CVA Female Alumni Thrive in the Sciences | By: Karen Lanoue-Egan
Over the years we have continually received feedback from our families that our science program is strong and that it prepares our students for college. In recent years we have seen more of our female student/athletes choose science majors in college so we followed up with female alumni to ask what they are doing and if their experience with the CVA science department influenced their decision to focus on science.
Recent graduates share their thoughts:
“I was never strong in math or science in school, until I went to CVA, and through the teachers’ passion and knowledge I fell in love with science too. When I was thinking about what I wanted to study in college, all my interests were science based, which I would have never pictured myself doing prior to attending CVA.”
Marissa C. Cap CVA '08
Massachusetts Maritime Academy, B.S. Marine Engineering
Third Assistant Engineer, Maersk Missouri, Maersk Line, LTD
“Before attending CVA, I had always considered myself a humanities person, but the CVA science program was such a positive experience that I discovered my love for the sciences. While Bio II was not considered an AP class, the depth of which we went into the material allowed me to excel on my Bio AP test. In addition, the fieldwork I did in environmental science guided me toward the subject I am currently pursuing as my major, geology.”
Julia Savage CVA '12
Bates College, Pursuing: Geology/Politics double major (possible Chemistry minor)
“I have always loved science, and the strength of the CVA science department was a huge factor when I was looking at and applying to ski academies. CVA science prepared me extremely well for my science courses at Colby. There was a very high level of expectation in terms of quality of work and level of detail, and that made the transition to college science courses very easy.”
Katie Houser CVA '08
Colby College, Pursuing: Psychology with a concentration in Neuroscience
“I absolutely loved the science department at CVA. I felt like it really prepared me for my introductory biology and chemistry classes at Smith. The teachers expected us to not only remember the information but be able to combine different ideas together to answer more in depth and thoughtful questions. This skill was extremely helpful coming into Smith.”
Katharine Von Herrmann CVA '07
Smith College, BA Biochemistry, minor Philosophy (2011)
MS Biological Sciences (expected this May, 2013)
“I had a great experience with the CVA science department. I went into college wanting to take more science classes, as I had found something I was both interested in and good at. I truly believe that if I had not had such amazing teachers I might not have pursued a degree/career path in science.”
Julia Coffin CVA '05
Colby College (BA Biology, minor Chemistry), University of Maine Fort Kent (BSN)
RN Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center
CVA sciences are taught by Karen Lanoue-Egan (B.S. Zoology, University of Vermont, M.S. Biology, Utah State University), Shelley Koenig (B.A. Geology, Hamilton College, M.S. Geochemistry, University of Idaho), and Dan Frost (B.S. Geology, Bates College). As well as being experienced in the classroom, they all have worked (or still do) in the field and offer a wealth knowledge to their students.
CVA currently offers physical science, earth science, biology I & II, chemistry, physics, and environmental science. With most of the courses offering honors options, today’s students continue to be challenged and adequately equipped for college science classes and careers in the sciences.
USSA National Development Director, Dr. Lester Keller visits Sugarloaf
Dr. Lester Keller, the USSA National Development Director made one of three east coast stops to Sugarloaf Mountain. Dr. Keller spent the weekend with the SCVA Alpine program, launching the SkillsQuest system for the athletes and coaches. SCVA is a weekend training program collaboratively run by Carrabassett Valley Academy and Sugarloaf.
The SkillsQuest program focuses on the development and maintenance of fundamental skills through a multi-phase system of drills and coaching techniques. On Saturday, SkillsQuest drills spanned over three Sugarloaf trails accommodating over 70 skiers and 15 coaches; the most in SkillsQuest history.
The founder of the program, Dr. Keller, also held several speaking engagements for both SCVA/Perfect Turn coaches and parents of SCVA athletes. During his seminars, Dr. Keller addressed the importance of fundamental skills, fun, and free-skiing as the building blocks to developing great skiers.
SCVA will be one of the first programs in the country to utilize the SkillsQuest techniques for its athletes.
SCVA Program Manager, Andrew Willihan had this to say about the weekend: “It was a wonderful experience to have the national director be a part of our program. His knowledge and passion for the sport is unmatched. Dr. Keller’s program will help us make great skiers who have a passion for the competitive side of the sport, as well as providing the frame work to create an experience that is both rewarding and fun.”
"The future of ski racing success will be in how well programs like SCVA and CVA can follow a path that lays down a base of sound technical skills at the beginning of a racer's athletic experience,” said Dr. Keller. “I am excited by what is happening here. This is a great turnout of racers, coaches and parents for a first experience of the new USSA SkillsQuest program. If enthusiasm is any measure, we are off to a great start."
Sugarloafer Shelley Koenig took on the toughest race on the planet. And won.
At some point this past summer (it was June 15 or 16; she can’t remember the precise time), Shelley Koenig found herself flat on the ground next to a river, hugging a pickle bucket and an axe, with a 60 pound bag of cement strapped to her back.
She had been moving for well over 40 straight hours, carrying various objects of crushing weights and cumbrous sizes, tackling obnoxiously difficult brain teasers, and trekking up and down mountains. She was in the midst of the Spartan Death Race, and she had no idea how much longer she had to keep doing this.
“That was a low point,” Koenig said, laughing. “Once I got to the river, I knew that the next checkpoint had to be at the top (of the mountain). At that realization I must have gone limp, because my pack just took me over backwards. I just laid there in the weeds with my pickle bucket on top of me, crying.”
