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Aging to perfection

At 42, Beckedorff excels as skier, trader, mom

Carolyn Beckedorff started skiing at age 3, but continues to refine her skills on the slopes. Carolyn Beckedorff started skiing at age 3, but continues to refine her skills on the slopes. (Photo courtesy of Carolyn Beckedorff)
By Brion O'Connor
Globe Correspondent / February 26, 2009
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While a freshman at the Stratton Mountain School in Vermont, Carolyn Beckedorff had just finished her first ski race when a teammate came running to her, calling her name. The 14-year-old Beckedorff spun around to accept congratulations. "Carolyn," exclaimed her teammate, "you were skiing so slow!"

"That was my introduction to ski racing," says Beckedorff with a laugh.

Beckedorff can smile about the memory now. Some 28 years later, no one would dare put the word "slow" and the name of the reigning FIS masters slalom champion in the same sentence. At 42, Beckedorff is a dazzling, and dominating, presence on New England's Sise Cup masters ski racing circuit, running the gates with a surgeon's precision and the full-throttle agility of a BMW. The 5-foot-4-inch, 135-pound dynamo is also a wife, a mother, and a successful stock trader for a Boston brokerage firm.

"Uber mom sums it up," says her husband and coach, Tony DiGangi. "Because, in addition to everything else, all her training, she's the best mom in the world."

While Beckedorff shies from the term "uber mom," she packs more into her weeks than many people do in a month. A typical day starts between 4 and 5 in the morning, followed by a workout lasting 60 to 90 minutes. She then drives her 6-year-old son Harrison to school, often fielding calls from work before arriving between 8 and 8:30. She gets home between 5 and 6, giving her an hour or two of "family time" before she calls it a day shortly after 7:30.

"I need my sleep," she says with a chuckle.

So how does she do it? "Ever since I was a little kid, I was ultra-organized and very driven," she says. "Whether that came from my parents or my family lineage, I don't know. But I've always been that way. I've always been interested in making it all work. I'd be lying if I didn't say there are days when I sit back and ask, 'What are you doing?' But we figure out how to make it all work."

Early to ski, late to race
Growing up in Wellesley, Beckedorff started skiing when she was only 3, her family heading north to Stowe in Vermont on a regular basis. When she was 13, the ski-racing bug bit, and she started inquiring about ski academies, including the Green Mountain Valley School and Burke Mountain Academy in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom. Her parents steered her toward Stratton Mountain School.

"Now that I'm a mom, looking back on it, I'm sure they were really sad that I wanted to leave home at 13," says Beckedorff. "Because they knew someone at Stratton, I decided to just look there, and fell in love with it. Stratton told me I could come, but because I didn't have a ski-racing background, I would be the worst ski racer there, and I'd have to learn how to race."

After her disappointing finish at Mount Snow, Beckedorff dedicated herself to her newfound passion. "I worked really hard at Stratton," she says. "I had some amazing coaches there, who worked with me and believed in me. And within two years, I was skiing on the Eastern Cup circuit, racing and competing with my peers."

Beckedorff split her freshman, sophomore, and junior years between Wellesley High School and Stratton Mountain School. By her senior year, feeling "a little burnt out," she opted to graduate from Wellesley early, and enjoy her skiing while taking a break from racing. She enrolled in the University of New Hampshire, joining both the soccer and ski teams. A litany of injuries derailed Beckedorff's collegiate career, though she managed to compete all four years.

Shortly after graduating from UNH with a degree in English, Beckedorff went to work for Shearson Lehman in Boston, doing clerk work and "not even making enough to money to move out on my own." She also kept her hand in ski racing, signing on as a coach with the Gunstock Ski Club in New Hampshire. It was a serendipitous decision, as it led to her meeting her future husband. "[Tony's] definitely my biggest fan and my No. 1 coach," she says. "He's an amazing coach."

Beckedorff coached at Gunstock from 1989-99, and "it was great, really great. I kept racing with the kids I was coaching. Not nearly as much as I do now, but I could never quite get rid of the bug of racing."

Beckedorff moved on from Shearson Lehman after a year, landing a post with a small brokerage firm in Cambridge. Two decades later, she's now the firm's head trader, a testament to her tenacity and, in her own words, luck.

"I've been very lucky in life," she acknowledges. "That's a pretty big theme for me. People might be driven all the time, but not have the good luck. Honestly, it's not dissimilar from my going to Stratton. I had people who believed in me. My boss is an amazing guy, and believed I could do a good job."

Getting back in the game
In 1999, when her damaged right knee was so debilitating she could barely climb a flight of stairs, Beckedorff opted for reconstructive surgery. As part of her rehabilitation, she set her sights on a return to competitive skiing. DiGangi joined her. Together they began racing in the Sise Cup series (emblematic of New England masters ski racing supremacy), and Beckedorff won the first of her four Sise titles in 2000.

Today, Beckedorff continues to train five days a week, with varying intensity, as part of an overall conditioning program. "It's your basic ski training - strength and endurance and quickness," she says. "I try to make it fun, a different workout every day."

