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Aroostook County Rallies Around Maine Olympian's Biathlon Dream
01/28/2014   Reported By: Patty B. Wight

In Aroostook County, residents of the tiny town of Stockholm and neighboring communities are all abuzz over the upcoming Olympics. That's because 26-year-old native son Russell Currier earned a spot on the biathlon team, which combines nordic skiing and rifle shooting. As Patty Wight reports, it's the reward for a region that spent more than a decade rekindling its nordic skiing roots.

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Biathlon - Will Sweetser

Here in northern Maine, where moose outnumber people and a heavy snow can dump several feet at the barn door, people say, you'd better find something fun to do. Stockholm's Russell Currier - like many in the area - found skiing.

As Will Sweetser (right) of the Maine Winter Sports Center in nearby Caribou takes to some cross country ski trails, he says the sport wasn't an obvious fit for the quiet, some say slightly chubby, Currier, who was around 12 at the time.

"The first year that I met Russell (left), he'd been on skis, obviously, before, but he didn't really enjoy it that much," Sweetser says. "I think when I saw him in seventh grade, he was the third fastest
seventh-grader at the Stockholm School - I think out of a class of eight."

But Sweetser says Currier (below) didn't retain that middle-of-the-pack spot for long. The next year, he won the county-wide middle school championship. The year after that, he won third place at the junior nationals.

Biathlon - Russell Currier"He had a fairly rapid rise, but he also put in the work," Sweetser says. "I'd say if there's one talent Russell possesses, it's the drive and ability to handle the training that he has to do in order to make that kind of gain."

Skiing roots run deep in this community. It started when Swedish immigrants settled the area in the 1870s and introduced it as a mode of travel. But by the late 1990s, the tradition needed a boost, so the Maine Winter Sports Center was created to re-establish skiing as a lifestyle in rural Maine.

The towns here are small - Stockholm has less than 300 residents - so a number of communities worked to clear and maintain trails and support ski events. Those same communities have come together to help Currier's parents get to the Olympics in Sochi, Russia, by holding a spaghetti supper fundraiser.

Server: "Vegetarian or meat?"

Diner: "Meat. Of course. Come on!"

Biathlon - fundraising dinnerVolunteers dish out the more than 300 dinners at the Caribou High School cafeteria. The crowd is filled with people who played a role in Currier's ski career, including Tom Campbell. He groomed a trail from Currier's house to his school in Stockholm so he could commute by skis in the winter.

"At a young age, we all knew that Russell had a big engine, so we all wanted to encourage that," Campbell says, "and that is one of the things that the community does, you know."

Former high school ski coach Bob Sprague holds back tears when he thinks about how skiing has helped kids in the area grow into confident adults, including Currier.

"And that's why we're celebrating this today. I mean, God bless him, he's done the work," Sprague says. "There have been ups and downs along the way - I'm sure you've heard that from other people - and he's persevered. He's had this goal - he's worked, and he's made it. It's wonderful. I wish I could be there."

Biathlon - Chris and Debbie CurrierCurrier's parents, Chris and Debbie, will be there. The event raised more than $10,000. Debbie Currier says when organizers called to say they were planning the fundraiser, she assured them it wasn't necessary.

"'We could go anyway, you don't have to do this.' And they said, 'We really want to be a part of it.' Everybody wants to be a part of it, and - of course!" she says with a laugh.

Some here say Currier's Olympic bid adds to the momentum the Maine Winter Sports Center spurred when it sought to reignite nordic skiing in the area 13 years ago.

Getting in a quick workout on the ski trails just behind Caribou High School, 15-year-old Caleb Willette is evidence of that momentum. Willette says he dreams of making it to the Olympics one day too.

"Now I really know that it's possible to get to that point, coming from such a small town in the middle of nowhere," he says.

Russell Currier will compete in the Olympic Biathlon on Feb. 8.

Photos:  Patty Wight

Photo of Russell Currier:  Courtesy Russell Currier



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