Just a few hours earlier, things were dramatically different. Assured by other competitors that the race would be over in a matter of minutes, she had sprinted to the top of a mountain, elated at the prospect of two full days of physical and mental suffering coming to a merciful end. What she found at the top was another one of Death Race’s cruel deceptions. Nothing was over.
In her classroom at Carrabassett Valley Academy, it’s hard to picture Shelley Koenig battling her way through streams and up mountainsides, an ax strapped to her back and mud smeared across her face. But even Superman was Clark Kent from 9-5.
Koenig calls herself a “Sugarloafer since birth,” and, ignoring the fact that she was likely born in an actual hospital, she’s essentially right.
Sometime around 1968, several years before Koenig came along, her parents purchased a piece of land in what is now the bustling metropolis of Coplin Plantation, population 166. The land was a stone’s throw from the Sugarloaf Access Road and it came complete with a Styrofoam geodesic dome, where the Koenig family would spend nearly every weekend for the next 20 or so years.
“We stayed in the dome every weekend for years,” Koenig said. “Then in about ’86, the dome started leaking pretty seriously. I remember one day, I was like 10 or 12, my mom walks in and there was this giant mushroom growing right in the middle of the floor. Right on the shag carpet. My mom looked at it, stopped, and says “Honey, that’s it, we’re taking it down.”
The dome came down in short order, and a new camp went up in its place. Koenig continued her regular pilgrimages to the mountain from her home in Auburn, where she was a racer for the state champion Edward Little Ski Team.
When it came time for college and graduate school the West called out, as it does to many an eastern skier, and before long Koenig found herself in Idaho, studying geology.
“I went through that phase in the early 90s where I thought I was going to go out and find the real world,” she said. “So I moved west. And there was nothing about Idaho that I didn’t love, but when you’re from the East Coast you miss things like fall. Deciduous trees. Fall color.”
So despite the towering peaks and bottomless powder of the Tetons, Koenig made her way back east. Back home.
After a brief stint in DC, Koenig and her husband Dave both landed teaching jobs at Carrabassett Valley Academy – she in science, and he in math. Collectively they make up 50 percent of the school’s math and science department.
“There’s definitely something about this place,” she said. “It’s this place. It’s not even Maine. This place calls you back”
The couple purchased the land in Coplin from Koenig’s parents, and moved into the camp that replaced the dome.
“I’ve been on the same piece of property my entire life,” Koenig said. “I literally live in the same camp my parents built when I was a kid.”
You could make an argument that the Spartan Death Race in Pittsfield, VT is the most difficult competition on the planet and few people would disagree with you. The annual race is designed specifically to make its participants quit. The event website is YouMayDie.com (seriously), and it explicitly warns “Please only consider this race if you have lived a full life to date.” Upon signing up for the race, event organizers immediately bombard you with emails imploring you to withdraw. Just registering is a test in mental deter- mination.
The competition includes grueling physical challenges like non-stop lifting of 30 pound rocks for 5 hours, carrying a three-foot log up and down mountain sides, or digging up a stump by hand and dragging it for more than 10 miles. And the physical challenges are the easy part.
Race organizers combine mental tests with the most torturous of the physical challenges. Competitors have been made to count out 5000 pennies into a bag, only to be instructed to throw the pennies into an ice cold pond and then dive in to retrieve them. Sometimes, at the top of a mountain, racers are given a list of presidents or a bible verse to commit to mem- ory, and then have to recite them accurately, six miles away at the bottom. If they get it wrong, it’s back up the mountain.
Throughout the race, officials encourage racers to dropout. To end the pain. They lie. They cheat. They steal.
And on top of it all, there is no fin- ish line. Racers have no idea when it will all be over.
The vast majority quit. Out of 344 people who started this year’s race, 294 dropped out. And these people are not slouches. They are Marines. Navy SEALS. Army Commandos. Elite endurance athletes. Bodybuilders. Professional athletes. You name it, the Death Race has defeated it.
But not Shelley Koenig. With encouragement from a fellow com- petitor, Koenig made it up out of that ditch at hour 40, pressed on, and won the Spartan Death Race.
No previous Death Race had ever lasted more than 42 hours. Koenig won hers in 57.5.
Alot of athletes compete solely to win. Some just enjoy the competition. Talk to a lot of endurance athletes and you’ll find that, for most, it’s primarily about seeing just how far they go, how much they can take.
Koenig’s Death Race experience falls into the latter category. Though you could fit the entire number of female Death Race finishers in his- tory onto a standard-sized school bus, Koenig insists that actually winning the competition was secondary.
“The whole winning piece – to put it in per- spective, only five women actually finished, so right there you have a 20 percent chance of winning,” she said. “It’s a bit of a crap shoot."
“It was a very powerful spiritual experience for me. There’s definitely a threshold that we all have as humans that we’re comfortable with. I’m experienced in working out, suffering. There’s a threshold that I’ve always stayed within. I hit that at about 24 hours. You either stop there, or you keep going and you learn what’s beyond that. After that first 24 hours, some really amazing self-revelations, epiphanies start- ed to happen.”
The ultimate challenge of the Death Race is not purely a physical one. And the competition is not ultimately against other racers. The Death Race pits competitors against their fiercest foe: themselves.
“It’s about finding your limits,” Koenig said. “And you learn that your limits aren’t anywhere near where you thought they were.”
You’re faced with your own personality. What am I made of?”
Let the record reflect that Shelley Koenig is made of really, really tough stuff.