Since its founding in 1999, the Maine Winter Sports Center has built a reputation for providing the facilities and coaching that can help developing athletes excel.
Case in point: Of the 10 biathletes who competed for the United States in the Torino Olympic Games in 2006, seven had spent time training at MWSC facilities.
That’s the story of the MWSC that many Mainers now know.
Here’s the story many may not have fully absorbed: The elite athletes who train in Fort Kent or Presque Isle are only a small piece of a much grander plan.
Eileen Carey, a Leeds native and graduate of Leavitt High School in Turner and Dartmouth College, fully understands that bigger picture.
And as the recently promoted vice president of the MWSC, it’s her responsibility to continue the progress that has been made over the past nine years.
“If there’s a big event going on, you’re going to get a ton of people out [to watch],” Carey said. “Our challenge is to take the energy of the events that we’ve run and snowball it into something that’s more of a day-to-day thing for people and their families. What we’re really trying to do is change lifestyles. Any time you’re trying to do that, it’s going to take some time, for sure.”
The “big events” Carey referred to include a World Cup biathlon stop at Fort Kent in 2004 and the Biathlon Junior World Championships in Presque Isle in 2006.
But the MWSC doesn’t exist merely to aid top-notch skiers seeking international success, Carey points out. Its mission is much more inclusive than that.
“We all travel around the whole county, especially from Presque Isle north, doing our programs,” Carey said Monday. “[We reach] thousands for sure, at different levels.”
The elite athletes are at one level. Those who take advantage of MWSC racing programs are at another. And chances are good that most Aroostook County youngsters will come in contact with a MWSC program or outreach effort in their schools at some point or another.
Perhaps a physical education teacher wants an athlete to speak about Nordic skiing or biathlon events. Perhaps young visitors to a local sportsman’s show get the chance to learn how to shoot a biathlon rifle.
Either way, MWSC athletes or staffers are there, spreading the word about what’s possible, and what has come to exist in their corner of the state.
That’s all part of the MWSC’s mission, which calls for “creating a model for the sustainability of rural communities through a skiing lifestyle.”
To that end, Carey said, six MWSC coaches live in six different towns, and the organization has a presence in 92 communities across the state.
In a press release announcing Carey’s promotion, MWSC President Andy Shepard praised the new vice president for her efforts in leading staffers over the past eight months, after former vice president John Farra left to head the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association’s Nordic program.
In her new job, Carey will help develop the strategic direction of the MWSC, help execute that strategy as the leader of the staff, and serve as a liaison with steering committees at facilities in Fort Kent and Presque Isle.
Carey, who began working at the MWSC in 2006, has served as a coach and development coordinator. She said while her job title will change, some things will remain the same.
Chief among those: She’ll keep on coaching.
“[Coaching] is something that’s really important for me to continue,” she said. “It’s why I came here originally. I’m really passionate about it, and I love working with kids all over Aroostook County.”
The efforts of Carey and the other MWSC coaches have paid off over the years; many youngsters have been introduced to Nordic skiing and biathlon, and some of those students have risen quickly through the ranks of U.S. competitors.
Four of those athletes — Russell Currier of Stockholm, Meagan Toussaint of Madawaska, Hilary McNamee of Fort Fairfield and Grace Boutot of Fort Kent — are members of U.S. national teams.
Currier is a member of the men’s A team, Toussaint is on the women’s B team, and McNamee and Boutot are junior national team members.
Carey said teamwork among close-knit staffers at the MWSC makes for a dynamic working environment that benefits all of Aroostook County.
“We’re always looking for ways to expand our programming through communities in Aroostook County and to fulfill our mission,” Carey said. “We have a great group of high-energy, really intelligent people.”
Carey worked in Colorado for two years after graduating from Dartmouth, teaching and coaching at a boarding school. Now living in Presque Isle, with a new job title and added responsibilities, she admits it’s not hard to keep busy.
But that’s OK with her.
“Luckily the stuff I do for my job is stuff I’d choose to do in my free time, so that works out well,” she said.