home and over there is crazy, and the successes at the Olympics and the success we’ve had on the World Cup has definitely done a lot for the sport. I think little kids are psyked about it and it’s great because it’s not a very expensive sport. Anyone can do it, it’s really good for you, it let’s you be outside in nature. So there aren’t really too many negatives except it hurts when you’re going really hard.”
During a meet and greet with the public on Sunday at High Peaks Cyclery in Lake Placid, both Caldwell and Hamilton recommended that skiers stay well-rounded in their athletic pursuits as at least a dozen members of the Saranac Lake and Lake Placid Nordic ski teams watched.
“I went to Stratton Mountain School for high school, and that’s a ski academy so everyone there either cross country or downhill skis or snowboards,” she said. “So I guess high school is when I started to focus on it (skiing), but even then I loved soccer as well as other sports. At the beginning of high school, I liked soccer as much as I liked skiing.
“I think applying to college, I decided I wanted to focus on skiing. But even then, when I was graduating college I was pretty torn on whether I wanted to ski professionally or kind of join the real world. I’m really glad I did, but there were all these different points throughout my career and growing up where I weighed the pros and the cons and then when I decided to ski professionally, I was like, ‘Well, if I’m going to do this then I should really see where I can take it.’ And it went well that first year and I haven’t really looked back since.
“I think at that age (teenage years), even if you’re starting to focus on skiing, it’s important to balance it with other things,” she continued. “People do get burnt out. I think you have to make sure it’s what you want to do and not outside pressures. Even though it’s an individual sport, I’ve been really lucky through high school, college, national team (and) club team to have these really supportive teams and I definitely wouldn’t still be doing it today if I didn’t have them.”