I’m really honored to receive Vermont Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame’s 2019 Paul Robbins Award. Until Paul died suddenly in 2008, he was a mentor, friend, sounding board, guiding light, and non-stop source of comic relief for me. I still miss him (sniff).
Paul Robbins started writing about ski racing in the 1960s. His work appeared in many magazines, including Skiing, SKI and Ski Racing. Robbins worked at eight Winter Olympics, every one since 1980 in Lake Placid. He had served as a press officer for the U.S. Ski Team, as well as a commentator on Nordic sports for CBS and NBC. He was a friend to athletes, coaches, administrators, writers and readers. He died unexpectedly at age 68 in 2008.
The award recognizes ski and snowboard journalists who, with the same commitment as Paul Robbins, perform their skill in written, broadcast or photo journalism with ethics, humor, good taste, and always with the promotion of Vermont skiing and snowboarding and the larger communities in mind. The recipient is selected not solely on the basis of one story, but rather, on a lifetime of service to the ski and snowboard community.
Peggy Shinn grew up and learned to ski in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom but did not start writing about the sport until after she moved back to Vermont in 1997. She began by covering local skiing for the Rutland Herald and soon was contributing to just about every ski publication in North America, including Ski Racing, Skiing, SKI, and Ski Press, as well as several other newspapers and websites. In 2008, she became a founding writer for TeamUSA.org and since then, has covered five Olympic Games. For her feature writing, she is a four-time winner of the Harold S. Hirsch Award, presented annually by the North American Snowsports Journalists Association.
On February 6, 2018, her second book, World Class: The Making of the U.S. Women’s Cross-Country Ski Team, hit the shelves. Two weeks later, Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins won the U.S.’s first Olympic gold medal in cross-country skiing. The book chronicles the history of women’s Nordic skiing in the U.S. and how the women built a team that could compete on the world stage. In spring 2019, World Class received the International Skiing History Association’s Ullr Award and NASJA’s Harold S. Hirsch Award. Her first book, Deluge, chronicled Tropical Storm Irene, flash floods in Vermont, and how the state saved itself.
Until he passed away in 2008, Paul Robbins was a mentor, a friend, a guiding light, and non-stop source of comic relief for Peggy in this crazy world of ski writing. In World Class, she titled a chapter “Onward” in honor of Paul, as that was how he signed off on his emails. She keeps a picture of Paul, in his trademark tam, on her desk.
Peggy lives in Rutland with her husband, daughter, and hopefully one day soon, another cat.
As I sit here in Seoul’s Incheon Airport, I’m at the same gate/on the same flight as the U.S.’s gold-medal-winning curling team. Earlier, one of them watched my bags while I ran to the bathroom during the insanely long check-in process at the Delta counter.
I’d been sitting on a bus for three hours, I explained to Tyler George, who stood ahead of me in line. Would he watch my bags while I ran to pee?
“Of course,” he said, as I ran off in search of the loo.
This summed up my experience covering the PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games: long waits punctuated by the kinds of moments that make us remember why we cover sports. Every so often, we catch an unscripted glimpse inside what makes these inspirational athletes tick.
Like Lindsey Vonn reflecting on her many injuries and comebacks after she finished third in the downhill.
“When you’re young, you ski and you win and you don’t appreciate things,” she told us, after we stood in the mixed zone (where athletes talk to the media) for 3 hours, 2 minutes waiting for her to tell us what winning an Olympic bronze medal felt like. (Because every TV station from NBC to the Serbians wanted to interview her, and TV is higher on the Olympic food chain.)
“I’ve been in the fences so many times, I know so many doctors on a first name basis,” she told us. “It’s ridiculous. If you need any medical care, I can hook you up with the right doctor.”
As if we were her friends. In previous Olympics and world championships, she has provided more rehearsed answers and not spent more than a minute or two with us in the mixed zone.
Or finding David Wise’s sisters in the crowd at the ski halfpipe competition, and them telling me that their little brother — who had just won his second Olympic gold medal — began freeskiing “in the era when they were doing one trick multiple times.”
“He’s been the one to be like, no, we need to spin both ways, we need to have variation in our tricks and grabs are important,” his sister Jessica said, which helped explain David’s role in the freeskiing world. And why he had just won his second gold medal.
Or watching the women’s XC team sprint in the stands with the American skiers’ friends and families. Before the race, I had been chatting with Jessie Diggins’s grandmother. At least I think it was her grandmother. It was hard to hear about the crowd noise. As we all hugged and screamed after Jessie and Kikkan Randall won the U.S.’s first Olympic gold medal in cross-country skiing, I saw tears in her eyes — streaming through the American flags painted on her cheeks.
Or Ester Ledecka coming into the press conference after she won the women’s super-G gold medal — beating the likes of world and Olympic champions Anna (Fenninger) Veith and Lindsey Vonn. Ledecka wore her goggles on stage and joked that she couldn’t take them off because she had to represent her sponsor. Then when pressed, she confessed that she had not expected to win a medal that day, so had not brought any eye make-up.
And what’s not to like about a champion who confesses that chocolate is her form of doping?
These are moments we journalists live for, through the grueling hours and sleep deprivation, long (hot!) bus rides, and lack of decent nutrition. It’s a MASH-like experience, where we forge friendships or at least kinship with those who are also freezing in the Siberian wind, waiting for hours for the American who finished sixth in moguls to tell us how he feels, and who also haven’t eaten a real meal in the past 15 hours. Korean Oreos, anyone?
But there are also moments that don’t make it to press. And it’s these moments, as much as the gold-medal-winning performances, that keep us coming back.
Here are a few of mine — in no particular order:
It was, for me, as inspirational as any athletic performance in PyeongChang.
My book is now available for purchase. Click here to order a copy from the publisher.
Coming to a book store near you in January 2018.