A Tiny Town Steeped In Skiing Tradition Has Its First Olympian
Ask locals to describe the landscape in the tiny town of Stockholm, up near the tip of northern Maine, and more than one will call it a winter wonderland. Woods dot the landscape of rolling white fields, and snow-covered spruce trees nestle roadways.
Winter is a long season, and you've got to find something fun to make it through — like skiing.
Residents in Stockholm and neighboring communities are all abuzz over the upcoming Olympics, because 26-year-old native son Russell Currier earned a spot on the biathlon team — a sport that combines Nordic skiing and rifle-shooting. It's a reward for a region that's spent more than a decade rekindling its Nordic skiing roots.
Will Sweetser, Currier's former coach, says skiing wasn't an obvious fit for the quiet, some say slightly chubby kid who was around 12 when he joined a local ski program.
"The first year that I met Russell, he'd been on skis obviously before, but he didn't really enjoy it that much," Sweetser says. "I think when I saw him in seventh grade, almost 14 seasons ago now, he was the third-fastest seventh-grader at the Stockholm school, I think out of a class of eight."
But Sweetser says Currier quickly catapulted to the top of his sport. The next year, he won a countywide middle school championship. The year after that, he won third place at the junior nationals. Now, he's in Europe training for the Olympics.
"If there's one talent Russell possesses," says Sweetser, "it's the drive and ability to handle the training that he has to do in order to make that kind of gain."
Skiing roots run deep in northern Maine, starting when Swedish immigrants settled the area in the 1870s. But by the late 1990s, the tradition needed a boost, so the Maine Winter Sports Center was created to re-establish skiing as a lifestyle in rural Maine. Residents banded together to clear new trails, and maintain them to this day. Most recently, they came together to help Currier's parents get to the Olympics in Sochi, Russia, by holding a spaghetti supper fundraiser.
Volunteers dished out more than 300 dinners at the Caribou High School cafeteria. The crowd that night was filled with people who played a role in Currier's ski career. Tom Campbell used to groom a trail from Currier's house to the school in Stockholm so the young athlete could commute on skis.
"At a young age, we all knew that Russell had a big engine, so we all wanted to encourage that. And that is one of the things that the community does," Campbell said.
Former high school ski coach Bob Sprague held back tears thinking about how the ski program shapes many kids, including Currier, into confident adults.
"And that's why we're celebrating this today," Sprague said. "I mean, God bless him, he's done the work. There have been ups and downs along the way, and he's persevered. He's had this goal, and he's worked, and he's made it. It's wonderful. I wish I could be there."
Currier's parents say the fundraiser, in a way, made Russell's supporters feel like they're traveling to Sochi. His mother, Debbie Currier, says that when she heard about the event, she assured organizers it wasn't necessary.
"And they said, 'We really want to be a part of it.' Everybody wants to be a part of it!"
Some here say Currier's Olympic bid adds to the momentum the Maine Winter Sports Center spurred when it reignited Nordic skiing in the area more than a decade ago.
Getting in a quick workout the day after a race, 15-year-old biathlete Caleb Willett is evidence of that momentum. He says he dreams of making it to the Olympics one day too.
"Now I really know that it's possible to get to that point, coming from such a small town in the middle of nowhere."
When Russell Currier competes in the Olympic biathlon on Feb. 8, this community will be watching.