Maine Teen Noah Oliver Got A Taste For Para Nordic At The Lake Placid Dev Camp
by Alex Abrams
Jeff Tucker knew about a teenager who could have an interest in Para Nordic skiing, but he wasn’t sure if Noah Oliver would get the opportunity to take part in it.
So Tucker, Oliver’s coach with the Quarry Road Ski Club in Waterville, Maine, had a conversation with BethAnn Chamberlain, a development coach with U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing.
He told Chamberlain about Oliver, a high school sophomore who has been competing in able-bodied races with a physical impairment. The teenager was born with three fingers on his right hand and a right arm that’s around four inches shorter than his left arm.
Oliver, 15, was invited to attend a development camp that U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing was hosting in late July in Lake Placid, New York, the site of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics. It was his introduction to Para Nordic skiing.
Oliver, a native of Belgrade, Maine, is accustomed to skiing with two ski poles. However, to become a Para standing skier, he had to learn at the camp how to ski with only one pole.
“It took a little bit to get used to just because I had never really done much with one pole, but I figured it out pretty quickly,” Oliver said. “And then I got pretty comfortable with it. But at the start, it was really weird.”
Oliver is new to Para Nordic skiing, but he’s interested in pursuing it more since returning from the weeklong camp in Lake Placid. He has never competed in a race as a standing skier, but he said he’s now considering entering one this upcoming winter.
“I’d love it if I can make it to the (Paralympics),” Oliver said. “I’d really like to pursue it, but if things don’t work out, then that would be OK, too, because I have other things that I want to pursue.”
Oliver doesn’t necessarily come from a big skiing family. His parents have skied over the years, but he grew up playing baseball and soccer and running track and field.
Oliver’s parents signed him up for skiing in the fourth grade as a way to keep him active in the wintertime. He admitted he was initially “pretty apprehensive” about getting started in skiing, but he found he loved being on snow.
“I liked downhill skiing more at that point. I was like, ‘Oh, I get to go fast no matter what,’” he said. “But I just appreciate cross-country skiing so much more. You put in a lot more effort, but you get a big reward out of it.”
Oliver said he didn’t use his right arm as much as a kid because it was more difficult to use than his left arm. While his right hand isn’t as strong as his left hand, he can still grip a ski pole with it and use it to help guide him around the snow.
Oliver said he became more competitive as a skier in the seventh grade when he was able to see improvements in his race results. As a freshman last year, he started getting to know Tucker and working with him as a member of the Quarry Road Ski Club.
Tucker was invited to serve as a guest coach at the development camp in Lake Placid. While there, Tucker and Oliver went through their first experiences with Para Nordic skiing together.
Tucker said it was a bit of an adjustment for Oliver to roller ski with only one pole at the camp since he’s so accustomed to using both hands.
“It was certainly a unique situation, I think, and it was definitely a learning experience. He’s familiar with the basics of the sport, but it’s a whole another aspect to try to like refigure things out with one pole,” said Tucker, who also serves as the program director of Quarry Road Trails.
“The balance is different. The timing is a little different. There’s certainly plenty of stuff that’s the same, but it’s definitely retraining your brain and all that muscle memory. … It’s definitely a new side of skiing that he’s excited to try out, and yeah, it was just great to be a part of the camp and work with all those athletes and coaches there.”
Tucker said he hasn’t spoken with Oliver yet about whether the teenager hopes to someday qualify for the Winter Paralympics. In the meantime, Tucker has seen Oliver continue to develop as a skier as he looks to progress in the sport.
“I know Noah’s really focused on this upcoming winter and seeing what he can accomplish this year,” Tucker said.
Alex Abrams has written about Olympic and Paralympic sports for more than 15 years, including as a reporter for major newspapers in Florida, Arkansas and Oklahoma. He is a freelance contributor to USParaNordicSkiing.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.