Athlete, Mom & Coach : How She Is Living "The Nordic Life"

Posted by Laura McCabe on Oct 15th 2020

Athlete, Mom & Coach : How She Is Living "The Nordic Life"

By Laura McCabe 

I was born in Bozeman, Montana. We moved to Logan, Utah when I was twelve, due to my father’s research job with the forest service. I attended University of Utah, initially on a music scholarship and switched to a running scholarship after realizing I could not be secluded in a basement practice room so many hours every day. 

I began cross country skiing immediately after college. With technique pointers and coaching from John Aalberg, and additional help from Kendal Butts and Torbjorn Karlsen, I was able to make the ‘94 and ‘98 USA Olympic teams. 

My husband, Sean, and I moved to the Methow Valley in North central Washington in 1995. I began coaching U16-U18 and running the Methow Valley Ski team in 1996, and have been coaching the team ever since. 

I raced for the Fisher/Salomon factory marathon team for Andrew Gerlach from 1991-2001, until my first daughter, Novie, was born. I took a break from racing professionally for a couple years but continued coaching kids and teaching adult classes at Winthrop Physical Therapy. My second daughter, Dashe, was born in 2006. I continued as mom, coach and raced for the Salomon team at various national events whenever I could. 

I coach a masters group in the valley and have been coaching this group for 25 years. I have an art business where I sell reproductions of Sean’s art which has helped also to bring income to my family. Sean died 11 years ago and I have been the only parent to my girls which is also a big job. I also have an incredible community which has always been a huge factor in raising all of our children. 

I am keeping nordic adventures alive during covid times by taking advantage of our wonderful mountains and trails here in the Methow Valley. Ever since my girls were born, I’ve taken them on the road for at least 3 weeks every summer to climb, backpack, run and bike in other parts of the country. This year is obviously different, and trips did not happen. But we continued to take advantage of our local treasures in the North Cascades. One positive of Covid, is that our junior team had the most consistent summer training ever, given the forced lack of travel. With the exception of team activities, I did much more mountain biking than I have done in a long time, taking a break from running to add more variety. We try to get out every weekend for a long adventure in the mountains, such as backpacking in an old growth forest on the west side of the Cascades in unfamiliar territory. This spring, we took advantage of excellent skiing on packed crust on an unplowed highway 20 over the North Cascades, reaching areas inaccessible in previous years. It was an unusual time, since the valley was closed off to western state traffic to limit Covid spread to our Valley. 

Here are some tips that worked for my family, to blend enjoyment of the outdoors, ski racing and training and its benefits for all of us. 

Establish friendships with people that have kids around the same age as yours, that are also into adventuring and moving outside. I was fortunate to have my friend and Olympic teammate, Leslie Hall, live one block away, and our kids are similar ages. We shared care, while kids ran and explored throughout the neighborhood and surrounding woods where all benefited from lots of outdoor time. This grew to include additional families and long Friday adventures in the mountains. 

Be willing to push, pull, pack, carry and coax your children. I ran, skied, hiked and biked many miles with a jogger, backpack and ski sled. I think both my daughters learned so much from being carried along as babies, it imprinted lifestyle and activity in their young impressionable minds. When Novie was old enough to ski on her own, I would carry Dashe in the sled and follow Novie. When Dashe wanted to ski, she skied, and I sometimes pulled her along with a bungie. They learned how to ski and I had to continually carry extra weight. In the mountains, I packed them, piggy backed them, walked with them and eventually ran with them. Leslie and I used to do ski walking intervals with Novie and Walker on our backs. They learned about the “ready- set-go hill” we always used for intervals, and I would often hear and feel this little breath panting on my neck as she was imitating my heavy breathing. Along with this being good for everyone, it also provides incredible life long memories: such as dashing out of thunderstorms with kids freaking out, setting the kids down for one interval to lighten the load, and later realizing we had a cougar just around the next bend. 

