Seth Wescott—The Olympian talks about his commitment to Maine, community, and sports
Photo: Seth Wescott by Ramona du Houx
By Ramona du Houx
For many children one of the first things they do when they come home from school is to switch on the television. Not Olympian Seth Wescott. For him the TV played a different role.
“My dad brought the TV down from the attic and told us that we were going to be watching history as Joan would become the first Gold Medalist from Maine,” said Wescott. “Seeing what the Olympics meant to my parents, following someone they knew going all the way to those heights really inspired me. It instilled a dream in me. After the closing ceremonies the TV went back in the box, and the box went back in the attic.”
Wescott largely attributes his success to the way in which he was raised living in Maine. The 2006 snowboarding-cross (SBX) Olympian is articulate, compassionate about issues, and humble when it comes to his achievements.
“It’s really important how I grew up. My parents encouraged me to get outside, and I hope that I can encourage kids to do the same. There are amazing things to do outside in all the seasons,” he said.
Both of Wescott’s parents were educators at the college level. His father was a noted track and field coach at Colby College. Olympic Marathon gold medalist Joan Benoit Samuelson is a friend of the family.
"I grew up in the midst of these athletic role models and saw just what great people they were. They made me see that you can accomplish whatever you want in this world. They were positive influences in my life, incredibly humble. They taught me how to treat success in life,” said Wescott.
The Olympian thinks the potential of Maine’s natural amenities are yet to be discovered by the outside world. For him the state has everything one could possibly need on many levels.
“I moved to Colorado, for a couple of years to go to college; as much as I loved the mountains out there, in the end there is no place like home. Maine really is a unique and special place with access to rivers, mountains, and the ocean. We have everything here,” said Wescott. “I spend seven to eight months traveling all over the world, training for competitions in places as far away as Japan, South Korea, South America, Europe, or Alaska. For me to be able to come home to Maine and be able to recreate every summer is really where I get my base. I rebuild myself here to be able to go out and compete against the rest of the world. Maine is an amazing natural resource.”
Photo: Sugarloaf Mt. is one of Seth Wescott's favorite spots in Maine by Ramona du Houx
The state provides world-class natural amenities for world-class athletes to train.
“To prepare for the Olympics in ’06, I spent my entire summer playing in Maine,” smiled Wescott. “I went from whitewater kayaking up on the Kennebec River, surfing down at Scarborough beaches, mountain biking in Carrabassett Valley, to sail boarding at Sugarloaf. Maine is a Shangri-La. I really love that in a couple of hours’ circle drive, you have access to all those amazing natural amenities.”
Seth has a passion for encouraging youth and in the future looks forward to speaking to schools in Maine. His current training schedule conflicts with school schedules.
“You can do anything you put your mind to. I’m lucky, I was very focused on what I wanted to do at a very young age,” said Wescott. “I hope I’ll be a positive role model, in someone’s life. I really want to give back to the community.”
Wescott is a conservationist and is actively engaged in his community. When there is a cause or event that he believes in, as long as his schedule permits, he’s there supporting the issue. He recently went to the Land Use Regulatory Commission meeting on the proposal for the Maine Huts and Trails project, which will be a series of twelve cabins that are connected along a trail that runs from Bethel to Moosehead Lake.
“I plan to do one more Olympic Games, maybe two, but honestly it is projects like this I really want to support,” said the Olympian. “As we have witnessed industry leaving the state, and it becoming a more challenging business climate, I feel it’s really important that in ways such as ecotourism, that we should grow these opportunities in the state. Of all of the east coast, Maine is really a unique geographical area. Maine has the ability to attract people here because of the natural wonders that we have. Projects like this are really a step in the right direction in helping to secure Maine’s future.”
Wescott grew up in small towns; East Vassalboro, Farmington, and Rangeley where he discovered skiing. He’s been Nordic skiing since age four and downhill from age eight.
“I got more involved in winter sports because as a kid I lived in Rangeley for a year. They had a program in the schools to take students once a week in the winter season to Saddleback Mountain and introduce them to cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, snowshoeing — whatever the kids wanted to do. The school wanted to ensure that the kids got outside and got active. That step that school system took, in that community, changed my life and helped send me on my path that I continue to be on,” said Wescott.
