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Keeping it Fun — Adventures with Captain Nordic

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When we were little kids, adults asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up. We said things like astronaut, firefighter, or doctor. I think it was our kid-way of saying we wanted to experience adventure and fun every day, and make a difference in the world. It was our way of saying we wanted to stay a kid forever. As middle schoolers, though, we are less sure of ourselves, which is why we need an adult like Mark Nadell in our lives, a coach whose inner kid is so close to the surface, it brings out ours.

Mark Nadell, who is known by his athletes as Captain Nordic, has been the Alder Creek Middle School Nordic coach for 15 years. Although he received his MBA from University of California at Berkeley and has many professional jobs, he chooses to spend a lot of his time teaching me and hundreds of other kids to love one of the hardest sports there is: cross-country skiing.  

Adults know middle schoolers can be wild and unpredictable sometimes, but Mark works with us masterfully. I think it’s because, as he says, he “never really grew up past the age of 14.” At practice, Mark never announces, “OK, today we’re looking for fun, adventure, and a way to be important to the world.” He knows we’d get lost in his words, so he just skis. And we follow him.

Even when the snow is almost melted and ski season is over, Mark’s coaching sticks with us. I asked him to share why he thinks his coaching style connects so well us with middle schoolers. Below are his answers, and also some comments from me.

"Middle school kids have unbridled energy. What you see is what you get. This is how I try to be in life. I am always myself. You can’t fool middle schoolers.” ~ Mark Nadell

“Even on my worst days, I love being on snow, exercising with kids who enjoy the same thing. I consciously channel their energy through me, and use it to be the best coach I can be.” ~ Mark

“There’s no place for being rigid. If I planned a long ski, but it’s raining and I need to be close to the lodge, I adjust; if it’s a powder day, we shred! Whatever it takes to get the job done and have FUN doing it.” ~ Mark

“I was an un-athletic, introverted kid, studying music and playing tournament bridge with my mother — nothing gets nerdier than that. One day, as a music major in college, I realized an 8’ by 8’ practice room wasn’t where I wanted to be. There was a beautiful world to explore and enjoy. Reminds me of Truckee Nordic kids, because they enjoy being outside, too, not sitting around playing video games.” ~ Mark

“My overall goal is to help make better people through Nordic skiing.” ~ Mark

“I just assume that middle schoolers love spending time with me, as much as I do spending time with them.” ~ Mark

“My advice to kids: ‘Carpe Diem — make your lives extraordinary.’” ~ Mark

“I don’t have much talent in what I do. What I have been blessed with is boundless energy for the things I love. And none for the things I don’t.” ~ Mark

“Energy. Effort. Enthusiasm. Not talent. I emphasize effort over everything.” ~ Mark

“Mark gives us an image of the kind of adult we could be in our future, and we like what we see.” ~ Frances Hamilton

“Mark thinks of the littlest ways to make life brighter, like wearing crazy tights and letting us put glitter on his face on race days.” ~ Frances

“Mark is always looking for the fun in training. We might have had an intense workout, but he always ends with a game.” ~ Frances

“There’s no better motivation in a race than seeing your coach on his knees in the snow taking a picture of you. It might just be a middle school race, but in that moment, Mark makes you feel like an Olympian.” ~ Frances

When he’s not skiing with kids, Mark Nadell, 60, runs a trade show for the sports industry, takes photos of people outdoors, and is the webmaster and trip coordinator for Far West Nordic Ski Division.

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February 14, 2019