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US Youth Skyrunning team features Vermont flair

Two coaches and three athletes hail from Green Mountain State
Published: Jul. 24, 2021 at 2:27 AM EDT
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SOUTH DUXBURY, Vt. (WCAX) - John and Ryan Kerrigan of South Duxbury got their running club into Skyrunning a few years ago when they realized just how good a training ground their home state provided for the sport.

“Vermont is the perfect playground for getting involved in skyrunning,” Ryan said. “You basically can’t go out the door without hitting a mountain.”

When they first stumbled upon the Youth Skyrunning World Championships back in 2017, their roster was made up entirely of Vermonters. But with their newfound status as the coaches of Team USA, their international competition asked the Kerrigans to expand their search for athletes.

“The kids did real well, extremely well,” John said. “And they said come back next year and bring kids from other than Vermont. The USA’s a big country.”

But the Green Mountain State will still be well represented at the 2021 edition: three Vermonters are included in the eight-person team, Middlebury’s Will Haig along with siblings Finn and Naia Tower Pierce of East Burke. Naia in particular is champing at the bit to get back on the trail.

“Well I’ve been in Paris for the last month, so mostly looking forward to being in mountains,” Naia Tower Pierce said. “But I’m also really excited for racing. Feeling that sensation of your legs burning and your heart beating and you’re out of breath.”

There are a few ways in which Naia and her teammates are disadvantaged compared to their competitors.

“In Europe, skyrunning is very structured,” Tower Pierce said. “There’s camps and teams...it’s a thing. In the US, it’s not.”

“In Europe, it’s extremely popular,” John added. “Here we have Green Mountain Valley School ski academy. Well there, they have skyrunning academies.”

Being spread out from Vermont all the way to Alaska, its impossible for Team Usa to train together much of the time. But even more challenging is the fact the competitors have to pay their own way to the competition.

“So many of the countries recognize skyrunning within their national government,” Ryan said. “There’s a pipeline and coaches that are organized. In the US, it’s very independent. And so athletes need to rely on family members and other community members and so on to make it possible.”

In any event, Team USA has acquitted themselves well over the years despite their disadvantages. And they’re hopeful they can continue that in the first championship post COVID.

“I am super excited,” Tower Pierce said. “I was really bummed that it didn’t happen last year, but I am so psyched for it, so psyched to race again and to race at a really hard course again. And see my friends and yeah just do it all again.”

The 2021 Youth Skyrunning World Championships begin a week from Friday in L’Aquila, Italy.

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