ON THE SCENE: Biesemeyer helping skiers with World Cup Dreams
By any measure, Olympian Tommy Biesemeyer of Keene has had an extraordinary athletic career. While a downhill training run crash at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, tore his Achilles and prevented him from competing, Biesemeyer won a lot of races at all stages of his competitive journey. Like others who push the envelope in sport, he had his fair share of injuries, some severe.
While Biesemeyer stepped away from racing, the drive, intelligence and passion remain. Instead of coaching, as so many retired world-class athletes do, Biesemeyer has decided to give back to his sport by taking the lead of the World Cup Dreams Foundation.
“The World Cup Dreams Foundation supported me back in the day,” said Biesemeyer. “I felt that taking this job is a great way for me to give back to the sport. After I stepped down, there were many suggestions that I could get into coaching. I was reluctant to do so because it was too close to home for me. I couldn’t see myself sitting on the side of the hill when I could be on it; when I could be in the race. The wound that I am no longer a ski racer hasn’t healed yet. So regardless, I felt World Cup Dreams was a good fit because there is so much need out there.”
Founded a decade ago by downhiller Bryon Friedman and giant slalom specialist Erik Schlopy, the World Cup Dreams Foundation is dedicated to assisting our country’s best snow-sport athletes by providing ongoing career management, mentorship, and financial support. In an authentic sense, it’s athletes supporting athletes. The foundation began by organizing fundraisers to cover the athletes’ liability insurance and expanded from there.
“There are funding gaps in a lot of places for athletes that need to be filled,” said Andrew Weibrecht, of Lake Placid, who won medals in the super-G Alpine ski event at the 2010 and 2014 Olympic Winter Games. “They exist down to the C Team level for the Ski Team, and on down to the development level. They include high-level athletes coming out of college that aren’t in the ski team pipeline but are very promising.”
Money is, of course, critical, but so too is learning how to stay focused and deal with and come back from injuries. To that end, athletes have been involved with the foundation by helping organize events and assisting emerging talent along the way. The foundation also allows and encourages people to establish a fund to channel tax-deductible donations to a particular athlete or group of athletes.
“Tommy’s enthusiasm is fairly contagious,” said Weibrecht. “I think that’s a huge asset going into this world. He has a solid fundraising background. He and a couple of other guys created the B Team fundraiser that was ultimately taken over by the ski team because it was so successful. Tommy has a ton of energy. He’s a very genuine person. He’s been there. He’s done it so that he can speak to the issues. I think it’s a great fit. I’m excited.”
Both Biesemeyer and Weibrecht spoke about how their parents were great role models. In terms of the support, they gave them in a multitude of ways, and for their work ethic and efforts to improve aspects of community life through serving on boards, making financial contributions and creating opportunities for others, especially the youth of this region.
Biesemeyer’s mother, Tish, discussed the incredible sacrifices Tommy made along the way to pursue his dreams. Those sacrifices included putting aspects of his education on the back burner, dealing with some bruising injuries that sidelined him and required months of mental and physical effort to get back into form, and the unrelenting sustained focus that becoming a top racer required. She added that he had to continually identify what improvements he needed to get better.
“Tommy goes beyond the immediate self-gratification stuff; he wants to focus on the long-term because he knows it’s a journey,” said Tish. “He’s learned and understands that. So, for him, supporting other athletes over time makes complete sense. So many young people going into business want the click the button, here it is. Life doesn’t work that way. You have to sustain and ride the course, be patient, and bob and weave when you need to.”
Biesemeyer said when he was young, he was very competitive. He didn’t care what it was, whether it was trying to win the junior championship (tennis) at the Keene Valley Club or becoming an Adirondack 46er; he just loved competition. He tried ski jumping, cross-country skiing and then Alpine skiing, which clicked. He and his coaches discovered he was a natural; he was at home on skis. He quickly got into the competitive side of skiing, seeking every opportunity to improve his skills and compete. He soon figured out that he needed to win races to advance, and that required making choices and putting in the time.
“It’s a beast of a sport,” said Biesemeyer. “You have so many more bad days than good days. You leave the mountain most days feeling beaten down, just because it never really goes the way you wanted it to. But I loved it. A lot of my teammates on the ski team are the same way. When you make the ski team, you are with a group of people that have all made the same kind of commitment, have the same kind of passion.”
Just as local Winter Olympic athletes like Joe Lamb, Jim Shea, Lowell Bailey, Tim Burke, Gordy Sheer, Jay Rand and Weibrecht have returned and are turning their passion into giving back to their sports, so too is Biesemeyer. Currently, with help from his dad, he’s building a home in Keene while working on a degree in business at the University of Vermont. After that, he plans to explore work opportunities as he seeks ways to strengthen the foundation so it can support emerging talent in any snow sport.
“Ultimately, I want to be able to help athletes here as well as throughout the country,” said Biesemeyer. “They can be a cross-country skier or biathlete grinding away at Mount Van Hoevenberg, a jumper or Nordic combined, or a boarder as well as in Alpine. It would be great for them and their families to get some support and access to channels to help them pursue their dreams. I know that for me when I got some support that enabled me to keep going, it made me feel very good.”
For Biesemeyer to increase support for snow athletes in his home region, he will need help, people who are willing to give or raise money, serve as mentors, and for some, serve on the foundation board. It is essential to know that around 90% of funds raised provide direct aid and services to the athletes. The foundation is a lean operation, and Biesemeyer intends to keep it that way as he knows from personal experience how critical each dollar is to the athletes.
(Naj Wikoff lives in Keene Valley. He has been covering events for the News for more than 15 years.)