They may not have made the national and international podiums this year, but watch out: these six are just getting started.
Anyone who paid attention to this summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro knows the name Katie Ledecky. The five-time Olympic gold medalist currently holds the world record in the 400-, 800- and 1,500-meter freestyle. But a name you may hear more of is Hannah Cox. The Hartland, Vt. native only started swimming year-round her freshman year of high school, but Cox made it to the Olympic trials in January, 2016. There, Ledecky set a world record in the 400-meter freestyle. Cox was just seven seconds back in the four-minute race. She was seeded 13th out of 109 women who qualified for the trials and finished eighth in that race. The Vermonter graduated high school this spring and now swims for the University of Arizona in Tucson. She credits her coach, Dorsi Reynolds of the Upper Valley Aquatic Center who traveled with her to the event, for her success.
Steeplechase Farm Girl
Another contender in the 2016 Olympic trials was Montgomery’s Elinor “Elle” Purrier (pictured above). The University of New Hampshire student finished third in the steeplechase in the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships in March and then third in the Outdoor Championships in June. Purrier, UNH class of 2017, was one of the youngest contenders in the Olympic trials in Eugene, Ore., and placed 28th in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. Growing up on a dairy farm just south of the Canadian border, Purrier raised her own pigs, helped with the family’s 60 head of cattle, hunted deer in the fall and played basketball in the winter. Her high school coach, Andrew Hathaway, started the Richford High School cross-country program in 2010 and slowly added mileage to Purrier’s runs. That strategy appears to have worked.
A Biathlete on Target
Chloe Levins came into the biathlon world with a golfer’s training in precision and a Nordic skier’s aptitude for intense aerobic exercise. In January, 2016, she won each of her three races in Anchorage, Alaska’s Youth Biathlon Trials. Then, she flew to the Youth-Junior World Championships in Romania, and finally, in February, she landed in Lillehammer, Norway to compete in the Youth Olympics, where she was fourth in the pursuit. Athleticism runs in the Rutland natives’ blood. Her mother is a former pro golfer. Her father, Jim, was an alpine skier at Middlebury College.
Following in the footsteps of her father and two of her siblings, Levins now studies and Nordic skis at Middlebury College. Though she’ll have to put down the rifle for a few years, she plans to pick the sport back up again and go pro after college.
Born to Race Gates
Another Vermonter with a genetic disposition to podium is Ryan Cochran-Siegle, 24. The son of 1972 Olympic slalom gold medalist Barbara Cochran, he’s been carrying on the Cochran ski racing legacy ever since winning the 2012 Junior Worlds in downhill and combined.
In 2013, Cochran-Siegle was sidelined with a blown ACL and MCL. He returned to race in 2014, but then sat out 2015 to rehab and strengthen his knee. He was back with a vengeance in 2016, scoring his first World Cup giant slalom points and earning three top-five finishes at the U.S. Alpine Championships last spring.
On December 29, 2016, at the World Cup alpine combined event in Santa Caterina, Italy, Cochran-Siegle came from a 50th place start to finish 12th in the Super G and then had a strong enough slalom to place in the top 10. Oh yes, and on a bike, he won “Sufferfest,” a U.S. Ski Team cycling event that attracts former and current racers and sends them on an 8.8-mile ride up Provo Canyon in Utah.
Grace Weinberg has been cruising down icy tracks for seven years. Now, at age 17, the Pittsfield, Vt. native and Killington Mountain School grad is ranked among the top six lugers in the nation. Weinberg practices at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid and through her hard work, has recorded speeds up to 82.4 miles per hour.
In 2016, Weinberg helped her team take the silver medal in the Junior World Championship Team Relay and won silver again at the Norton Junior National Championships.
The luger hails from a family of athletes who set her up for success. Her father, Andy, is the founder of the Endurance Society, and helped grow races such as the Spartan Race and the Death Race. Her mother is a former competitive cheerleader, and her sister runs for Rutland High School cross country team.
Another Killington Mountain School grad to watch is Ansel Dickey, 21. Dickey came to Vermont to ski but stayed to bike, inspired by KMS cycling coach Peter Vollers.
During his senior year, Dickey made the U.S. National Junior Team as a road cyclist. He now races for the Astellas Professional Cycling Team around the country, but comes back to his second home in Woodstock often.
This past year he won the U23 New England Championships for the second year in a row and, in July, he was 10th in his age group in the U.S. Cycling Amateur Nationals.
