In 1991, cross-country skiing became my new athletic passion, eclipsing baseball. When I began skiing I still played a little on the diamond, but the majority of my athletic focus switched to being on snow when I met a guy named Ed Hamel.
In the 1990’s cross-country skiing was in its heyday in Western Massachusetts. The Bill Koch Youth Ski League, which operated out of Hickory Hill Ski Touring Center at the time, was just a few miles up the road from my home in Worthington. Bill Koch was famous for being the first Olympic medalist in cross-country skiing, which is why the league was named after him (he now shares that distinction with Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall after they won the gold medal in the team sprint in Pyeongchang earlier this year). After Matt Whitcomb, Matt Molyneux, and I formed our brotherly bond, they both convinced me, along with the help of one of my classmates, Jason Lemieux, to join the BKYSL group that met at Hickory Hill on Saturday afternoons. The group I joined, donned the “fast group,” happened to be coached by Ed. Little did I know how much of an impact our training group would have on me for decades to come.
Ed had a pretty straight forward and simple approach to coaching. Work hard, have fun always, and keep an open mind when it comes to adventure. He was also extremely impressionable to me because of his unrelenting care for the skiers he coached. I felt as if I was an extension of his family, always keeping an open ear to any advice he might drop on the group. Within just a couple of years of being a part of his training crew Ed became my first mentor.
Hard work, as it relates to athletics, was not a virtue that I was born with. Before I started skiing I had no endurance engine to speak of. As the work with Ed started to accumulate I began to come into my own amongst my peers. Matt, Matt, and Jason were the fastest guys in our group, all of whom I deeply admired. However, within five years of training with Ed, I became ranked in the top ten in my age group in New England, a far cry from when I picked up my first pair of Fischer RCS skate skis in 1991. The adventure, fun, and success I enjoyed during those years launched a love for endurance sports that, to this day, continues to persist.
One workout in particular that Ed put on, which set the bar for working hard, was his weekly Bust-Butt Wednesday sessions. Never before these workouts did I understand what going hard meant. Today, as I train with my coach Michael Larsen, I harken back to the days when I first puked going hard in a workout (Mike has a way of encouraging and pushing me to the point of total exhaustion on occasion). It was also routine to fall down gasping for air after a hard interval set with Ed, seeing my heart rate skyrocket into the 190’s. These workouts also taught me what it meant to pace myself, something that I continue to work on to this day, not just in sport, but in life.
I always felt Ed believed in me. Being so green to the endurance world, with his guidance I was able to establish a new lifestyle. In Peggy Shinn’s new book, World Class (Peggy Shinn’s World Class on Amazon), while describing the U.S. Ski Team World Cup Coach Matt Whitcomb’s development as a leader, she talks about an adventure that our group had after a BKYSL festival in Jackson, NH. Ed led us on an expedition up the chairlift at Wildcat Mountain, only to plunge ourselves through endless trees and powder for what seemingly felt like hours. Somehow, by my recollection, we ended back at our hotel in Jackson largely unscathed, except for a few broken skis and poles. The adventure in and of itself marked a distinct change for my idea of venturing beyond the bounds of comfort to seek the treasure that was the unknown.
It’s safe to say that if I hadn’t been influenced so much by Ed in my early teens my life today would look very different. When I think about sobriety, it is, in a sense, an adventure that requires very hard work and persistence day in and day out. It was Ed’s infectious sense of adventure that provoked Matt, Matt, and I to go on our own yearly great adventures, which ultimately led me to have the courage to get in a car in 1998 with my best friend to drive all of the way across the country, to a place I had never been, the little old mill town called Bend, OR, to set up a new life on the West Coast. This sense of adventure has led me to experience so many countless memories, make friends abound, and thrive in a healthy lifestyle.
As I pursue my own athletic endeavors, some 25+ years after being introduced to the world of endurance sports, I often think back and give credit to the man who helped start this whole crazy lifestyle for me. As an athlete, I continue to work my ass off to be the best that I can be, with the hopes of fulfilling a childhood dream. Ed helped guide me early on to this point that I sit today. I have an absolute love affair with endurance sports, which has led me to experience things that I would have never dreamed possible when I got on nordic skis for first time way back when. Apart from my work ethic in sport, the skill of working hard, that I learned under Ed’s tutelage, has also carried me for years in business, sobriety, writing, and life. I will be forever thankful for our relationship as mentor-coach / athlete. Quite literally, Ed, with his relentless enthusiasm and charm, helped steer me to appreciate virtues that, as a kid, I never thought possible. I’m honored to say that Ed was such a big influence on me.
Thank you Ed, for who you are and everything that you do and stand for.
Also, be sure to check out:
The Power of Mentors: Michael Larsen – The Power of Mentors, Part 1: Michael Larsen
The Power of Mentors: Davis Smith – The Power of Mentors, Part 2: Davis Smith
To purchase a copy of my memoir, Appetite for Addiction, please visit: Appetite for Addiction on Amazon