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That Time I Beat an Olympic Biathlete

The author, left, with Annelies Cook at McCauley Mountain, Old Forge, in 1998. Photograph courtesy of Chris Morris

The year is 1995 and it’s the middle of January, around noon on a Saturday. Annelies Cook and I are sitting in the back seat of her family’s beige minivan; her dad, George, is driving and my dad, Don, is riding shotgun. They’re doing their best to maintain a civil, adult dialogue, but ultimately failing, because Annelies and I—both 11 years old at the time—are crescendoing into the chorus of “The Continuing Story of Bungaloo Bill,” and we intend to make sure that our two-part harmony is heard.

Jump forward a couple of years, and Annelies and I—now 13—are stomping down St. Regis Mountain on a rainy summer day. I’m rolling my eyes as Annelies and the rest of the Nordic ski crew jump feet first into another giant puddle, further soaking anyone who dares to venture within a 10-foot radius.

All these years later, it seems strange that my fondest memories of growing up alongside Annelies don’t involve the one thing that brought us together: skiing. But that’s the way it was. For us, skiing was a jumping-off point for many other adventures and endeavors: music, art, writing, whitewater kayaking and rock climbing, to name a few.

Our love of cross-country skiing never went away, though. Annelies is now just over a week away from competing with the U.S. Women’s Biathlon Team at the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. I hung up my race skis when I was still a teenager to pursue other interests—writing, for example—but these days I’m still obsessed with the sport, finding adventure in the Adirondack backcountry and volunteering as a youth coach at Dewey Mountain Recreation Center.

I caught up with Annelies earlier this month, arriving early at my office in Lake Placid to call her via Skype. She picked up on the other end, wrapped in a blanket and sitting cozily on a couch in Antholz, Italy. The following interview is edited for length.

Chris: So I thought we could chat about growing up in the Nordic skiing community in the Adirondacks.

Annelies: Your timing is great. I just had a posse of our old NYSEF (New York Ski Educational Foundation) Nordic crew here in Antholz—Julianne and Kristen Stemp, Kendra Bailey, Erica Edgley, Lowell Bailey. We talked about how much fun we had as kids, especially NYSEF in the summertime.

Chris: I loved the summer camps.

Annelies: Those are some of my best memories of my whole life. The three days a week we spent hiking, roller skiing, mountain biking, playing games.

Chris: Epic games of capture the flag …

Annelies: Capture the flag at Mount Van Hoevenberg! I still think back on those games. It makes me laugh. I have this really clear image of myself crawling across the stadium in the pitch dark, moving maybe one foot at a time, worrying someone would catch me. Then, the next morning, I’d wake up and realize that I moved maybe five feet over the course of an hour because I was so amped up. I remember our coaches, Kris [Seymour] and Al [Barrett], teaching us girls how to be tough—and you were the only guy with all of us ladies.

Chris: Early on, I was either getting beat up by the older guys, or beat up by a gang of girls my age. I still remember that first post-puberty race when I finally beat you and the other girls—I was so psyched. I might be able to hang with you for maybe 100 meters now. I was lucky to get to hang with so many cool girls, though.

Annelies: We were all very lucky. Our parents always took us out skiing. We’d go up to Avalanche Lake with the pulk, my sister Marlijne would go—it was such a family thing for all of us cross-country skiers. Then it was Bill Koch ski league, then the high-school team and NYSEF. It was always so much fun. Anytime I’ve had a hard time—it’s not always fun and games once you get to a certain level—you have to remember that the reason you ski is because it came from a fun place. You’re still doing it that way with the kids at Dewey Mountain Recreation Center, making it fun. Growing up where we grew up, we’re lucky to have that. Our community tries to keep that going.

Chris: One thing about growing up here—and this goes beyond skiing, really—is that the kids we went to school with had so many interests. You played piano, you sang, you danced. We learned how to whitewater kayak from our fathers, we went camping, hiking. Plus, our parents made sure we were good students. How does that translate to your success as a biathlete?

Annelies: Being well-rounded makes you a better athlete. Biking, running—it helps develop you as an athlete and keeps things interesting. Being on the road can be monotonous. If you have stuff to do, other passions, it helps keep you grounded. When I’m home, it’s always busy. You get on the road, you have to find something to do to pass that time between races, between training sessions. Lowell [Bailey] has his music. Lately, for me, it’s sewing [Annelies turns her laptop so I can see a sewing machine someone let her borrow]. I’m making quilts, skirts. I love to read. It makes everything more fun. I’m not going to sit in my hotel room and stretch and dry-fire [Annelies and the other biathletes hone their marksmanship skills indoors by “firing” their rifles without ammunition] all day long. When we were kids, there was jazz band in the morning, classes, ski practice, musical practice, voice ensembles. I think back on it now and I’m glad; some day, competitive skiing will be done, so I want to have other things to do on top of that.

Chris: It’s been great to catch up with you. I’m not going to show them to you before this piece runs, but my mom dug out some old photos of us, back when we all rocked those obnoxious neon-colored racing suits.

Annelies: Oh boy …

Chris Morris lives in Saranac Lake. He is communications manager for Adirondack Foundation, a freelance writer and a volunteer youth ski coach at Dewey Mountain Recreation Center.

To follow Annelies Cook and her fellow Adirondack biathletes Lowell Bailey and Tim Burke in the Olympics, follow U.S. Biathlon on Twitter. You can track Annelies by visiting her Cookie Monster blog.

 Adirondack Daily Enterprise reporters Chris Knight and Lou Reuter will be in Sochi covering all of the Adirondack Olympians. For daily updates, check out Knight’s special blog, From Russia with Lou.

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