Monday, February 15th
East Burke, VT -- Everyday is a snow day at Burke Mountain Academy.
Students at the first sports academy in the U.S. spend mornings on the slopes and the afternoons in class.
"There's a pretty strict schedule. Wake up in the morning around seven o'clock.", says Academy freshman Mikaela Shiffrin.
"We have breakfast and head up to the hill.", adds senior Luke Laidlaw.
"We head out and train 8:00am to 11:45am. We have lunch and it's classes all afternoon." says junior Holly Bushman.
"It's not for the faint hearted.", acknowledges Burke Mountain headmaster Kirk Dwyer. "And it's a challenge, but, if you want to be a ski racer and your passion is skiing, the kids love the hard work."
The hard work usually pays off. A Burke Mountain Academy student has competed in every winter olympics since the school opened in 1970. Thats over 50 Olympians. Three this year alone. Casey Puckett is competing in ski cross...Nolan Kasper...slalom...and Liz Stephen is on the Nordic team.
"They were here recently, and now they're skiing in the Olympics, so that's very exciting for us.", says Dwyer.
"It's weird that i'll be training with friends and then they're heading off to the olympics.", says Laidlaw.
"They remind me they're not that different than I am, kind of keeps my head out of the clouds and able to see where I am and how lucky I am.", says Shiffrin. "It's really great to know they were where I am right now and it's possible for me to make it there."
It's possible we're watching the next Lindsey Vonn. Shiffrin, a Colorado native, is the best fourteen year old skier in North America.
"I'm shooting for the 2014 olympics.", admits Shiffrin. "I'd like to be on the World Cup. Just be the best I can be as a skier."
"All of them have those dreams, but the way they achieve those dreams is focus on the process, what it means everyday and every week to do their best.", says Dwyer.
One of the unique aspects of the Burke Mountain Academy is the campus here in East Burke. Nine buildings in the typical Vermont farm house style. But, other than the campus area, it's the sense of community around the current students and alumni that sets this place apart.
"I'd say the community aspect is the most important thing that keeps this school together. Even though the kids compete against each other they lift each other up and pull each other through it.", says 1987 Academy graduate Richie Graham.
"People who are motivated together, they raise the bar for everybody else.", says Shiffrin. "We really push each other and help each other out."
"It's really tight, living with other athletes is a good experience because even if we're not doing the same sport, the alpine kids can push the nordic kids and vice versa.", adds Buschmann.
"Without exception, the only way to become the best is to be skiing virtually everyday, to have the best coaching and also the peer group. You need to ski with the best to be the best.", says Dwyer.
At at Burke we're witnessing some of the best the world has to offer and who knows, you might be getting the first glimpse of the hero's of the 2014 Olympic games.
"There's a chance for sure, as long as I work hard.", says Laidlaw.
"Anything is possible.", adds Buschman.
The Olympic spirit alive and well in Vermont.
-- Seth Leavitt.
PO Box 4508