Vermont father and son prepare for Youth Skyrunning World Championship

John and Ryan Kerrigan making most of role they stumbled into
Published: Jul. 22, 2021 at 12:05 AM EDT
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SOUTH DUXBURY, Vt. (WCAX) - South Duxbury’s John Kerrigan and his son Ryan have always had a passion for running and other endurance sports.

“Well I played in high school and college, cross country running, indoor track, cross country skiing,” John said.

“I kind of lean toward Nordic skiing because it was more in the elements, more hilly as well,” Ryan added. “That was my first passion.”

John has been a longtime cross country, nordic, and track coach at Harwood, while Ryan competed for the Highlanders before joining the Nordic team at UVM.

“It was tough because when we first came in, the other sports were more popular,” John said. “Like baseball, and soccer and so on.”

“The weekends is when the meets happened, and it was cheaper than going to the babysitter I guess,” Ryan joked. “It was pretty much run or die.”

But it was a desire to find something off the beaten path that set them on their current course.

“We’d been coaching a Summer program,” Ryan said. “The more we looked, the more we kept getting drawn towards these hot flat places for these kind of more high caliber cross country races. And we were purposefully training kids out of the hills to perform at these other races. And that just didn’t sit well.”

“He came home one evening and he said, ‘Jeese dad, I’d like to find something that’s cool for the kids to do,’” John said. “I said, ‘Well what about a trip somewhere.’ He’s online, he said, ‘Well what about this race in Andorra?’ And the first thing I said is, ‘Where the hell’s Andorra?’”

It was a skyrunning competition. But what exactly is skyrunning?

“Skyrunning is running from lower elevation to high elevation,” Ryan said.

“Skyrunning consists of two races: a VK, which is a vertical kilometer straight up the mountain, and then a sky race,” John added.

“The difference between skyrunning and other types of running is skyrunning is driven by the elements,” Ryan continued. “You’re driven by the rocks, by the skree, by the snow, by the altitude. Cross Country and track and field, we’re kind of more dependent on man-made guides, like a track.”

But what the Kerrigans didn’t realize is exactly what competition they’d entered themselves and their mostly Harwood kids into.

“We went over and it turns out it was the World Junior Skyrunning Championships,” John said. “And we get there and there’s all these national teams. They have Espana, Italia, you know uniforms. We have the Vermont Independent shirts on.”

“At the end of the competition, the director of the race said, ‘I want to see all the national team coaches over here at the end of the race today,’” Ryan said. “So we kind of went over and looked left and looked right, and everyone else didn’t look like us so we thought we must be it.”

So now, if almost by accident, the Kerrigans are the coaches of the US Skyrunning youth national team. And next week, they and their team are headed to Italy to compete in the 2021 Youth Skyrunning World Championships.

“Looking forward to just having the kids, seeing the kids’ faces and having that experience and running up the mountain and being with other kids,” John said. “Swapping stories and training plans and so on and cultures. That’s a lot of fun.”

The championships run from July 30th to August 1st in L’Aquila, Italy.

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