Editorial: Matt Whitcomb On Why You Should Support the NNF Drive for 25


These fine athletes [American team at 2023 World Juniors/U23s in Whistler] think that you should donate to NNF. (photo: ©flyingpoint)

This is Tuesday. It is the second day of Drive for 25, the flagship fundraising program of the National Nordic Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports developing American skiers.

I talked with Matt Whitcomb, the head coach of the U.S. Ski Team, earlier today about why NNF is important, and about why supporting NNF supports American skiing. If you don’t read a single additional word of this interview and just go here and donate $25 (or more) to NNF right now, neither Matt nor I would be offended. In fact, speaking as someone who just spent the last hour transcribing this, I would consider that time very well spent. Go donate now!

Once you come back from donating, you should read the rest of this article. My questions are in bold; Whitcomb’s answers are in roman text. Go team.

Matt Whitcomb, right, with Ben Ogden in Ruka earlier this week (photo: Leann Bentley for USSS)

Nordic Insights: So tell me about Drive for 25, and why people should care about it.

Matt Whitcomb: This is one of my favorite times of the year, for a couple of obvious reasons.

One, the World Cup season is about to start; the SuperTour season is about to start; you start seeing pictures throughout the U.S. of people getting their first tracks on snow and just having a blast.

And at the same time as everyone in our greater U.S. skiing community prepares for that snow, we’re also trying to activate our troops to raise some money for our best upcoming kids, who are 14 to 23 years old. And that is the National Nordic Foundation’s Drive for 25. It’s our grassroots campaign that we’ve been running for some 10 years. [Ed. Think about what has happened in American skiing over the past 10 years. This may not be a coincidence.]

And essentially what we do is we try and accomplish two goals. One is we try to achieve more than 1,000 individual donations of $25 or more, huge emphasis on or more. And also we try and raise $100,000. And what’s exciting about it for me is just the sheer quantity of people, from eight-year-old kids who want to spend some of their lawn-mowing money on this new sport that they love to people’s grandparents who have never skied; they live in Florida. And everybody in between; people are standing up for the same thing.

And that, to me, feels very inspiring. It’s what I’ve always loved about being a national team coach. I don’t represent any one club; I really represent all the clubs. And everybody is important in my eyes. And so this drive really captures that.

So I’m simply asking everybody who is inspired by our sport, by kids who have Olympic dreams — I invite them to donate 25 bucks.

So American nordic skiing is really a pretty small community. And when I go through that list of donors on the NNF Drive for 25 website, I feel like I know about half the people listed there. There’s some Schumachers; those must be Gus’s grandparents. It seems like there are about 27 different McCabes out there, all of whom support Novie and Dashe.

So this is sort of a softball question, but I really mean this: There are only going to be six or eight people per gender on that start line on Friday when the World Cup season kicks off in Ruka. But I’m sure you recognize more people on that donor list than I do. What does it mean for you, about the overall state of American skiing, to scroll through that list and to recognize so many names there, standing behind the athletes on the start line?

It just is an exact representation of what it means to really experience the ski family. And I’ve been at it for a long time, raced for a number of years, had great coaches all along the way, been involved with clubs and national teams.

And I have not once ever felt anything but incredible support from communities small and large. And it feels so good. It’s just our greater family, which is U.S. skiing.

These are some fine athletes supported by NNF. 2023 World Juniors, Whistler. (photo: ©flyingpoint)

On paper, you’re the high-ranking Head Coach of the U.S. Ski Team. I personally know that you go to REG camps and you work with the juniors in Park City a couple times a year, and I know that you generally have your pulse on a lot of levels of skiing in this country, not just the A-Team and B-Team racing on the World Cup. But from the outside, someone could look at this and say, Oh, he’s just the World Cup guy.

So what can you say about the importance of NNF from your perspective? I know you’re not going to get to the World Cup if you don’t start out racing lower than that. But I do want to ask, what should people know about NNF from your position as a World Cup–centric coach?

That’s a good question. And I’m also on the board of the NNF. And it is because I tend to have my finger on the pulse of every segment of the development pathway from U16 camp — which I did coach this summer, and I stopped in at an REG camp for a few days — all the way up to World Juniors ,and World Cup starts that will be awarded to non A- or B-Team athletes.

And to clarify that, the NNF funds the level that is below the A- and the B-Team on the national team, all the way down to U16. They can be 14-year-olds. The A- and the B-Team athletes are funded by the national team. The D-team athletes are partially funded by the national team, and that’s where the National Nordic Foundation starts to pick up a little bit.

And everything below that is rather significantly subsidized by the National Nordic Foundation. It’s about $85,000 that goes to World Juniors and U23 Championships every year, just so that this trip doesn’t cost each athlete $5,000.

The philosophy is, we don’t fund anything completely. We want to keep some value to the dollar for the athletes, their families, their clubs. We just want to make everything affordable for that team — that is, the athlete, the family, the club, and the NNF — and that’s how we feel like we can sustain healthy careers and not have anybody turn trips down because they can’t afford them.

Speaking as someone who self-funded his way to World Juniors and brought his own oatmeal from home for breakfast, it’s pricey to be in Whistler.

That’s right. You get it. And frankly, the financial stress, I’ve seen it on the World Cup with athletes who are funding their own way. And they’re watching every day tick by as about a $200 bill that just gets added to this tab. It keeps growing and growing and growing. And it’s really difficult to race well if you’re stressed about money. If we can make it something that is surmountable, that becomes only mildly stressful, then an athlete can race well.

photo: screenshot from current NNF page. These are just some of the many fine individual ambassadors out there.

Again, you can find the NNF Drive for 25 page here, and individual ambassadors’ donation pages here (screenshot above). I don’t want to make this about myself, but as someone who has followed this sport since the pre-Kikkan era, may I say by god but this is an amazing team with great energy. And you should donate money to the current generation of developing skiers, so that they can continue to do amazing things in this sport. Thank you for your consideration.

— Gavin Kentch

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