(This is the first in a series of articles on community)
Community is a big word. One that means a lot more than living in the same town. That’s because community is fundamentally about people. It’s about sharing experiences. Being and feeling connected and enjoying a sense of belonging.
So what makes a place a community? It’s people and organizations bringing people together by acting intentionally, honorably, and responsibly in the name of our greater good. Schools, events, activities, churches, clubs, local businesses, and volunteers all play key roles.
In communities that are home to Olympic Authority venues – the Olympic Village of Lake Placid, North Creek, and Highmount in the Catskills – sport plays a major role, too. It’s rooted deep in our history, and it connects us today by providing experiences so universal we don’t even need to explain them.
Lake Placid, in particular, is a special place. There’s nowhere in the world like it. Here in the Olympic Region we have community-building sport opportunities other places our size can’t even dream of. Exceedingly few places around the world – none of them small villages the size of ours – have the venues, activities, history, events, coaching, the nearly continuous presence of greatness that surrounds us.
And today, after massive renewal projects lifted our venues once again to the highest standards in the world, we enter a bold new era filled with new possibilities. Our world-class infrastructure, the opportunities, and the human potential it all provides is especially powerful when eager leaders, coaches, and organizations step up to connect it all with our local citizenry.
“I started working as a ski instructor at Mt Van Hoevenberg right after the Olympics, and I’ve been out there ever since as a volunteer for all kinds of races and events,” says Pat Gallagher, long-time community sport advocate. “Here in Lake Placid, we’ve got the place, the location, the history, and all the geographical advantages for winter sports. It’s about as good here as you get. And when you have people and organizations doing the right thing for the sports, it’s a winning combination. It’s an amazing opportunity.”
A full 100 years old at the start of the pandemic, the Lake Placid Ski Club has a long history of youth ski sport development that continues today. Longevity that is the result of remarkable dedication of its leaders and volunteers. In addition to providing recreational skiing and snowboarding programs, they also offer assistance for families to make programs more financially accessible. They help fund equipment and trips for competitions. And they provide important recognition of volunteers and athletes at end-of-season awards.
One fact is clear: with so many opportunities, Lake Placid has laid down a consistent, proven track record of successfully cultivating the highest levels of athletic greatness. Ours is an Olympic history that began with Lake Placid’s own Charles Jewtraw, a local speedskater, winning the first Winter Olympic gold medal ever awarded at a Winter Olympic Games in Chamonix, France in 1924. And since those first Winter Games, the Lake Placid region has sent an athlete to every Winter Olympics in history. That’s 100 years and more than 100 athletes in virtually all Winter sports to every Winter Games all over the world.
But these sports (and the joy and benefits of doing them) are not reserved for only elite athletes. In Lake Placid, North Creek, and Highmount alike, they are available for all ages and all levels of athletic ability, too. While visitors and tourists enjoy our venues and the many activities they offer in all seasons, people living and working in our communities reap the biggest benefits. Because while we can skate, ski, slide, and all the rest just as any visitor can, we have more regular year-round access as well as local clubs and programs.
So while virtually anyone can skate on the oval or ski on the mountain or slide on the track, locals can do all that in ways that work best for them. We can learn with others. We can practice more regularly on the days and at times that work for us. We can get coaching if we want. And perhaps best of all, we can gain deeper connections to an incredibly wide range of sports though regularly repeated experiences while also making friends and connecting with our communities.
“I really like giving back and being a part of the sport I grew up in,” says Skating Club of Lake Placid (SCLP) President Christie Sausa. “And that’s why I’ve always volunteered. I loved to be involved and help out where I can.”
Christie is an outstanding community leader, serving the club and the local figure skating and speedskating communities in many meaningful ways. She’s also the club’s Membership Chair as well as the Test Chair. The club’s testing function is a foundational benefit of U.S. Figure Skating (the sport’s national governing body). This testing determines a skater’s competition level, and SCLP provides locals and skaters from around the country opportunities to test, including in recent years a new virtual test option. SCLP test sessions provide skaters the opportunity to highlight their abilities before panels of U.S. Figure Skating officials and advance up the levels of proficiency in the sport.
“We’ve done over 100 tests in recent years,” says Christie, “And it’s growing because skaters are discovering we’re doing it well for them. It’s an efficient process, and they don’t have to wait a long time for their results.”
Christie also eagerly and faithfully serves the skating community as a supporter and advocate who goes far out of her way to ensure area skaters have regular oval conditions reports and other updates on social media. She writes for local, regional, and even national publications on skating, promoting Lake Placid along the way. Through the winter skating season especially, she’s nearly omnipresent on social media with inspiring posts and photography. These are all volunteer roles she fulfills eagerly, skillfully, and passionately.