It has been 10 years since Julie Parisien last plied the powder as a competitive skier, but even after being totally removed from the sport for the last eight years while starting and raising a family, she’s back into it like she never left.
“This year it’s really affecting me for some reason,” said the three-time Olympian. “There were a bunch of years when I was wrapped up with kids and my husband starting his medical practice, but this year I’ve been watching a lot of the races.”
And reliving her own experiences while living vicariously through the current crop of Team U.S.A. Olympic skiers.
“Each racer who comes down, I’m trying to figure out why they took that line and why they did this, seeing mistakes they’re making as they happen, feeling the falls,” she said. “I mean, as I watch, my body’s moving. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s kind of exhausting. I have to give up after awhile.”
Now she knows how her mother Jill felt while watching her, older brother Rob and younger sister Anna compete in both international and Olympic competitions.
“It was terrible, not so much because I doubted their skill, but they were so young and I worried about them getting hurt, or having their self esteem hurt as well,” said Jill Parisien. “I’d have both hands over my face, kind of peeking through my fingers when I watched them ski.”
Now 38 and a mother of four living in Traverse City, Mich., spare time is at a premium for Julie Parisien, but with her two older sons now in school and just two at home during the day, she has a bit of time to watch races on her computer.
She’ll have more time later this year after she and husband Tim Nuce move to her native state as he sets up his family medical practice in Waterville this summer.
“I’m excited and we’re really looking forward to a nice, fresh change,” said Parisien, who anticipates getting into coaching on some level at Sugarloaf and/or Carrabassett Valley Academy ski and snowboard school. “I definitely want to get involved. I’ve talked about what I might be able to do there in terms of coaching.”
Maine’s first family of skiing
Parisien and her siblings are just three of thousands of former Olympians who revive memories, get nostalgic and relive experiences when this time rolls around every four years.
“I get very nostalgic and you always play the ‘what if’ game, like what if I’d stayed with it and gone to do it again in 1994 and/or 1998,” said Rob Parisien, who retired at the age of 21 to enter medical school. “That’s an easy thing to do, but I don’t regret my decision.”
Now 40, a husband, father of three children, and an orthopedic surgeon in Portland, Rob Parisien remembers his Olympic experience in 1992 at Albertville, France, where he skied with and against sister Anna’s husband, Joe Levins.
“I went as far as I wanted to go at the time,” said Parisien, who came close to quitting in 1991 over frustration regarding team chemistry, drama and distractions, but was convinced otherwise by his family. “It would have been a bad decision. Things worked out well in the fall and the winter of 1991-92.”
That’s an understatement. He skied against standouts like Italian Alberto Tomba and finished as the top American in giant slalom in 20th place overall.
Sister Anna also retired at the ripe, old age of 21 after competing with Julie in the 1994 Olympic games at Lillehammer, Norway.
“When I retired, I had no regrets about leaving the sport,” said Anna Parisien, now a 37-year-old mother of two and part-time ski coach and substitute teacher. “I had amazing results and a really good year and I think it was such a great year because I had it in the back of my mind that it was my last year. It relieved a lot of pressure for me.”
After finishing 13th overall in women’s giant slalom in Lillehammer, Anna enrolled at the University of Colorado to study humanities. She now makes her home in St. Paul, Minn.
Julie had the longest career of Maine’s first family of skiing. She was on the U.S. Ski Team for nine years and competed in three winter Olympics (1992, 1994 and 1998) before retiring at age 28.
She never won an Olympic medal, coming just .05 seconds away from a bronze in 1992, despite skiing with a cast on a broken left wrist, four temporary front teeth, and 13 stitches in her lower lip after smacking a gate pole a few days after colliding with a novice skier a month before the Olympic games began.
She led by .06 seconds after her first run of the women’s slalom, but lost her lead after her second run. She finished fifth in the GS the day before.
“My best memory was coming down on the second run of GS after being sixth. I saw three straight USA skiers ranked first through third, although it was just temporary,” she recalled. “Those games area bittersweet memory.
“It was disappointing I couldn’t show how good I thought I was to the world in general in those games, but I came back strong and proved to myself that I was the real deal four days later.”
That was when she won the World Cup slalom in Sweden and finished the year ranked No. 1 in the FIS slalom rankings. She also won a silver in the 1993 World Championships.
“That to me was proof that I was the legitimate champion,” she said. “It’s the same as an Olympic medal, but there’s the whole mystique behind the Olympics.”
The Parisiens have made Maine their home since coming here from Montreal in 1972.
“I taught them how to ski by taking them down the mountain between my legs, and they all wanted to do it all the time,” said family patriarch Victor Parisien, a native Canadian who describes himself as a purely recreational skier. “We lived near Lost Valley Ski Area in Auburn and that became the babysitting place for us.
“They were their own competition. They competed against each other. They wanted to do it and it took on a life of its own.”
Having one member of a family qualify for the Olympics is a rare enough feat. Having three representing five total Olympic appearances makes the Parisien family legacy downright amazing.
“I’m very proud of that and it’s quite an achievement,” said Jill Parisien, a nurse who met her husband in Montreal after traveling from her native Australia.
Maine Olympian memories
The Parisiens are by no means the only Mainers to forge Olympic memories.
Here’s a sampling of some others to make history in international sports competition:
— Rumford native Wendall “Chummy” Broomhall competed in both the 1948 and 1952 Winter Games as a cross-country skier, finishing 54th and 47th, respectively.
— Bowdoin College alumnus Geoffrey T. Mason won a gold medal at the 1928 Winter Games in Switzerland as a member of the five-man bobsled team for Team U.S.A.
— Kirsten Clark of Raymond joined Parisien on the 1998 U.S. Olympic team in Japan.
— Eric Weinrich of Gardiner was the first University of Maine hockey Olympian as a member of 1988 Team USA in 1988.
— UMaine’s Mike Dunham earned a spot on the 1992 U.S. Olympic team but did not earn a medal at the Winter Games.
— UMaine hockey players Paul Kariya, Garth Snow, Peter Ferraro, Matt Martin, Dunham, Chris Imes and Jean-Yves Roy all competed in the 1994 Winter Games — Kariya and Roy for Team Canada while the other five played for Team U.S.A. Team Canada won the silver medal.
— Keith Carney played for Team USA in the 1998 Games, and Kariya for Canada, but neither won a medal with their respective teams.
— The 2002 games saw hockey mine some metal as Kariya and Team Canada won gold while Dunham and Team USA earned silver. Matthias Trattnig and Kent Salfi each played for Team Austria in the games.