That training has clearly paid off.

"I'm stronger than I've ever been," she says. "Obviously, I don't get to train out on snow. So most of my training is dry-land training, and I've gotten smarter about that over the years.

"One of the biggest surprises [about returning to racing] was that I could continue to get better, even as an older athlete. Some of the best skiing that I've ever done has been as a masters ski racer."

Asked if his wife was a better skier today compared with when they first met, DiGangi's response is measured. "I think so," he says. "It's hard to say, because she was pretty accomplished when we met, having raced at UNH. She's more polished now in her skiing.

"Carolyn tends to adapt her skiing to the most current techniques," says DiGangi, who has worked with the US Ski Team. "In that regard, she's a much better skier than when she was younger. When she was younger, she got by a lot on talent and being young. Now she's realized how important it is to make sure she's staying on top of technique and technology. In my opinion, she's made that transition better than any other masters skier that I've seen."

Then there's the mental component. DiGangi says his wife has an uncanny ability to take care of business once she gets in the starting gate. "Every time I leave her at the start, I have to remind her to focus," he says. "Then there's the switch. She knows that when she puts her poles over the wand, for 60 seconds or however long that course is, she needs to lock it in."

With similar high-risk, high-reward environments, ski racing and stock trading can attract the same personality types. Beckedorff takes the analogy a step further.

"It's not just isolated to skiing," she says. "I think any athlete probably would do well on Wall Street in general. It's because, as an athlete, you grew up with a very disciplined attitude. You need to be focused, you need to have attention to detail, you need to be able to think quickly, and you need to be able to work hard. Obviously, it's a different kind of work, more mental, but I'd definitely say there's a connection there."

Family perspective
Beckedorff also enjoys a close connection with her son, Harrison, who was born in 2002, and started skiing two years later. Every winter weekend is a family outing.

"Kids add so much to your life, all around," says Beckedorff. "In skiing, he's added a sense of levity and fun to it. It's always been fun, but he's the one who's waiting at the bottom of the race course, and as soon as I finish, he'll say, 'OK, let's go ski the whole mountain.'

"Normally, racers, after they've finished, go inside and take their boots off and they're done. But I've spent the last several years exploring these mountains that I used to ski as a kid, so he's brought me back to my own childhood, not just as a ski racer but as a skier."

Beckedorff isn't blowing smoke, as her husband will attest.

"I've got the best gig, because even though I'm the stay-at-home dad, Carolyn is still a full-time mom," says DiGangi. "To sum it all up for you, we can go to a ski race, and Carolyn's priority is still Harrison. Every single ski race. Had she missed her race at nationals because she was off skiing with Harrison, it would not have bothered her one bit."

Crowning glory
Last year, Beckedorff hit the Trifecta. She first won the Sise Cup overall title before heading west for the masters nationals at Mammoth Mountain in California. There, she took both the slalom and the giant slalom titles, competing against racers 18 and older. Beckedorff's emphatic results at Mammoth served as a springboard across the Atlantic, and the FIS Masters World Championships last April in Austria.

"Austrians love their skiing, and they love their ski racers," she says. "There were 600 ski competitors at those races, and 300 were Austrian. And every single one of them was there to win."

None of them, however, was a match for Beckedorff, who claimed the top spot on the podium with another scintillating performance in the slalom. She brought home three medals, winning the slalom in her 40-44 age group (fourth overall); finishing second in the giant slalom (ninth overall), and third in the super-G (10th overall).

"To be able to go over there and win as an American, to stand on the podium with an Austrian on either side of me, to have them play the national anthem, and to be able to look out in the crowd and see Tony and Harrison waving to me, was just an amazing experience," she says. "Obviously it's not the Olympics or World Championships, but it was still just amazing."

For DiGangi, it was something more. "Carolyn has few regrets, but one of the things she actually regrets is being injured as she came up through juniors, and not making the US Ski Team," he says. "Everyone has that goal, to be in the Olympics. For her to be standing on that podium, with the flag behind her, and for Harrison to see her accomplish that goal, to be there as a family, was really special."

This year, Beckedorff is again challenging for first place in the Sise Cup, though a rejuvenated Jessie McAleer (another UNH grad who missed last year because of injury) is leading the standings. "Jessie's a very, very talented ski racer, and we've had a great rivalry over the years," says Beckedorff. "She's back this year, and back with a vengeance. So we've been having a great time battling it out for the Sise Cup. It'll come down to the wire."

Due to work commitments, Beckedorff won't be able to defend her FIS World slalom crown. Instead, her primary goal is repeating in the masters national slalom and giant slalom events at Sunday River in Maine next month.

"My entire focus this year is on defending those two titles," she says. "That would be the highlight of my season."

Given Beckedorff's accomplishments, no one should be surprised if she succeeds. And no one will be stunned if Beckedorff, the moment she crosses the finish line, goes off to find Harrison. About the only thing that would shock anyone is if Harrison turns to her and says: "Mom, you were skiing so slow."

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