LAKE PLACID - Northwood School students have been taking distance learning lessons from Russia. Their teacher: Andrew Weibrecht.
When Weibrecht - a Lake Placid native and 2003 Northwood graduate - surprised the world by capturing the silver medal in the super-giant slalom Feb. 16 at the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, he taught students at his alma mater about the trials of life and the rewards of hard work.
"It's definitely an inspiration, especially since he's had a lot of injuries the past few years," said Northwood senior Shannon Haggerty, who competes on the school's alpine ski team. "He definitely fought hard for those two medals."
Northwood School senior Shannon Haggerty and sophomore Dillon Smith are two alpine skiers inspired by the Olympic success of Andrew Weibrecht, Northwood Class of 2003. (News photo — Andy Flynn)
Weibrecht has been fighting injuries since earning a bronze medal in the super-G at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, including surgery on both shoulders. He even lost sponsorship from the U.S. ski team. But the "Warhorse," as he's nicknamed, didn't give up.
So what's the lesson from Sochi?
"Perseverance, hard work, it all pays off in the long run," said Northwood sophomore Dillon Smith, who also competes on the school's alpine team. "Using a ski metaphor, there are going to be a lot of ruts in the course. You're never going to have a perfect run. You've just got to absorb it and push through. It's going to be worth it in the end."
Smith was struck by watching Weibrecht recover from his injuries.
"I remember one of the times he visited he had his arm in a sling," Smith said. "He had such a good attitude about it. He was just going to get back on it when the injury was over. He was still trying to keep fit even though he had an injury."
"I think it's awesome that he bounced back from it and kept level through it all because that's part of ski racing," Haggerty added. "You've got to bounce back sometimes."
The students and their coach, Northwood Alpine Program Director Guy Middleton, watched Weibrecht's Olympic racing closely this past weekend. They noticed the Olympian's humble approach to his post-race interviews, but they weren't surprised by it. Weibrecht is a familiar face to Northwood students, as he visits the school when he comes home to Lake Placid.
"The students know him, and they have a connection with him, not only because he was a student here but because he still interacts at Northwood," Middleton said. "We've trained next to him in the past."
While Weibrecht's Olympic achievements have had a profound effect on Northwood students, those lessons from Sochi won't change Middleton's message to young athletes.
"But I think it certainly supports the message that we've been getting across to all the athletes, which is if you work hard through dedication, determination and perseverance, that it can happen at any level, whether it's the Olympic level or New York state ski racing or within the nation," Middleton said.
Middleton uses Weibrecht's example to support those words of wisdom.
"I'd say that Andrew sat here in the same seats that these guys are sitting in, and they have the same opportunity that he does,'" Middleton said. "And if they take advantage of it, you never know what can happen."
Haggerty, from Woodstock, N.Y., and Smith, from Norwood, N.J., have been skiing since they were 3 years old. This weekend, they'll have the opportunity to find glory for themselves as they compete in the alpine skiing state championships. Haggerty will ski in the U18 races at Gore Mountain in North Creek, and Smith will ski in the U16 races at Whiteface Mountain in Wilmington.
Haggerty, who has no plans to train for the Olympics, mainly skis just for fun and wants to race in college. She plans to attend Castleton College in Vermont and study athletic training. Her events on the slopes are slalom, giant slalom and super-G, and her favorite is giant slalom.
"It's my best event," Haggerty said. "I like making bigger turns, but not as big as super-G."
Smith, who has been racing since he was 8 years old, would like to attend Middlebury College in Vermont and study architecture while racing on the school's alpine team. He is bolstered by his own success on the slopes this season, which is the first time he's won a super-G race.
"It really helps to be at a school where you can train all the time, and you can get so much coach feedback," Smith said.
As for Olympic dreams, Smith is taking it one step at a time, keeping his options open while trying to be realistic.
"World Cup is always a real goal, not necessarily realistic, but a goal." Smith said. "Realistically, I want to race for a D-1 college school, NCAA."
For coach Middleton, Weibrecht's continued success on the alpine slopes at the Olympics speaks a lot about Northwood's job of preparing students for the future.
"It says that we not only produce well-rounded students, but we also have the ability to produce some of the best skiers in the world," Middleton said.