Local Olympian visits hometown, inspires youth

BENNINGTON -- A world-renowned Olympic athlete visited three area elementary schools this week.

Andrew "Andy" Newell, a 29-year-old Shaftsbury native and member of the U.S. Olympic Nordic Racing team, met with Molly Stark Elementary and Shaftsbury Elementary students Tuesday and Bennington Elementary students Wednesday, to give them a glimpse into his career and tips on how to achieve their own goals.

Newell began his presentation by explaining the sport of Nordic skiing to students and even showed them video clips of past races in which he skied.

"I knew I wanted to be a cross-country ski racer when I was pretty young," Newell told students, as a segue into his power point presentation, "The Nordic Journey," in which he recounted his "journey" from young skier to Olympian.

Newell explained that he began racing at 5 years of age on nearby Prospect Mountain, and, by age 13, he was competing in and winning Junior Olympic events.

It wasn't until after graduating from high school, however, that Newell decided to seriously pursue a professional skiing career.

A twelfth-place finish in the 2005 World Championships earned him a spot on the U.S. National Ski Team and, eventually, a spot on the 2006 U.S. Olympic Team.

Since that time, Newell has competed in the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, British Columbia and is currently training to compete in the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.

Throughout his presentation, Newell asked students to think about their own goals and had students explain in their own words what they thought the word, "goal" meant.

He explained to the students that he and his teammates have goals -- big ones and small ones -- which they constantly have to remind themselves of while they are training.

His team's "big goal," Newell explained, is to be "the best cross country skiing team in the world."

In order to reach this goal, Newell explained to students that smaller goals must be met by him and his teammates, like eating well, "getting fit," and training hard, most of the time for more than five hours a day.

Newell told the students that he and his teammates began to see their hard work and small goals pay off as they started to "place" or win medals at various races throughout their training period (since 2010).

"We learned from our mistakes and we saw that our plan was working," he said, explaining to students that it's important to "never give up."

Newell said that since the Vancouver Olympics, his team has also vowed to make sure they are always working as a team and pushing each other, as well as taking the time to share in each other's successes.

"Even if I don't win a gold medal, but my teammate does, I'm still happy for them," Newell explained to the students. "As a team, you need to support each other. That's how you make a strong team."

Newell explained that he and his teammates would leave on November 15 for their European training session.

During this time, they will ski in 10 different countries in preparation for the February games.

"In order to feel our best and race our best at the Olympics, we need to race the other great skiers in the world," Newell told students, explaining that some of the "best skiers" live in the countries they'll be skiing in, including Norway, Sweden, Germany, and Austria.

At the end of the presentation, Newell fielded questions from students.

"No, I've never won an Olympic medal. That's one of my goals for this year," he said in answer to one student's question. "I don't care if it's a gold medal really, or a silver or a bronze, I just want to finish in the top three at the Olympics."

Following his presentation at Molly Stark Elementary, Newell explained that he enjoys returning to his Bennington roots and visiting its schools.

"I think it's important," he said. "It's always been my goal to get more kids interested in cross-country skiing. That's one of the reasons I do these school visits. A lot of these kids grow up here and may not even know that the sport exists, so, just to get it on their radar is really neat."

Newell said that speaking to students is always a positive experience, but particularly special on "Olympic years" like this one.

"During Olympic years, it's cool to gear the talks towards kids achieving their goals and what it takes to accomplish their goals," Newell said. "The idea that you can pretty much accomplish anything if you work hard enough is a really important message."

Newell went on to say that although he has visited schools across the state of Vermont and New York, he feels his presentations are particularly meaningful to students in Bennington.

"I feel like that message of accomplishing things gets across well because I grew up and went to school here just like these guys did, skiing in the area," he said. "I really just want them to know that anything is possible."

Contact Elizabeth A. Conkey at econkey@benningtonbanner.com or follow her on Twitter @bethconkey.


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