June 5, 2012

Two time Olympic Gold winner, Seth Wescott after he took a run down Sugarloaf Mountain, behind him, to be welcomed home by his community. photo by Ramona du Houx

“I really believe there is a flow to everything in life,” said Seth Wescott during an interview at The Rack, the restaurant he co-owns, at the foot of Sugarloaf USA.

At the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, Seth Wescott made history as the first American winter athlete to defend a gold medal on snow, when he won Olympic gold for the second time in snowboard cross. Wescott, who started off the race in fourth place, gradually advanced throughout the field until the end, when he narrowly defeated Mike Robertson on the final jump. During that race something incredible happened to the Olympian.

A serene, confident Wescott reflected on that time and other moments in his career, when he had felt completely at one with nature.

“I had a ‘moment’ for ten seconds during that race. Even though I was in a competitive venue — and a manmade format — I felt I was communing with nature in that moment,” said Wescott. “I’ve had that type of experience other times in my career, where you lose certain senses you don’t need to accomplish the goal, and other senses become much more keen. Only the sense that I need to be enhanced takes over.”

For viewers around the world, Wescott appeared to take off like an eagle in flight, passing Robertson with apparent ease when he had that moment.

“At moments when I get completely into a focus I loose my hearing, and my sense of touch gets much better. Right before I made that last pass, on that straightaway, the sound went away. It felt as if my feet were basically there through my bindings and my board touching the snow. I could completely feel all the crystals of the snow on that straightaway,” said Wescott. “Then I had perfect landings and perfect touch across that straightaway pass. As soon as I got done with the pass, the sound came back.”

Seth Wescott on his way to win Olympic Gold for the second time in Vancouver. He’s the only man to do that in a winter sport. courtesy photo

Some people involved in Eastern philosophy, religion, and martial arts understand that moment being a special time when a soul merges with nature completely. Wescott was secure with being in that “quite place,” because of his previous experiences.

“It’s only been a handful of times at super critical moments in my life. Over the years these times when certain senses are heightened used to last longer. The first few times I ever went to that place, it would last for expanded periods of time — up to twenty or thirty seconds after the run was done. In Vancouver it was just a few seconds,” said the Olympian. “The first time I experienced this in a competitive format was in 2005, and it lasted for about a minute and a half. When I was done with that race, I could see all the people cheering — all this stuff was going on — and then very slowly it was like someone turned the volume back up.”

Wescott has talked with his coaches about his unique ability.

“My coaches have talked about it a number of times,” said Wescott. “Two nights after the games, I was talking with my coach during a ceremony giving our head coach an award at the Team US House in Vancouver, and it came up that I went to the quite place. Until then I didn’t have an opportunity to talk to any coach about it. Right after the ceremony, he wanted me to get together with our head coach to discuss this, because he thinks it’s such a powerful thing. The head coach was blown away that it happened for that brief moment in time that I needed it.”

The Olympian is humbled by the experience.

“It’s a very powerful experience for me when it happens, because it happens at these opportune moments and lets me accomplish various goals I’ve set in front of me. There is something very fulfilling and humbling about that process,” he said. “I don’t think it changes me. It’s just a different level of functioning that I’ve been able to tap into to accomplish goals.”

Seth Wescott at Sugarloaf Mountain. courtesy photo from Sugarloaf modified

Those goals started at a young age in Rangeley. Wescott learned how to downhill ski in grade school, taking Tuesday trips with his schoolmates to Saddleback. When his family moved to Farmington, he began racing on the junior high ski team. Then in sixth grade he was night skiing when he saw a snowboard demonstration.

“I went back the next day and bought a board off one of the guys with my paper route money. From the first time I saw it, I wanted to be doing it,” said Wescott. “Neither of my parents were skiers when I was growing up. I was introduced to winter sports through the public schools in Rangeley. Many of my friends were. I was a fortunate recipient of a program that introduced me to alpine skiing, which ultimately led me to snow boarding and where I am now.”

Eventually he was enrolled at Carrabassett Valley Academy at the foot of Sugarloaf USA. There he trained with fellow Olympians Bode Miller, Jeff Greenwood, Kirsten Clark, and Emily Cook. In 1989 he stopped skiing competitively to focus on snowboarding.