Seth was at Governor Baldacci’s kickoff event for the new initiative, Take it Outside, which announced a youth summit, next spring, to bring together people working in the private sector, state government, and education to brainstorm about how the state can more efficiently and effectively get kids interested in outdoor activities, so they can have more opportunities to grow into healthy adults.
“I’m especially excited to have been given opportunities to talk to the governor about the Take It Outside program, and I hope we can continue the conversation, so that programs similar to the one y I experienced can be implemented throughout the state. I think that it really can open up a lot of doors for kids. Those experiences last a lifetime and kids become healthier.”
When Wescott moved to Farmington during high school, he discovered a new sport that changed his life. “That’s really where I found my passion for snowboarding. I had been skateboarding since I was six. As soon as I saw someone doing a winter version of it, I wanted to get involved in it. Shortly after discovering snowboarding, I really hoped to become a world-class athlete. That’s when I set that goal for myself.”
To achieve the goal of becoming a world-class athlete takes time and a total commitment. For Seth it was realized at the 2005 SBX World Championship. He was already a seven-time medalist in the SBX Games and a four-time U.S. National champion in SBX.
“When you get to accomplish what you’ve been working towards for years, it’s an amazing sense of satisfaction and gratification for all the work you put in towards that goal. Winning the world championship the year before the Olympics was the first time I felt that amazing feeling of accomplishment,” said Wescott. “It definitely is a rare exception where someone who does follow their dream becomes an Olympian, but on the way there are so many beneficial things kids can learn — the appreciation of being outside enjoying nature makes it all worth it. Then there are mental skills you learn through sports. You learn to become a long-term thinker, because you have to plan out where you are going and what you need to do. You have to set goals and have a solid plan to achieve them. And of course the long-term health benefits. Committing oneself to a sport, even if you don’t achieve gold, you do achieve so many other things that will help you in life.”
The competition cycle for world-class athletes is four years and requires tremendous discipline, focus, and dedication. How each champion deals with the cycles is individual.
“To get yourself mentally into four-year cycles, you need periods of intense training and periods of down time. In an Olympic year I put in nine months. This year is my down time,” said Wescott. “I really believe you need to have the rest cycles to give your body a break from the intense training.”
In the fall of 2005, he bought the restaurant on the spur of the moment with two close friends. The Rack used to be a ski-supply sporting store; now it’s a restaurant honoring that history. “The owner was considering selling out for condo development on the site, and the three of us decided to step in,” said Wescott. “This summer I was super involved in the restaurant, doing the management for the first time. It’s nice because it gives you something totally different to focus on for a month, which is mentally refreshing. Mentally and physically, Maine recharges the batteries.”
Wescott said he had no problem putting aside downhill skiing to pursue snowboarding.
“Having been a skateboarder, I feel that there is more creativity involved with snowboarding than skiing. The free style snowboarding that I did when I first discovered it really made me fall in love with the sport,” he said. “The course is always different for snowboarding. It’s not like ski racing where traditional downhill races always run on the same trail and are usually the same year to year. Snowboarding is more spontaneous because every year you come back to the same place, with the World Cup, it is always going to be a totally different course. It’s more of a challenge for me. You always learn something new every time you do it.”
Over the years Wescott actively campaigned for SBX recognition as an Olympic sport and then went on to become the officially recognized Olympic sport’s first gold medalist.
“The sport has grown a lot. There weren’t outlets there for it as there are now. It’s gone well beyond my wildest dreams. In retrospect, I was able to pursue my path while the sport has grown,” he said.
Known for his confident, smooth style with SBX, Seth puts all his skills to the test on the Chugach Range in Alaska to prepare him for the intensity of world competitions. There he heli-boards.
“Getting off out of a helicopter on top of a 4,000-foot mountain face that no human being has ever stood on before is amazing. For me, it’s where I find my soul in the sport and where I find the moments in life in which I’m most alive,” said Wescott. “It makes it easier to come back to competitive settings.”
For Wescott no place can replace Maine.
“The lifestyle that I lead, because of the competitions and travel, is hectic. Maine is such a wonderfully relaxed place. As much as I’ve traveled all over the world to ski resorts and different locations, there is nothing like coming home to the Western Mountains of Maine. I just really love to spend my time here. I look forward to those four to five months of the year I get to be home and just relax back into the basic lifestyle I grew up with,” he said. “Everyone should go outside and appreciate Maine for how beautiful it is and experience what a wonderful resource it is to recreate in.”