A rare sight at Worlds after two winters of COVID: parents – FasterSkier.com


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Dave Ritchie, Christine Babcock, Sylvie Bouffard and Rick Nesbitt traveled from Canada to watch their children Graham Ritchie and Olivia Bouffard-Nesbitt compete at the 2023 World Championships in Slovenia. (Nathaniel Hertz/FasterSkier)

Planica, Slovenia – A year ago, Canadian cross-country skier Graham Ritchie reached the pinnacle of his sport. He was competing in the Winter Olympics in Beijing.

his parents? They’re half the world apart, and China’s strict coronavirus protocols have forced them to feature their son’s achievements on TV.

“It sucked,” Graham’s father, Dave Ritchie, said. “It was really tough.”

Fast forward a year and the World Ski Championships are held here. Ritchie, an insurance broker from Hardscrabbletown, Parry Sound, Ontario, stopped by the side of the trail on his first trip to Europe. Picturesque views of the Julian Alps with his wife while his son raced alongside the world’s best skiers.

“It’s special,” he said. “It’s exciting to come see what they’re doing.”

The Ritchies are one of a family that flew from North America to Slovenia this week to watch their children’s games. Their presence here is one of the clearest signs that the last two years of coronavirus quarantines on the international circuit are over for Canadian and American athletes. Beginning of pandemic.

“Whether you die or win in the end, they will love you the same way,” said 2022 Olympian Hayley Swirlbull, who also races for Planica. It’s great for me to have safe people around me who can provide that for me.”

Brick Swirlbull, father of U.S. Ski Team member Hayley Swirlbull, stood at a stadium in Planica, Slovenia with his wife to watch his daughter compete at the 2023 World Championships. (Nathaniel Hertz/FasterSkier)

Swirbul’s parents, Rebecca and Brick, flew from Colorado to Slovenia and were along the track to watch their daughter place 33rd in Thursday’s sprint race. Wearing pants, a vest, and a stovepipe hat all made from American flag striped fabric, Brick was hard to miss.

Hayley Swirlbull’s place on the American team wasn’t confirmed until a few weeks ago, and her parents scrambled to make plans to watch her race at the international level. I missed my daughter at the 2021 World Championships in

The Swirbuls also planned to see Haley racing the World Cup in Quebec in early 2020. But due to the coronavirus, those races were canceled a few days ago.

Being at Planica is “spectacular,” said Rebecca Swirbul.

But it’s also not entirely normal. “We wore masks and opened the windows in the car,” Rebecca said earlier this week when he three of her Swirbuls drove together.

Rebecca and Brick Swirbul wore masks as a precaution when driving with daughter Hailey Swirbul at the 2023 World Championships in Slovenia.

“It’s sad that that’s our reality right now,” she said. She added that she understands the need for caution.

“Okay,” she said. “Cold: done.”

Other Planica parents — those of American sprinter Julia Kahn — were aware of those risks when following their daughter’s competition in Europe earlier this year during the Tour de Ski. I saw it myself.

At the time, several US team staff members contracted coronavirus, forcing Khan’s parents, Dorothy and Gunther, to work.

A former professional basketball player, Dorothy said her own experience as a professional athlete helped her understand the need for boundaries while her daughter competed.

“It’s important that they have their own space and do their own thing,” she said.

One thing athletes’ parents can do, Kearns said, is to bring what they need from the United States to Europe. Europe is where many North American skiers live for months at a time. For example, medicines, clothing, and caffeinated drinks.

Dorothy and Gunther Khan watched their daughter Julia Khan compete at the 2023 World Championships on Thursday, February 23rd. (Nathaniel Herz/Faster Skier)

“I roast my own coffee and Julia is a real fan, and I think Jesse (Diggins) is too,” said Gunter Kahn. “Freshly baked beans.”

Meanwhile, Olivia Buffard Nesbitt’s parents brought in a new credit card for their daughter from their home in Canada.

“The last bottle is expired,” said Sylvie Boufal, Boufal Nesbitt’s mother.

Bouffard-Nesbitts and Ritchies wore maple leaf flags and outfits to watch Thursday’s race together. They said they are planning some sightseeing during the 11-day championship. Team leaders also organize dinners for parents and athletes.

Rick Nesbitt wears a hat signed by Canadian cross-country skiing legend Becky Scott for his daughter Olivia Buffard Nesbitt. (Nathaniel Hertz/FasterSkier)

Bouffard-Nesbitt said she hadn’t actually heard her parents on the course, which was lined up with noisy European fans. But she said she was thrilled by their presence.

“They are big ski fans. They love watching the World Cup and they love following my races,” she said. As a ski fan, I think it’s a very enjoyable environment.”

Graham Ritchie heard his parents during the qualifying laps of the sprint course.

“I almost caught myself off guard,” he said. “He was not used to hearing his father’s voice in Slovenia.”

Extra support can also help athletes without parents, according to Matt Whitcomb, head coach of the US team.

“When you ski through the stadium, you can’t help but notice a few American flags scattered all over the place,” he said. “It’s the energy that’s invested in our team.”

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