Longtime Harwood Union High School cross-country, Nordic and track coach John Kerrigan and his son Ryan, a former UVM Nordic skier and ultra runner, continue their involvement in the relatively new sport of sky running as they coach the USA Youth Skyrunning team. competes in Italy this month with races in Arinsal, Andorra on July 22-24.
The duo have been involved with the International Skyrunning Federation since 2017 as coaches of the US youth team.
“Skyrunning is one of the oldest sports known to man,” said John Kerrigan. “It’s been part of the culture since ‘Ootzi’ (the ice man) ran from village to village on the mountain peaks of the Italian and Austrian Alps 6,000 years ago.”
Today, thousands of individuals from more than 50 countries compete in the two disciplines of skyrunning – the vertical kilometer which involves running straight up a mountain and the sky run which is a distance race. along the mountain ridge.
“Viewed from the valleys below, it looks like runners have been dropped from the sky, hence the name skyrunning,” Kerrigan explained.
The Youth Skyrunning World Championships offer a unique experience for young American runners, as the competition brings together like-minded young people from around the world who enjoy running in the mountains, Kerrigan said.
At the world championships, American riders aged 15 to 22 compete against young riders from more than 30 countries, including Spain, Italy, Scandinavia, Germany and Japan.
In its early organizational days, however, Team USA has yet to establish a comprehensive support system for the sport. “A lot of young international team skyrunners are fully funded by their home country,” Kerrigan said. “They receive a team uniform, technical training, education, equipment and racing experience with other adult and youth skyrunners from their country in preparation for the World Junior Championships. Spain alone has over a dozen skyrunning academies equivalent to our American ski academies which have produced many of our Alpine and Nordic Olympians. Italy now has a skyrunning major at the University of L’Aquila.
Young American skyrunners hail from hometowns literally across the country, from Alaska to Vermont. They don’t get a lot of opportunities to practice with each other and create a unifying team spirit, Kerrigan noted.
“Many young international runners live in a specific mountain region in their respective countries,” he said giving examples in the Pyrenees in Spain, the Alps in France, Italy and Switzerland, and other regions. mountains in Norway, Sweden and the Czech Republic. .
“Our mountain ranges are thousands of miles apart. The distance from the Cascades in Washington State to the Green Mountains where we live in Vermont is over 4,000 miles,” Kerrigan said. American runners began their training in the Sierras in California, the Chugach Mountains in Alaska, the Rockies in Colorado, the Tetons in Wyoming and the Blue Ridge and Green Mountains in the East, he said.
Despite these challenges, young American skyrunners have made an impression on the world stage, Kerrigan said.
“In 2018 and 2019, Sophia Sanchez from the Lake Tahoe area of California ranked first among all young women. Also in 2019, Mikey Connelly (who trains near Mount Marathon, Alaska) received the bronze medal for the young U-18 male runners. Our US team, although one of the fewest in number, consistently finishes in the top five for team scores,” he said.
Currently, youth representing the United States must be fully funded individually. “They must provide their own transport and accommodation. My son Ryan and I have dug deep into our own pockets for the past few years to cover entry and license fees, groceries, and helped with accommodations and transportation. Only runners who have family support were able to make the trip,” Kerrigan said.
As coaches, the Kerrigans aspire to help grow skyrunning in the United States. It’s not until after high school and college that most Americans are exposed to trail and mountain running,” Kerrigan said. “We hope to add to the strong running culture in the United States by exposing more young Americans to skyrunning. We would like to give skyrunning an identity in the United States of America.
Kerrigan said they would like to see all young people who enjoy running in the mountains take advantage of this opportunity. “The group of young sky runners representing the United States should reflect the diversity of our mountain cultures,” Kerrigan said. “In the past, several talented Native American skyrunners have approached us for assistance. Other than offering encouragement, guidance, and a bit of coaching, there isn’t much else we can do to help you.”
Team USA is currently fundraising to cover their competition costs through a gofundme website: gofundme.com/f/opportunity-to-help-usa-youth-skyrunners.
“We would like to show the world that American skyrunners are determined, diverse and strong. Above all, we would like to build a sense of belonging among all runners living and training in the vast and diverse mountain ranges of the United States,” Kerrigan said. “We are unlike any other nation on earth. Our strength lies in our diversity. We hope to develop our own unique brand of esprit de corps.
More information is online at skyrunningus.com