WATERVILLE VALLEY — On Friday, January 17 Olympian Penny Pitou graced the inaugural event at the still-under-construction Thomas Barbeau Training Center. Pitou, a double silver medalist at the Squaw Valley Olympics in 1960 was an energetic, funny, honest and exceptionally engaging speaker. Accompanied by clips of her at the games in 1960, she shared the realities of medaling at a downhill over 50 years ago. Still showing the grit and determination that propelled her to Olympic stardom, she explained the challenges and, more importantly, the opportunities skiing presented her in 1960, and every year since then.
Grooming? Try a bicycle with some chains attached. Helmets? A leather hat with ear flaps. $3,000 skis? Hers cost $27! How times have changed and how training philosophies have progressed.
Surrounded by friends old and new, Pitou shared stories of traveling unaccompanied through Europe as a young woman. She spoke of her pride in the skiing legacy that she represents as manifested in her son, Christian a member of the BBTS Board and her three grandchildren, Dylan; a BBTS coach, Zane, a Waterville Valley Academy (WVA) U14 Alpine racer and Zoe, a WVA U12 Alpine racer.
In reminiscing about her early days skiing in New Hampshire she related this story and her actions years later to make sure other young girls could follow their dreams.
"I was on the freshman ski team at Laconia High School. I loved to jump and I was a very good jumper. So I joined the team as a 3-event "man." I was a jumper, downhill and slalom. Of course there were no girls on the team in those days, so I disguised myself as a boy and asked the kids to call me "Tommy." I put my hair under my hat and I competed and did quite well for the team. I was second "man" on the team. Until one day at New Hampton School I was in a GS, I was skiing as fast as I could go and I caught an edge and I crashed. It was a big crash, my hat fell off, my hair fell out and the gate-keeper looked down and said, "Oh my God, it's a girl!" Well, two weeks later, the principal of my high school called me in and said I was off the team because I had been discovered as a girl.
Eight years later, I was seething about this for several years, a local girl came up to me crying and I said, "What's the matter?" She said. "They won't let me play baseball because I'm a girl." Well, boy the fury came right to the top again. I said, "Come with me." We marched down to the field and went to the first guy I could find and I said, "This is Amy Richardson, she wants to play ball. " He said, "She can't, she's a girl." My reply was, "Then I'll start my own girls team." He told me nobody would show up. Well, 65 little girls showed up the first day, with their fathers and their mothers and that was the beginning of girls baseball in Gilford. It was a little bit of a payback. Felt very good about that! Some of us were just born too early, you know 20-30 years before Title 9."
Over 75 folks braved the cold and ice to make the first event in the Thomas Barbeau Training Center an evening to remember. Food, music and a video honoring current Olympian, Hannah Kearney rounded out the evening. This video, one of Liberty Mutual's Responsibility Project, was partly filmed at BBTS and the Waterville Valley resort. It featured several BBTS and WVA athletes who were understandably thrilled to spend the day the Vancouver gold medalist and medal-contender for the upcoming Sochi games. Kearney, a former BBTS athlete is also a WVBBTS / SEF Board member.
The third honoree of the evening was Alpine Director and Head U16 coach, Tom Barbeau.
According to CEO, Peter Stokloza, "Tom has been an integral part of BBTS for almost 30 years. His mastery of the Burdenko Method, as developed by PhD Russian Sports scientist Igor Burdenko, provides our athletes with the opportunity to dramatically improve six essential abilities – balance, flexibility, coordination, endurance, speed and strength. The new training center will have a dedicated Burdenko workout gym as well as two in-ground trampolines, a tuning room, and a video review and conference room plus support facilities. We are proud to name it after Tom!"