He has a deep connection with the area, the community, and the state. Over the years he’s encouraged countless kids to Take It Outside with Gov. John Baldacci’s program promoting the health and well being of Maine’s children with outdoors activities, local charities, and programs with Sugarloaf. He also serves as an ambassador for the “Level Field Fund,” a grant-giving program that bridges gaps in funding for uniquely talented athletes in need of financial assistance.

Officially, Westcott is Sugarloaf’s ambassador of winter sports, leading the mountain’s learn-to-ski and learn-to-ride programs.

“We had nine thousand kids out there on the slopes last year with the Winter Kids program,” said Wescott, who attends a lot of school assemblies.

“I tell kids that whatever they end up doing will be important. I say to them, a tenth of you may become professional athletes. It’s not necessarily the path for you all. It’s important to discover what you want to do and pursue it. Follow your dreams,” he said. “The biggest gift I created for myself is being self-employed, since I was seventeen, in something I absolutely love to do.”

The diplomat Wescott has become influential raising funds for Sugarloaf’s projects, as well as being an advisor, spokesperson, and lobbyist for the best way forward to maximize Mother Nature’s attributes in an environmentally friendly way. In 2005 he raised nearly $80,000 for the excavation of a new half-pipe venue. Recently he helped Sugarloaf expand to become the largest ski area east of the Rockies.

Seth Wescott at Sugarloaf Mountain. courtesy photo from Sugarloaf
“The expansion of the mountain has been on the books forever. Opening it out in an environmentally responsible way creates a truly unique Eastern ski experience,” he said.

The Olympian is used to promoting causes he believes in. He was instrumental in lobbying to get snowboard cross officially recognized as an Olympic sport. He then won his first gold medal gold in the inaugural snowboard cross at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy. Then four years later he became the first American to win gold back to back in a winter sport.

“That day was mind-blowing for me. We went into the office of Dick Ambrose at the NBC Sports international broadcast center that evening. Dick Button was there, analyzing figures. He said, ‘You’re the first person to do that since 1952, to defend a gold medal in a winter Olympics for the U.S. And the first ever to do it on snow,’” said Wescott. “I thought about all the Olympic teams that have gone before me over the decades. That’s when it hit me.”

Seth Wescott with a friend Katelyn at his restaurant the Rack. The two-time Olympic gold medalist is Maine’s ambassador for the Level Field Fund, a nonprofit program that provides grants to athletes in need. Photo by Ramona du Houx

Wescott was born in Durham, North Carolina, but his home and heart are in Maine.

“Maine feeds my soul. I recuperate here mentally and emotionally. I need to have down time here. Maine is an incredibly peaceful place. A lot of people who grow up here want to get out of here — as fast as we can — and I did that. Its when you get somewhere else you realize there is a lot of great stuff in Maine. I came back after two years in Colorado,” he said. “I love to travel. I could live other places, but I would always need to take a chunk of my time here. I can come back and get refocused. In a typical year, I can rebuild myself physically. I don’t sleep this well anywhere else in the world. There is just something special about Maine.”

Wescott loves nature, especially places where man has left little or no footprint. He often seeks out challenging terrain, which hones his skills and prepares him for competitions. While there is no other place like Sugarloaf for him, Alaska is also special. He regularly takes trips to Alaska for remote riding, made possible by jumping out of a hovering helicopter.

Wescott receives a document from Gov. Baldaaci making May 6, 2010 officially Seth Westcott Day as well as making him an ambassador of Maine photo by Ramona du Houx

“When you’re in the backcountry in Alaska, there isn’t anyone around. That’s when you can immerse yourself into nature completely. There is something about that experience I really love,” said Wescott. “It’s also a way to progress mentally in the sport, because you’re usually in more critical situations in the backcountry than you are within the bounds of a ski area where everything’s managed. I try to spend as much time doing that as I can. The process I go through going into the backcountry — going into a natural setting — helps me more when I get into competitive venues to become very relaxed and mentally calm.”

