Same school, three siblings
Sargents star at Dartmouth
Elsa Sargent remembers the first time her little sister, Ida, beat her in a cross-country ski race.
“We basically were head-to-head in every race we entered,’’ said Elsa. “The first race Ida ever beat me was a little local race. She pulled up behind me and in this quiet, little voice said, ‘Elsa, do you mind if I pass?’ I remember thinking this was going to be a recurring thing.’’
From Bill Koch League races in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom to North Country Union High School competitions in Newport and on to Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., the Sargents have raced. Not just the sisters. Older brother Eben, too.
Ida Sargent, 22, is the third Sargent to ski for the Big Green since 2001. She’s having a solid season, finishing third in the national championships in Alaska, and fourth at the Under-23 World Championships in Hinterzarten, Germany. The junior biology major is soaring on the carnival circuit, winning five times, including a team relay and the 15K classic at Dartmouth last weekend.
Eben, a 2005 Dartmouth graduate, led the Sargents’ charge. All three have served as captains (Ida is cocaptain). Elsa, 23, graduated in 2008. She was an All-American and on Dartmouth’s 2007 NCAA championship team. The three were never on the same team at Dartmouth, but Elsa’s career overlapped Eben’s and Ida’s. All three attended North Country Union. After Elsa graduated, Ida went to Burke Mountain Academy.
“I don’t think there was pressure, it was more like a competition for me,’’ said Ida, the Eastern Intercollegiate Ski Association’s rookie of the year as a freshman. “When we were younger, first it was for me to keep up with them and then stick with them. There wasn’t any pressure from them or my parents to do the same thing. I looked up to both of them and wanted to do what they did.’’
The outdoor-oriented Sargents grew up in a rural Orleans, Vt., farmhouse. Parents Dave and Lindy (a retired engineer and school librarian) started the family skiing on old wooden skis in the woods behind their home on trails they cut themselves.
“They all come from a family of hard-working, intense, straight-shooting Vermonters,’’ says Cami Thompson, women’s cross-country ski coach and director of skiing at Dartmouth. “They all share that.’’
Ruff Patterson, the men’s cross-country ski coach at Dartmouth, described Eben, 27, as a “strong-willed guy and a tinkerer who liked to build things.’’ He’s also an avid ski mountaineer, hiker, and climber, and gave his sisters an insider’s view of college ski racing.
“He ended up working for a ski company designing mountaineering types of skis,’’ said Patterson.
Elsa’s living in Seattle working for a nonprofit land trust and she backcountry skis.
“There was a different sort of competition with Eben,’’ said Elsa. “He was on the men’s team and always a lot faster. It was nice to jump on a team and have an older brother during high school and college. At Dartmouth, the men’s and women’s Nordic teams do a lot of training and ride on the same bus together, so there was a lot of overlap. He helped me establish myself on the team.’’
The sisters were very competitive with one another during their younger years, and took on a typical sibling rivalry. Ida had second thoughts about Dartmouth.
“I always wanted to go to Dartmouth, but I was worried about doing the same thing that Eben and Elsa did,’’ said Ida. “I wanted to do my own thing. I considered going to the University of Utah, but they were very good convincers and I’m happy with the decision.’’
The sisters’ relationship matured with age. They trained and skied together for 15-plus years, knowing the other’s style, pace, and tactics. They used their collective knowledge during mass-start races, pulling away from the pack before skiing against each other.
“I thought there was going to be this rivalry with her sister,’’ said Patterson. “But it was completely the opposite. It was just big sister, little sister. They would go out and race and one would beat the other. They would also cheer each other on. They were more concerned about the other skiers.’’
Thompson has seen this in other sibling racers, including herself. She raced against her own sister.
“If there is one thing that stands out about the siblings we have had is that there is a healthy competition and once they get here they look out for each other, support each other, and smooth things out along the way,’’ says Thompson.
Family support is behind Ida, whether in an e-mail from a sibling or her parents attending a race.
“My first year at Dartmouth was also my sister’s senior year,’’ says Ida. “We got very close that year and she helped with my transition to college. I think Elsa and Eben are both independent people and I learned that from them, to do my own thing and work hard.’’
She’s done that, taking classes last summer and training with the team. Last fall she took time off from school to train and race with the Craftsbury Green Racing Project in Craftsbury, Vt., which prepared her for early-season SuperTour and NorAm competitions.
“Ida definitely has the most drive and love of the sport,’’ says Elsa. “She was always chasing us along and has soared well beyond what Eben and me have achieved on the ski trails.’’