Tad Elliott’s “retirement” took a quick turn toward the unglamorous side of ski racing this year when he signed-on as an intern coach with Sten Fjeldheim’s Northern Michigan program. If you thought that life as a 30-year-old college freshman might hold some surprises and offer some new perspective, you’d be right. But you’re only part way toward the lessons and perspective of life as a coach in one of the preeminent collegiate programs in the country. Here’s Tad’s very funny look at a race day, from both perspectives. Enjoy!
By Tad Elliott
Going from being a really spoiled athlete right into a Northern Michigan University coaching assistant has given me a unique look at both sides of the coin. I honestly don’t know if I could have coached myself.
5:15 am: BEEP BEEP BEEP. Oh hell, what is that noise? What is happening? Is it time to wake up already? I open my eyes to a figure blocking the inhumanely bright light. Sten yells, “Wake up! It’s time to make the doughnuts.” I roll over and tell him I am good on the doughnuts.
6:00 am: Off to the venue. Thank goodness the hotel made coffee. I would kill for a breakfast burrito right now. But that has to wait until the store opens. For now, I will stay busy scraping skis, even as my stomach audibly protests.
6:30 am: Walking out of the wax room door, Sten tells me the worst part of 32 years of coaching is the cold toilet seat. I never realized.
6:53 am: Oh dang, I woke up before my alarm again. It has to be these pre-race nerves. I drink water before coffee to make sure I am hydrated. I make my usual healthy race morning breakfast.
7:00 am: I know oatmeal is good for you and the best pre-race meal, but man, it sucks. I want a breakfast burrito like what.
7:00 am: Sten comes back into the wax room with McDonald’s and it looks like some poor soul did in fact make the doughnuts. I hork down an Egg Mcmuffin, hash browns, and slam some coffee on my way out to test skis. Three minutes later I am sprinting up a hill and I feel amazing. Why did I always eat oatmeal three hours before??
7:20 am: Dude, why in the world does this athlete need to test seven pairs of skis? They have only ever raced on two of these things. I grouch about helping enable an athlete’s security blanket.
7:20 am: I look outside and it seems that there is a slight mist. I should call the wax room and ask them to throw in that eighth pair of skis. I know it’s a long shot, but today just might be their day.
8:00 am: Ah, this weather and snow is tricky today. Our three-person team can’t quite dial it in so far. We scrape half the test fleet and are now testing our 15th combo of wax, looking for the best option.
8:00 am: Just killing time with Jay Leno telling me about that amazing 1968 Pontiac GTO of his. After watching this, Kate Upton can show off her dance moves again.
8:45 am: We finally have the wax call. Whew, that was stressful there for a bit. But I can kick up anything and they are real fast. Now we need to wax the athletes’ skis so they can go test them. Now that I think about it…I don’t think I have drank any water or peed yet today.
8:45 am: I arrive at the venue and check in with the wax guys.
“Hey what temp is it out there?”
Dumb dumb, you literally just got out of the car and walked here. It is that temp. Make that music/snapchat device useful and look it up. “It is 17 degrees.”
“Should I wear long underwear?”
How you can be a world traveler and not dress yourself is beyond me. “Yes, yes you should.”
9:00 am: Time to start this warm up. I need to make sure I start slow and build into it. I will keep it chill until I get to test skis in 15 minutes. I hope they are ready on time. It always seems so chaotic in that wax room.
9:00 am: “Skis will be ready 45 minutes before start.” Whew, five to eight glide layers and making sure the four layers of kick on 12 pairs of skis takes some time. We are hustling. Waxing each ski dependent on ski flex and skier. Trying to keep it straight and efficient.
9:12 am: “Are my skis ready?”
4.0 math student my…. “Three minutes.”
Never ready on time. Stressful.
9:20 am: These skis feel so fast, must mean they are lean on kick. Those out-of-shape-doughnut-munchers could kick these? I doubt it. Man, I am nervous.
9:30 am: “I for sure need a bump.”
?????? You for sure need to bump your foot down, not back. “OK, I got you.”
9:50 am: OK. Skis are done. I have spare poles, spare skis, radio, split timer, down jacket, heavy gloves. Now it’s time to llama my way out to the best spot on course and cheer. The temperature swings your body goes through! So hot skiing. Unbelievably cold cheering.
9.50 am: OK. Favorite hat, sunglasses, dry top. Wow, so much to keep track of and remember. Race suit zipped, bib on. Great, now I have to pee. Is there time? Puzzles.
10:01:30 am: Beep, beep, beep. GO! I am off and racing, the supposedly fun part.
10:01:30 am: Made it to my cheering spot, the fun part! I love racing.
I see my coach up near the top of the hill. Drats, I am slipping a bit. I wonder if they gave me that bump?
“Stand up, stand up!”
Hard to stand up when I can’t kick my skis.
Hard to kick your skis if you don’t stand up. “Having a solid race let’s GO.”
10:26:00 am: Across the line. I can’t give any more. So spent. I can’t stand. Have to lay down. In the snow. In the way. Thank goodness that is over.
10:26 am: Cheering is AWESOME.
11:30 am:. Results are in. What….? My teammate beat me. That never happens. I mean, aaaakkk. Not the result I worked so hard for. Now I have to be happy on the outside, when I am sad on the inside. They must have had different skis.
11:30 am: So cold, thirsty, tired, and… stoked how fun that was? Amazing race from one of our skiers. I hope they are as happy as I am for them.
12:00 pm: After cooling down, I am feeling a bit better. Have to be honest and tell the coaches, “Skis weren’t the best.”
Yeah you weren’t the best. Why didn’t you just stand up? Now I know how many times my coaches saved my confidence and ego. “I know, a little lean I saw. I’m sorry. Get in a good recovery, tomorrow is another day.”
3:00 pm: Back at the Generic Inn. I am staring at the wall and wondering what I am doing with my life? Is this really worth it?
3:00 pm: Cleaning athlete’s magic eighth pair of skis. Five minutes of my life I won’t ever get back. What am I doing with my life? Is this really worth it?
4:30 pm: Man, racing takes it out of you. I am hungry. Gotta weigh all the healthy options for a snack, there is a race tomorrow.
4:30 pm: So many skis. Feels like Groundhog Day in this wax room. I am so hungry and thirsty, contemplating seeing if that horse in the field next door will share his trough of oats.
7:00 pm: Dinner. So many options. What should I order? Can I get my pasta with less cheese? I wonder how they cook the chicken? Oh look, the coaches have arrived. WOOF, those dudes look haggard. Why don’t they take better care of themselves?
7:00 pm: FINALLY. Fooood. And drink. I order the first thing that looks good. Happens to be the second item on the menu.
7:01 pm: I can’t remember what I ordered.
9:00 pm: I crawl into bed finally feeling optimistic and looking forward to another race tomorrow. A whole new day, gotta be positive. After this I will train harder for better results. More = better.
9:00 pm: Who knew a shower could be so amazing? I am just going to sit down for a sec. Unconventional, I know, but at the present moment, this is living.
9:10 pm: Thinking about it, what a cool result for my teammate. My most treasured race memories are unexpectedly getting fifth or I when I got second but had my best race ever. Those were more fun than almost all of the wins.
9:30 pm: Man, what a cool day getting such an unexpected result. The joy and confidence it brought that athlete. Amazing to watch. Hard work, good decisions, and perseverance paid off. That is the beauty of sport.
10:00 pm: I am pretty dang lucky to be able to call this a job. I love cross country skiing.