Ryan Kerrigan speaks about the role of training and the outdoors for sports, performance and a healthy community.
[This article was first published in the Rutland Herald & Times Argus ACTIVE VERMONT page of the Sunday Magazine on 3-6-2016. Written by Linda Freeman, Field Editor.]
ACTIVE VERMONT. To live in Vermont is to live an active life. Think about it. Daily life mandates more muscle, agility, energy and balance than that employed by our city-dwelling friends (unless, of course, they take the stairs instead of the elevators or walk instead of hiring taxis).
Some of us choose to add regular exercise to our days as well. Possibly we are addicted to the outdoors. Perhaps we enjoy competition or adventure. Those who purposefully follow the lead of sports and recreation often do so in community with others. The smart ones learn to train well and prepare for their activity.
RYAN KERRIGAN. Ryan Kerrigan grew up in central Vermont where he ran and skied from a young age. His dad, John Kerrigan, a longtime running and skiing coach at Harwood Union High School, often took his son along to weekend track and field events and cross-country ski meets where “it was pretty much ski or die,” his son said.
Activity for Kerrigan was competitive. “Most of my friends played soccer,” he said. “My dad was all about endurance sports.” Kerrigan, therefore, was often on his own, a fact that sparked his current interest in training groups. “There wasn’t a great local training club,” he said. What he lacked in his central Vermont community was a group of peers who shared his passion. Furthermore, there were few if any opportunities to train prior to the season, something that hindered performance.
Kerrigan, however, diligently pursued his own Nordic skiing athletic career. At Green Mountain Valley School, Kerrigan raced in New England, nationally and in Europe. Later, after spending four years on the University of Vermont Nordic Ski Team, Kerrigan went on to podium numerous times in marathon ski events and was named overall champion in 2012 of the New England TD Bank Marathon Series.
Though Kerrigan has a competitive spirit, intellectually he knows the importance of balanced training and play. He also seems to have coaching in his DNA.
VTXC SKI. Today, his primary focus is VTXC, Vermont Cross-Country, where goal-oriented hopefuls will find “Professional coaching for athletes of all ages. Helping you achieve your fitness and racing goals. Building a community of fun-loving fitness freaks.” (http://www.vtxcski.org)VTXC functions out of the Stowe and Montpelier areas, but attracts athletes from the state and beyond.
VTXC is a collection of training and racing opportunities. Coaches with solid experience and expertise lead by example. These are athletes who have been there, done that, and are still doing it; and having a lot of fun in the process. So are their students.
There are training programs for juniors and seniors, running camps and racing teams. Well-structured on- and off-season training provides guidance and motivation for some, cross training for others, and social contacts for still more. “It’s not just a training club,” Kerrigan said, “but there’s a social component to it. Training is fun.”
Kerrigan is committed to some form of training throughout the year. “Year-round contact is so much more beneficial than one intense week,” he said. “Running and skiing are a lifestyle, not just a week.”
To participate in one of the VTXC programs, does one need to qualify or be able to perform at a competitive level? “I see a lot of clubs that try to build a club out of good athletes,” Kerrigan said. “I like to put that on it’s head. First, you build a community. Strong athletes will come from that.”
Kerrigan said he also believes in the role of family. “I love the family component,” he said. “First the kids, then the parents.” Kids come to train, learn and improve and have plenty of laughs. Before long the parents are involved and want to join in. “I like to imagine the dinner table talk,” Kerrigan said.
Just what is this training that Kerrigan speaks of and how do the coaches handle the individual differences of each group? “It’s a delicate dance,” he said. “A coach needs to look at each population to provide the training necessary for success, but also for fun and relative to life.” Clearly the participant wants to learn sports specific skills, but there are also games and ways to practice balance and agility along with general strength and fitness.
There are many ways to measure success. Early testing provides a benchmark for measuring progress. Testing along the way for lactic acid or participation in time trials can give positive or negative feedback. To Kerrigan, however, “over-quantifying is negative. The data segment might be relative to the athlete’s sport, but is not necessarily predictive of competitive success.”