In 2016, Dickey also led the pack at two of the toughest gravel grinder races in the country—both in Vermont. In April, he won Rasputitsa, the often-snowy gravel grinder in the Northeast Kingdom. Then, in August, Dickey led the pack at Woodstock’s grueling Overland Grand Prix.
Dickey admits that though 2016 was a tough year he found his stride in gravel racing. “I totally fell in love with gravel racing and riding the amazing backroads in Vermont,” he says.
When it comes to ultra trail running, Williston’s Aliza LaPierre, 35, is a pro. What else can you say about a woman who started 2016 with the Bloomfield, Ct. Traprock 50, moved on to win California’s Miwok 100K (and placed 11th overall) and then, in August, headed to France to race the 166K Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc?
The former ice hockey player and para educator didn’t win that one, she was 23rd finishing in 35 hours, 40 minutes. But she did more than most in simply finishing the grueling race. The event sent runners between three countries: Italy, Switzerland and France and over mountain passes with a total elevation gain of 31,496 feet.
As LaPierre told Vermont Sports in 2015 (just after she finished second in Japan’s 105-mile Ultra Trail Mt. Fuji): “My ultimate goal is to see what I’m capable of and push others to see what they’re capable of and, of course, to have fun.” Of course, everyone’s idea of fun is different. For LaPierre, fun also meant finishing up 2016 by winning a 50-kilometer race in Lynchburg, Va. appropriately called the Mountain Masochist Trail Run.
Ultra runner Kasie Enman may have cut back on her racing since having her second child. But that didn’t stop the Huntington woman from finishing second this past season in the 50K National Championships at Tamalpais Headlands in California. Enman also took second in the Whiteface Sky Race (part of the world Skyracing circuit she dominated in 2015), finishing the Adirondack trail marathon in 3:18:18.
While there are plenty of trails to train on in Vermont, there are fewer places that offer ultra swimmers the challenges of open water. Lake Memprhemagog is one and swimming in it in March (without a wetsuit) is one way Paula Yankauskas trained for her English Channel crossing this past fall. Several Vermonters have done the Channel swim, (most recently Wallingford’s Bethany Bosch in 2014), but this year the 62-year-old veterinarian from Hyde Park became the oldest woman to ever swim from England to France. She completed the 23-mile journey in just over 16 hours. That wasn’t her longest swim: In 2014, Yankauskas swam the length of Memphremagog, 25-miles, in 19 hours, 55 minutes.
By comparison, crossing the 32-mile body of water between the Hawaiian islands of Molokai and Oahu by paddleboard might seem like a piece of cake. But throw in 12-foot waves, sharks, winds and tides and you can start to understand why this channel, Ka’iwi Channel, is also known as the Channel of Bones. Molokai to Oahu, or M2O, as it has been nicknamed, is the most prestigious race in paddleboarding. Dr. Bob Arnot of Stowe has raced it several times since 2012, but this year, at age 68, he became the oldest to ever complete the race, making the crossing on a SUP in 7 hours, 43 minutes. Arnot, a TV correspondent, trained all summer with Russ Scully, of Burlington’s WND&WVS surf shop. Scully also competed, racing in the standup two-person team with pro big wave surfer Chuck Patterson. Their team finished in 5 hours, 38 minutes.
Born and raised in Vermont, Ian Forgays has hiked the Long Trail three times, end to end. If he had done hiked it this year, he would have nailed a hat trick few have accomplished: three human powered traverses of the length of Vermont in one year on three different trails. Last winter Forgays, 50, left his home in Bristol and navigated the length of the Catamount Trail. “We headed north first to the Canadian border, hoping to find more snow and then did the southern part, which was solid ice,” he says. He followed that up this summer by spending five days riding the Cross Vermont Bike Packing Route (a.k.a. XVT BR), 300 miles of off-road riding linking singletrack and old forest roads between the Massachusetts and Canadian borders.
This past October, Emerson Lynn came in second place overall (all age classes for his weight
division) for the bench press at the 100 Percent Raw World Powerlifting Championships in Eerie, Penn., with a lift of 297.6 pounds. He placed first in the 65-plus division at the same meet and is now ranked number one in the nation in both his 60-plus and 65-plus weight class (which is 148 pounds.) The publisher of the St. Albans Messenger also holds the world record for his age group (60+) with a bench press of 300.7 pounds set in 2012 and is ranked 7th overall (for all ages) in his weight class, nationally, with that same lift. Nor is Lynn at his peak. He benched 308 pounds this past October, but that weight was disqualified when one heel came slightly off the mat. Lynn only competes in the “raw” events, which ban all drugs (competitors are drug tested) and any use of support gear such as a bench shirt or squat suit.