Vermonters know how to play hard. It’s part of our nature. Through all seasons and all kinds of weather, we take to the trails, lakes, mountains, rivers and roads in pursuit of a faster split, a higher grade, a podium finish or the simple joy that comes after a long day spent pursuing what we love.
This past fall we asked for your picks for Vermont’s top individual athletes of 2015 and received nominations for every possible sport. Not only were these men and women superb competitors, more importantly, they had stories to tell.
Choosing who would make the list was a remarkably tough job. There were many standout performances this year by Vermont amateurs such as Bolton’s Courtney Kaup, who placed second in her age group in the ITU Off-Road World Triathlon Championships in Sardinia, Italy; Warren’s Drew Duffy who bested the country’s best ski racers for a surprise win in the Super-G at the U.S. Nationals and Aliza Lapierre who ran to second place at Japan’s 100-mile Ultra Trail Mt. Fuji.
But in the end, we looked for people who had a consistently great year and reach the top of their sports in both national and international arenas. They also had to have strong ties to Vermont and either liver here or spend significant time here.
The 10 top athletes, listed in no particular order below, put Vermont on the global sports map. But just as important, their collective experiences tell deeper stories of perseverance in the face of unlikely odds. With demanding training and competition schedules, they also juggle day jobs, families and the rest of the obligations and headaches we all know.
And many of them spend significant time giving back: Andy Newell has been an advocate for fighting climate change, penning op-eds for The New York Times and starting the advocacy organization, Athletes For Action.
Kelly Clark, through her eponymous foundation, has given away more than $100,000 in scholarships to help young athletes. Lea Davison co-founded Little Bellas to help young women gain confidence through cycling. They, and many others here, make time to coach and help young people in their sports.
While Pavel Cenkl may not be a “competitive athlete” of the caliber of some of the others here, his remarkable run across Iceland and work on behalf of science and raising awareness of climate change earned him a spot on the 2015 list.
Going forward, we will keep one spot open on this annual list for an athlete who does something remarkable each year for the greater good.
That’s a goal as important as winning.