Susan Dunklee’s 'This Is Why We Ski' Moment

Bend, Oregon is very special in late spring when you can ski on groomed trails at -2C and thirty minutes later be gliding and bumping through pine forests on your mountain bike at +25C. For that reason, Nordic sports teams congregate there every year for one last turn on snow as they begin the ramp-up to a new season.

This year was unique when the US Biathlon Team, US Nordic Team, and the US Paralympic Teams all converged simultaneously, with an unexpectedly sweet moment making the week extra special for Susan Dunklee and a young Para skier Elsie Hall. Dunklee had the opportunity to guide Hall, a visually impaired high school skier, during a relay practice, giving them both a memorable experience.

Dunklee commented in an Instagram post about all three teams in the same place at the same time, “These are teams I have tremendous respect for. We share the same passion for skiing but do not usually cross paths. Today we did.”

Unplanned Encounter

Her former US Biathlon teammate BethAnn Chamberlain who coaches Paralympic skiers admitted meeting up with Dunklee and Co. “was not something I planned. We were training in another area most of the time we were there. We were going to have this short fun time trial with our developing athletes. We were working with a skier with visual impairment (low vision) about having a guide as someone who helps you go faster. I ran into Susan moments before we were starting to warm up. Knowing her and how much she loves the sport and is always up for an adventure, I thought why not ask? Elsie realized that there was a certain coolness to having Susan as her guide compared to me which made it more fun. It was simple, quick and the perfect scenario.”

Finding Motivation in Community

Dunklee takes up the story, “sometimes at this point in my career, I struggle with finding the motivation to get out there and feel like I am still doing it for the right reasons. A lot of what motivates me now is the community aspect and the people. It is so rare to see the three teams all in the same place at the same time. It was so spontaneous when BethAnn said, ‘Do you want to jump into this relay with the Paralympic team; have you ever been a guide?’ My answer was, ‘No, but that sounds really cool.’ I felt honored to be asked.”

The two-time IBU World Championships-medalist found the whole experience very rewarding. 

"It is inspiring to see other athletes out there. We live a unique lifestyle; there are very few people who get it. So, when you bring all of these people who get it into one place, it is cool, even though our paths do not cross very often in training camps at Lake Placid or Soldier Hollow,” said Dunklee.

“This is why we ski”

The Instagram post from Dunklee boiled the fleeting few minutes down to “At the end of the training, I ran into a former teammate BethAnn Chamberlain who now helps coach the US Paralympic Team. ‘Hey, Susan,” she said, want to jump into our relay practice as a guide?’ What an honour! I had never tried guiding before. I spent 10 minutes racing around with a young athlete named Elsie and cheering on her teammates…This is why we ski.”

Photos: IBU/Christian Manzoni. Dani Aravich

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