Monday, January 21, 2002 - Perspective
XC Ottawa Update

- By: David Zylberberg

Upon completion of high school, young skiers who wish to compete seriously and improve have two options; ski full time for as many years as they last, or continue with their education while training seriously and competing. Both options have their advantages, as well as their disadvantages.

The biggest advantage of attending school is not directly related to skiing. The education received helps people to mature and become prepared to function as adults in the world. This should help with skiing over the long-term, in giving a more mature approach to sport, as well as affording the security of meaningful employment when finished with competitive skiing.

Full-time school leads to more restraint when it comes to training. School both uses up time and provides other meaningful activities, so that there is less time to train, and less incentive to train excessively.. Given that most skiers who go to school still have enough time to train the amount that their bodies really need, school helps prevent overtraining. Very few 20 year olds are ready to train 800 hours a year or do two workouts every day; yet this can be tempting when all one does is ski. Think back to the Canadian Senior National Championships last March: the skiers who were burned out from overtraining and heavy racing through the year tended to be those who skied full time without attending classes.

The usual reason given for not attending school as a serious skier is that it impedes training and racing. My observation, based upon working full-time all summer, attending school on a full course-load and training 650 hours, is that a full-time student can train 700 hours a year without impeding school, quality of training, or sleep. 700 hours a year is a reasonable amount for a skier in his or her early 20s; it also allows for significant improvements. As well, with proper arrangements with the school, a student who is organized enough to prepare assignments in advance, should be able to race the entire North American FIS season, from Silver Star to Canadian Nationals and the Spring Series.

One example from last season who demonstrates the ability to excel in both school and skiing is that of Riku Metsaranta. As a first year senior, Riku completed a full course-load in geology with an A average. As well, he was competitive with the top seniors in Canada, coming second in the National 50km Championships, ahead of many skiers who might have expected to be better prepared, given that all they did was ski. As this example shows, school should not be an impediment to training and racing at a high-level for skiers in their early 20's.

Though not the only option for post-high school skiers, attending university while skiing seriously is a legitimate option. It will not impede training, but it will allow for a more balanced life, while acting as a counterweight against over-training, and providing educational benefits. To those who are able to handle skiing full-time while maintaining focus and not overtraining, I say good luck; you have my respect. To those attempting school as well, I say that you have taken on a challenge, with the possibility of great benefit.

Editor's note: I moved to Thunder Bay in 1994 to be a member of the Training Center and pursued a full time Physics degree on a scholarship. I'm glad I did it, but it was a real juggling act at times! While I concur that it's possible to do both school and skiing, I must point out that this depends largely on the program and the individual. Most Arts program are flexible enough to allow a student to be full time while training and travelling to races. Unfortunately Science or Engineering programs require far more in-class hours and stricter attendance. Large portions of these curriculae are based on lab work, where the equipment is available for a limited time each week. These long hours and attendance limitations can lead to compromises in training and racing as well as added stress. Students undertaking these programs should think of spreading their course load over an extra year or two, if allowable. They should also prepare each semester's course load in consultation with their coach and the Dean of their program, to be able to balance skiing and school goals. Also making everyone at the university who plays a part in their education (Dean, professors, TAs, lab technicians, etc..) aware of your plan for the season and commitment to the sport is essential. In my experience professors are generally somewhat flexible, but they are not inclined to bend the rules too much for someone who misses their classes.

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