Phaneuf talks climate change at APA

Maddie Phaneuf, an Olympic biathlete who lives and trains in Lake Placid, spoke Friday to the state Adirondack Park Agency about her experiences with climate change. (Enterprise photo -- Justin A. Levine)

RAY BROOK – Olympic biathlete Maddie Phaneuf, who lives in Lake Placid, spoke to the state Adirondack Park Agency board on Friday with a message about climate change.

Phaneuf was a member of the 2018 Winter Olympic biathlon team, but developed strep throat and the flu and could not compete in the PyeongChang games. But the 24-year-old, who spent the bulk of her youth in Old Forge, is staging a comeback to the national team while fighting for climate change action.

Phaneuf’s presentation to the APA was based on first-hand experiences, where snow was trucked in so that biathletes could compete in places like Italy and Romania. But Phaneuf said she’s also seen climate change happen in her Adirondack home, as ticks and Lyme disease spread northward and snow fall becomes more sporadic.

“When I was really little, I remember the snow banks being really high; there would be snow at Halloween,” she said after the presentation. “And then a couple years ago was the first winter I remember not having snow at Christmas. It was 50 degrees, my parents and I went hiking.”

Phaneuf has been working with the climate change advocacy group Protect Our Winters (POW), and has lobbied with elected officials in Washington. She said she was invited to the White House after making the national team, but didn’t want to meet President Trump, although she did meet with Rep. Elise Stefanik.

She said she got more involved in activism after realizing that as a globe-trotting athlete, here carbon footprint was bigger than most.

“Eighteen of the 19 hottest years have occurred since 2001, making this century the first to experience all the hottest years on record,” she said. “Meaning, if you were born after 2000, you have not lived an average temperature year yet, which is pretty crazy.

“How I got more passionate about climate change and wanting to do more, was, as an athlete living in the Olympic Training Center (in Lake Placid), my whole identity was as an athlete and being surrounded by the Olympics. Knowing my carbon footprint is a lot bigger than most people’s because I’m traveling on trans-Atlantic flights and have a lot more consumerism with ski equipment, I felt guilty that I wasn’t doing my part. I felt hypocritical for caring about the environment and having a big carbon footprint, but I also knew that climate change affects every one of us world-wide.

“I want a stable climate for future generations; I don’t want winter sports – including biathlon – to die out.”

That’s when she became involved in POW, which is a collection of professional athletes who lobby for climate action.

“They welcomed me with open arms, and I have been a part of them since 2016,” she said. “Their mission statement really attracted me, which states: POW turns passionate people into effective climate advocates.

“Another thing that I love is their statement of ‘Action over apathy, progress over perfection,’ which I thought was good, because in this day and age, a lot of people are like ‘Well, your carbon footprint is really big so why should I care what you say?’ None of us are perfect, but we can all do our part and inform everyone on climate action.”

Phaneuf said she will be travelling to Utah for training and tryouts later this month, and then will head to Europe racing season, which runs over the winter. She has her eyes on a spot on the 2022 Winter Olympic biathlon team and is currently competing for the New York Ski Education Foundation (NYSEF). After not being able to compete in 2018, she lost her spot on the national team and is hoping to regain it.

“One of the things I realized about the last Olympics is that I was so tunnel visioned on the Olympics that I wasn’t really present anymore on my training, so now I’m more focused on each season,” she said. “So now I’m racing again this season, and I will check in with my happiness level to see if I want to keep going, but ultimately the goal is 2022 in Bejing.

“For me, the Olympic experience wasn’t what I expected because I got really sick. And at first my thought was ‘I just wasted five years of my life to get here and I didn’t even compete,’ and that was really heartbreaking. I didn’t realize how much it was affecting me until six months later when I was still really upset about it.

“I ended up going to therapy and getting all that help to figure out how to process the things that happened,” she continued. “And so if I hadn’t done that, I don’t think I would be at peace with the Olympic experience and wanting to be back in biathlon. And then now that I’m in a totally different environment with NYSEF instead of the national team, it’s just been so much better for me to be kind of giving back to the community and just feeling like I’m more a part of Lake Placid.”

For more information on Protect Our Winters, go to www.protectourwinters.org.


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