I parked my car in the McDonalds parking lot in Moab, Utah on April 13th. I then embarked on a solo mountain bike ride along the infamous Pipe Dream trail right above town. I hate this trail. In reality it is a great trail with a lot of difficult sessions, tons to love. Except I ALWAYS crash on this trail. An hour into my ride I took part in my to be expected crash. This one was solid. I climbed my bike and myself back up the ledges of boulders and found the trail that had just booted me. I finished the ride, mounted the bike on the Subaru, grabbed a coffee and an Egg McMuffin, then hit the road again. Moab wasn’t my final destination, I was headed to Albuquerque, New Mexico for the next month.
I was hypnotizing the drive away with a good mix of This American Life Podcasts and The Vaccines discography when my phone beeped. Yeah I’m well aware that phones are off limits while driving but I glanced. One word, just one word on the screen of my phone. A dreadful feeling rose up in my gut when I read that word. I immediately felt sick.
The message read, “Cut.” The message was from my girlfriend. No I wasn’t getting cut, this wasn’t a breakup text. My girlfriends name is Brenna Egan and she is a member of the University of New Mexico Ski Team. On April 13th the University of New Mexico decided to cut the ski team. She got cut.
For her, April 13th started just like most days. The one difference was midway through the day when she received a text from her head coach. The text message informed her to skip the rest of her classes and get to a meeting as fast as possible. No further information. She showed up for the meeting and met eyes with the rest of her team made up of alpine and cross-country skiers. “What is this all about?” they were thinking. The instant that meeting was opened it was very apparent what the meeting was about. They were done. Just like that, no warning. Tears started to flow in that room.
The rest of my drive was horrific. I couldn’t hypnotize myself with music. My brain was firing around thoughts rapidly. How could something like this happen? This brought flashbacks of when I was eighteen years old. That winter I had achieved the criteria to qualify for the US Ski Team, an elusive dream I had since a seven year old boy. After the season I figured “the call” would come any day. “Hey Ben congratulations on a great season, welcome to the US Ski Team, lets get to work.” I never got that call. The call I got came weeks later. It went something like this. “Ben, Nordic Combined was cut from the US Ski Team. We have no funding and no idea what is next. You are welcome to move to Park City, train, and see what happens.”
Yes I could relate on a fundamental level but emotionally, I could never understand what if felt like to truly be in these athletes’ shoes. I had so many questions that I could not ask from the driver’s seat of my car, so I drove a little faster hoping to get some answers. I arrived to the saddest home one could imagine. Brenna’s home consisted of five skiers and a swimmer. The girls were all stunned. They had traveled here to Albuquerque from all over the world to represent this team. This team was no longer. I didn’t get any answers because these young men and women didn’t have any either. There was one answer though, “We are going to fight.” Earlier I said that on April 13th the University of New Mexico Ski Team was cut. I would like to rephrase that accurately. On April 13th, 2017 the University of New Mexico Ski Team began to fight.
This wasn’t just a fight for their careers, although it most definitely was that. This was a fight for the future of skiing. This was a fight for Collegiate skiing, USA skiing, skiing in the state of New Mexico, and for the next generation of kids. A fight for kids growing up with the hope to get an education through their passion. For the next month I got to witness this teams fight. In my twenty-one years of life, this was truly the most unbelievable feat I have witnessed. Every time I sat in on a team meeting, protest, or discussion, I felt the pain of their loss more and more. More importantly though, I felt the determination and belief that it couldn’t be over. I got to know these athletes and their backgrounds. From Norway, Sweden, Finland, France, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, and USA, these athletes all descended upon Albuquerque in their own unique ways. Once in Albuquerque they formed a bond because no matter where they came from or how, this was their team now, their shoulders carried this team together. These young men and women ended up here because they were granted a promise. A promise that they could continue their education and ski careers while representing a team full of history and pride. This promise was broken and the result was a scar that cut every athlete to the core.
Over those four weeks the Lobos Ski Team devised a plan and attacked head on. Whether handing out fliers around town and campus, taking part in interviews, holding press conferences, or reaching out to the ski community, the team stayed diligent. On top of all this responsibility they continued to train and study for the final exams that were looming ahead. Many believe that the Ski Team belongs in Albuquerque because of their extraordinary results. Others believe it is because of their school leading GPA. Obviously those are valid reasons. For me though, I believe that the Ski Team belongs in Albuquerque because when they were told it was over, they said NO.
On May 11th Brenna and I were driving back from Albuquerque to Park City. We were right outside of Durango when she received a text. Her phone beeped and she looked down quietly for what felt like minutes. Then softly said, “Ski team reinstated.” I lost it. I released a couple strong fist pumps and proceeded to hoot and holler.
Brenna though, she remained composed. Yes the ski team is back but it isn’t that simple. The effects of the cut will last. There are many unknowns still. Unknowns such as budget size, stability of the team in the future, and athletes coming back to ski. However she is a Lobo and she will return. She will return because that is her team. That is where her loyalty lies. That is where my loyalty lies as well, now more than ever. Not with the university or the athletic department. My loyalty lies to the team of incredible humans who fought back and won. Well done Lobos.