Senior Nordic skier Adam Luban was a key contributor for the Panthers this winter, placing inside the top-25 spots during nine of the 12 races.
In this edition of Panther Profile, the Syracuse, New York, native talks about his pride in the team, his work with disabled veterans and his Olympic dreams.
Why did you decide to attend Middlebury?
I was drawn to Middlebury because of the excellent history of the ski team and considerable investment the College makes in both the ski team and the facilities. The snowmaking and grooming crew at Rikert Nordic Center is consistently able to create the best skiing on the east coast, regardless of what mother nature provides. The team has produced numerous Olympians over the years. I wanted to be a part of that tradition of excellence, while also throwing myself into an extremely challenging and stimulating academic environment.
When did you discover your love for skiing?
I have been skiing since the age of two. Nordic skiing was just one of the things my family did on the weekends. I was more interested in other sports, like alpine skiing, soccer, and basketball. Over time, I realized my competitive streak did not match my abilities in team sports. I was usually the youngest and smallest kid in class or on the team. I played hard, but many games ended in tears after a loss, or a poor individual performance. I collected several “hardest working” participation trophies before realizing my competitive talents could better be directed elsewhere.
Skiing grew from a weekend activity to a competitive endeavor. I wasn’t the best at it, but I saw myself improving and enjoyed the hard work it took to get better. By high school, I had narrowed my competitive focus to skiing and running. I enjoyed skiing much more, so I decided to focus on being fast in the winter.
What do you think about while you are in the middle of a race?
I try to think as little as possible. I will lay out a plan for the race, and keep that in my head. At difficult points in the race, I focus on a key phrase to push myself to move a little bit quicker. Toward the end of a race, my brain totally turns off and I just push until I cross the finish line.
Describe your most memorable moment in competition.
My favorite moment in sports was the Syracuse City Championship meet my junior year of high school. The previous year, we had lost to our crosstown rivals. Losing was deeply personal; we’d been competing against each other since middle school. We all knew exactly whom we had to beat in order to win back our honor. Our rival was hosting the championship that year, and I have never been more nervous for a race. I went to the front early and broke away about halfway through the race. I was terrified of getting caught, and hammered to hold onto the lead. That combination of fear, elation and adrenaline is something I seek to replicate in every race.
I stayed ahead of the field in that race, and our team ended up finishing 1-2, good enough for us to win the title. Winning felt so good on that day because it was such a layered success. We as a team had set a goal and ultimately achieved it. The feeling of individuals coming together to accomplish something extraordinary is one of my favorite things about competing in endurance sports.
What stands out about your Middlebury ski career?
My proudest moment as a Middlebury skier was during my sophomore year, when Middlebury won the St. Michael’s carnival mixed relay. We only race one relay per season, and this was the first mixed relay I had ever done. For the first time, our entire team (men and women) would be competing in the same race. I did not ski the fastest leg that day, but I did enough to keep our team in it so that our third and fourth skiers were able to break away. That is a perfect example of why having a team around is so important, and of the achievements that are possible when a group is more than the sum of its parts.
You recently returned to the team after being sidelined for much of last year due to an illness. How tough was that?
Missing an entire season last winter was crushing. Training for skiing is a year-round project with a short window of payoff. Spending 10 months getting in the best shape possible and then being unable to compete was a major bummer. I spent a lot of time talking to my coaches [Andrew Johnson and Patty Ross], who helped me to take a longer-term view and realize that my career as a skier wouldn’t be defined by one season. With their support, and a lot of assistance from the rest of the Middlebury Athletics Department, I felt confident that I could come back even stronger this past season.
I took some time off to get healthy while staying connected to the team and still felt a part of our team’s successes. Each time I saw a teammate post a good result, my motivation to come back and race alongside them only increased. Although last winter was long and difficult to go through, it helped me gain a deeper appreciation for competition. I realized that my physical abilities were not guaranteed, and I would not always have the opportunity to ski race. Now that I am back to racing, skiing is a lot more meaningful because I have learned how easily it can be taken away.
Middlebury Nordic coach Andrew Johnson mentioned you have interned at an adaptive sports facility in Idaho.
I actually have spent two summers working at Higher Ground, an adaptive sports nonprofit organization that works with disabled veterans and children with special needs. Higher Ground hosts week-long camps that allow veterans and their families to experience the restorative power of the outdoors and participate in activities such as hand cycling, fly-fishing, mono-skiing, and others.
One of the big projects I worked on was planning and hosting the annual fundraiser, where we raised nearly a million dollars. Putting the event together was arduous and stressful, but having it go off without a hitch and seeing the impact those funds will have was very satisfying. Providing service to those who have served is personally important to me because my stepbrother is a Captain in the Army Special Forces. I found working at HG fun, challenging and ultimately fulfilling because I knew the work I was doing helped improve the lives of our veterans and their families.
What other activities do you participate in around campus?
I have done some hands-on work at the Charter House in Middlebury. Along with some teammates, I helped clear and build their new playground. We have also done some work at the farm here in town, planting carrots and vegetables, which are used at the Community Suppers.
Your plans with a degree in anthropology include…?
After graduation, I want to continue my skiing career for as long as possible. My ultimate goal is to win a gold medal at the Olympic Games. When racing is over, I would like to stay involved with high performance sport, either through coaching or returning to school for a degree in biological anthropology or sports science.
Note - The inserted photo above shows Adam (middle) leading a bike ride through town with some special summer camper friends at Higher Ground. (photo provided by Adam Luban)