Utilize the wee hours of the morning before they wake up for training. Use them as weights for strength training, and/or have them play near you while doing strength on the porch or grass for fun outside time. 

Prioritize bringing your children with you as much as possible. With the exposure to all that you do, they learn to love the outdoors and develop skills at a very young age. Before you know it, they are running and sprinting down the road faster than you are. You need your own time for peace of mind, make that happen in trades with your friends or partner, but prioritize bringing them with you when you can. 

If you grow a group together starting at preschool age, they can become quite inseparable. They inspire, motivate and help each other through school, sport and the emotional challenges of life. Starting so early creates incredible friendships with the people that helped you with your own children and the ability to get out and move. 

What kept me most motivated when my kids were young, was knowing that their father wanted them to have an active outdoor life. I was a solo parent from the time my oldest was 7 and youngest was 3. dSean wanted them to love the outdoors, learn the skills of how to move, play and have joy outside. There is much motivation when you know what your deceased partner wanted for your children. I was also motivated with a great desire to get out in my environment. I made a commitment to stay in shape because I wanted to move with them and needed to stay in shape to be an impactful coach for the Methow Valley ski team and the Master skiers. 

One of the biggest joys of my life now is to be out with my girls moving. Because of skills they have in running, climbing, skiing, biking etc, they can choose to do whatever they want outside. I have caught myself on a run or skiing behind them as I see their ponytails bouncing in the breeze and I know I am one of the most fortunate women in the world to see how much they love and find so much joy in what they do. 

How to balance work, training, coaching and parenting? I am fortunate that coaching juniors and masters includes a lot of movement for myself. I am also grateful that both my daughters travel with me to ski races and race themselves. I also teach adult strength classes, and am able to workout at the gym after my class when time allows. When my kids were young, I trained very early in the mornings. When they started elementary school I had more flexibility to fit something more in during the day. I run my art business from home and I have always taken the opportunity to fit training in when possible. 

What am I most excited about the 20-21 season? I am excited for this country to vote in a new president that can start repairing all the damage that has been done by the current administration. That we can each continually push for positive change in all our communities for the continued healing of our nation. I am excited for the kids on our team that have truly committed to training so consistently this summer, in the adversity of the Covid pandemic, to see how much their hard work has paid off. I am also hopeful that by next spring we will be able to make plans as individuals and communities without thinking that plans will have to change in a day a week or a month. 

What can I say about staying motivated and active during Covid times? You need a schedule! I see a schedule being so necessary with the athletes on our team. The ski team has been the most consistent thing in their lives at this time, they see friends, they interact and they are working towards their goals. If you have a training group GO…. If you do not, find a buddy and schedule intensity and strength sessions a couple times a week. Find people to ride, run and roll with, even if it is just one person. You can talk about all the confusion of this time, the state of the world, your worries, concerns, your children, future times, everything. We are all in this together, so find your people and get out safely with them. 

Make goals for yourself. I find that whatever stage of life I am in: before kiddos, young kids, teenage girls, I always need to make goals to motivate myself to bring quality to my workouts. I can get in a rut with workouts and cooking. Spice things up by looking online to find different things to do, there are so many tools out there. We do it with recipes, we should also find ways to change up our daily routine. We are fortunate that we don't need money to just get out and play, and that is what most of us need to bring calm to our lives. We may need new running shoes, fix our roller skis and bikes, but training is cheap, so get out and breathe. Take advantage of your region. Maybe there is a long bike or running adventure that you have put off for way too long that is in your backyard. Plan this year to get in shape and treat yourself to a race or adventure in Europe when our country gets its act together. Make that home gym that you have been planning to make for the last 5-10 years and use it. Home gyms can be very simple, a pull up bar ( so many things to do on that) stairs or steps, few weights, yoga matt, bands. Make it a priority to use this time to motivate yourself and your family since you get to spend so much more time together. 

There is a silver lining to the mess our country is in. We get to spend a lot of time together with those that are closest to us, and motivated to create positive changes in our communities and nation.