Wescott has a passion for protecting the environment and raising awareness about global warming. He plans to do something with the Natural Resource Defense Council.

“We need to protect our natural places. Sprawl and industry has changed other states,” said Wescott. “We are in cycles too long to see as human beings. In Alaska you can see the glacial recession and the high marks of where glaciers were at one time. It’s been a ten-thousand-year process. At the same time, what we have been doing since the birth of the industrial age is jump-starting global warming — we’re greatly accelerating the process. Part of global warming is a natural process and part is the very unnatural human-made process of pollution and the lack of care for the environment. What Al Gore did with An Inconvenient Truth is a huge step forward in bringing recognition to global warming. It’s insane we could go through eight years of a Republican administration that said it wasn’t happening until the very last. It was sickening.”

Wescott enjoys extreme snowboarding on terrain like this.

Wescott was invited to meet President George W. Bush after his first Olympic win but turned down the offer, citing his opposition to Bush’s foreign and domestic policies. He did meet with President Barack Obama.

“He’s amazing,” said Wescott. “He has such presence and is doing great stuff. I worry about the extremists he has to deal with. Their agenda is scary — they’re a threat to our Democracy.”

He would like to become more involved in Maine politics via another sport he loves — surfing.

“Something we see in the state of Maine is that coastal properties have been bought up by out-of-state residents. In Fiji there are a lot of foreign landowners, including Americans, who own tiny islands. It’s also where some of the world’s best surfing is,” said Wescott, who explained in detail.

Seth Wescott at his restaurant- The Rack- at the foot of Sugarloaf Mt. photo by Ramona du Houx

“The private landowners were saying that the waves are a part of their property, because they were breaking off their islands, even though people would use them and never touch shore. For many years, the waves were off limits. While I was there surfing, I met a man that created a bill for the Fijian government called the Wave Liberation Law. On July 7, 2010, the Fijian government opened the waves to people. The Surfriders would like this to happen in Maine. I’d like to propel it.”

Wescott first realized Maine’s potential to become a worldwide destination for surfing two and a half years ago.

“When Hurricane Earl came to Maine, it was and eye opener to me. My surf hero, Dave Rastovich, had flown all the way from Australia to shoot pictures in the waves, because it was they only big wave event going on in the world. We have a unique resource here, because storm systems come up the Eastern seaboard and produce beautiful waves,” said Wescott. “Grain Surfboards in York makes handcrafted surfboards that are outstanding. Mike LaVecchia and Brad Anderson started out in a basement — now surfers around the world want them. Surfing in Mane could be huge. It’s a multibillion industry with millions of participants worldwide.”

The problem in Maine has gotten worse with out-of-state groups.

“There are groups that have bought properties near where these waves in Maine frequent. These people aren’t Maine residents, trying to make the waves off limits to surfers. They have stereotyped the surfing community as being bad apples. Most surfers are very environmentally proactive and conscientious. They work really hard clearing up beach environments. The Surfriders Foundation has been a major proponent of environmental change in the world,” said the Olympian. “I’d like to work with the Legislature to create a bill to establish permanent access to waves off the coast.”

The Rack has become a community center after being bought by Wescott and two friends. The easygoing athlete can often be seen relaxing at his restaurant.

“Three of us had an emotional attachment to the space. We saw that the place could be a hub of the community. In our first year, we doubled the revenues of the previous owner, who had the place for fourteen years. We brought in live music, expanded the space and made sure we were creating a place that welcomes people,” said Wescott. “We wanted to allow people to have a second living room here.”

Wescott is writing a book, as he signed a publishing deal, and he is an avid photographer who plans to show his work at the Rack. Being at home at his restaurant and his Sugarloaf home that he helped design, helps the Olympian gear up for the training challenges of a four-year competition cycle. 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, is just around the corner for him.

“Physically it’s hard work, but mentally its a release. There is something very methodical about all the little baby steps you have to take to get to that point to prepare yourself, and I enjoy that process. When I get into a routine and run every day, I get lost in another world. I love that,” said Wescott.

“No day of my life seems like it’s work. To be able to have found something I love so much and to be able to make a living from it is phenomenal.”