MIXING IT UP. At VTXC, community is number one: It is where a passion for training is nurtured. Mixing it up, keeping things different and fun might come in a close second.
Summer training serves a good purpose to kids who are on school break and adults who want to begin to lay a foundation for winter sports. “One thing I like about summer training like soccer, hockey and lacrosse, is that it’s hard training and will get the athletes fit for anything,” Kerrigan said.
Mountain bike groups provide recreational cross training for summer camps. Young Nordic athletes hit the roads on roller skis preparing for skinny skis on snow.
Kerrigan’s master skier dryland and later on-snow training groups have increased in popularity, a testament to their effectiveness. Kerrigan characterizes his masters as “mostly at or near retirement age, but recently with some 30s. They come from all walks of life, farmers to doctors and lawyers.” As participants use ski specific drills to increase endurance, strength, quickness and agility on dryland and skills on snow, they also build confidence and enjoy the camaraderie of group dynamics.
“The biggest compliment I get from adults,” Kerrigan said, “is that coming into ski season they feel more balanced and have a better understanding of their sport. They also have a built in peer group.”
Throughout the year Kerrigan might work with up to 50 skiers in his masters’ programs and 40 kids. “A lot of people, once they know my background, talk to me about their fitness goals,” he said. “People need to find the spirit of outdoor recreation and how it applies to them.” We begin to see a pattern here; a pattern of good, hard, effective conditioning and training, but also community, variety and fun.
Kerrigan said he feels strongly about over-specialization and its negative impact on the athlete. A narrow approach to competition in one sport can lead to overtraining, a syndrome that begins with decline of performance and fatigue, progress to injury and debilitation and can physically, mentally and emotionally lead to the end of one’s competitive or recreational career. It’s a serious matter not to be taken lightly.
TRAINING. So far, there’s been a lot of talk about training. By now you, the reader, might ask, “but can’t you just do it (run, ski, bike) for fun?”
Perhaps the best question to ask is: “What is fun?” Not all sports are an outgrowth of what is naturally available to each individual. For example, most people can walk. Some, however, find it more enjoyable to walk fast, or to walk on country roads or trails that include distance and elevation. To do that, they can’t just get up out of a chair and go. They need to be sure that their steps are anatomically aligned to prevent joint injury due to inappropriate repetitive use. They need to increase their distance and pace gradually as their bodies adapt to the increasing demands upon it; and their leg muscles need to build the strength necessary to climb and descend. Without the proper foundation, walking could be unpleasant at best or injurious at worst with little chance of continuing the sport if the experience was miserable.
What about other sports? Do you play golf or tennis? Without a few lessons and a few basic skills is your game likely to be fun or frustrating? You can apply this yardstick to any activity that would be enhanced by significant conditioning, appropriate equipment and at least a rudimentary skill set.
Training is not a dreary matter of self-disciplined, grit-your-teeth time spent in slavery to one’s goal. Training is enlightening, ripe with possibilities and chock full of surprises and self-confidence for those who engage regularly in dedicating effort and enthusiasm to their sport. Training in community is bonding, motivating and supportive. Training with an experienced coach fans the flames of hope and the eagerness to expend effort in the process. The exhilaration one feels at reaching even the smallest achievement makes it all worthwhile and much more fun.
GUIDED TOURS. To round out his business ventures, Kerrigan also offers outdoor guided tours. (For more information, go to greenmountainsherpas.com.) Kerrigan notes that outdoors, they’re lucky to have his dad involved, as the senior Kerrigan, in addition to knowledge of sports performance and conditioning, is able to share information about the flora and fauna of the Vermont outdoors.
Participants come from within and outside of Vermont, residents and visitors alike, to enjoy guided tours of the landscape on mountain bikes, backcountry skis, snowshoes or casual hiking. “It’s a way to experience forests, mountains and lakes and take training out,” he said.
“Take training outside,” Kerrigan said. “It is the core of recreation.”
Linda Freeman is an athlete and trainer based in central Vermont, and Field Editor of “Active Vermont.” Reach her through her web site, www.lindafreemanfitness.com.