Take 5: All-star Nordic siblings Tucker and Taeler McCrerey
The collegiate Nordic scene is small, and it just got a bit smaller for Tucker and Taeler McCrerey.
This season, the brother-sister duo from Summit County will travel to the same races for the first time as NCAA peers. Tucker, a 22-year-old architecture major, is looking ahead to his fourth and final season on the University of Utah Nordic ski team. His sister, 18-year-old Taeler, is just as ready to begin her first season with the University of Denver team between classes in biology and integrated sciences. The two won’t race head to head, but they’ll more than likely run into each other between heats and after events, just like they did when they were racing locally with the Summit Nordic Ski Club.
As siblings in a small mountain town, the McCrerey’s took similar paths to the sport’s elite level. It’s a testament to the local club: Tucker joined in third or fourth grade after an intro session through Frisco Elementary School, and his sister joined in fourth or fifth grade because — well, because she was already following her brother and parents to Nordic races anyway.
It couldn’t have worked out better for the two. Both have made trips to the U.S. Cross Country Nationals, and Taeler performed well enough at the 2014 event in Soldier Hallow, Utah to earn an invite for training with the Norwegian women’s team over Christmas break. That’s the equivalent of a guitarist sitting in on a jam session with Keith Richards or Eric Clapton. It doesn’t get much better.
Before the start of the collegiate season — and before Taeler headed overseas — the Summit Daily sports desk caught up with the McCrerey siblings to talk about living and training in Summit County, the Nordic World Ski Championships and why Christmas Day for these two is anything but laid back.
Summit Daily News: Taeler, this will be your first season with the DU team. Are you anxious for racing to get underway?
Taeler McCrerey: We still have a long ways to go before we start racing the college series. That doesn’t get started until January, the beginning of January, but here in Denver we’ve been able to train hard and do all we can to prepare for the season. I think I was definitely well trained coming into college, coming from the Summit Nordic team. That was one of my goals — just make sure I was where I needed to be to keep moving higher.
Tucker McCrerey: Tae Tae has some very fast females on the team.
Taeler: Yeah, we have mostly Europeans on the female team. Being American, I’m actually on my own a little bit. We have girls from Norway, a Finnish girl — those Scandinavian countries — and then two or three females from the U.S.
SDN: Tucker, is that about the same as Utah? Is your team a mix of American and international skiers?
Tucker: Through the years we’ve actually had a super-consistent group of Americans. In combined alpine and Nordic there are six on the entire team, with three of us on the Nordic side, and I had raced with a lot of these guys before even joining the team. Europeans come and go, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have the same team over the past three years. That’s not something that most college teams can claim. But we’ve had guys from Swizerland, Austria, Sweden, U.S. — it’s a melting-pot team.
SDN: You’re heading into your final season now. Does it help to have a consistent group of teammates?
Tucker: Yes, for sure. We’ve been putting in a lot of training hours together over the past three years. When you have that consistent group and see everyone’s progress through the fall, you remember that you went through those hard workouts when you race in the winter. You remember the days when you say, “I beat him by this much time,” and it helps us with goal setting.
SDN: What kind of pre-season work are your teams doing before racing begins?
Tucker: At this point in the year we’ve been training for a while. We begin in April or sometimes May, just beginning with hours and general training, getting out on the roller skis. You move to more specific training sessions over time. Now, we’re really starting to ramp up the hard race efforts and hard workouts. We’re not doing much distance at this point. We’ve done that work.
Taeler: We’re doing the same stuff. As we transition into the race season we start to train harder and differently, in the sense that we’re training for race shape, not just the base training we get earlier in the summer.
On our team, this year we’ll have the opportunity to go to Norway. With the way our school schedule is out — it’s a quarter system, not semesters — I’m actually on break from Thanksgiving through Christmas. That long break is a perfect time to train.
SDN: So you will be training in Norway over the holiday break?
Taeler: Yes, we’re going out for two or three weeks and will use that opportunity to get on snow, be on the trails out there. We’ll also have a few race opportunities. It’s great because we won’t have to worry about schoolwork and I think it will be nice to have that. I’ve never been on a different system. Through high school, we would be in class until the week before Christmas. This will be nice to only focus on training, especially because our class schedule is pretty intense here.
Tucker: I’m pretty jealous, honestly. They’re heading to a world-class facility. I’ve never been to that area. I’ve been to Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic in Europe, but Norway, you know, they have the best cross-country skiers in the world.
Taeler: I’ve actually had the chance to race in Finland before. In high school, my junior year, I qualified for a team to represent the United States out there for Junior races. Then I went to Sweden towards the end of the summer for training opportunities. I had the chance to go home with Olof (Hedberg), the Summit Nordic coach, and we just trained around his house and everything.
SDN: How did living and training in Summit County prepare you for collegiate competition?
Tucker: Summit County is super-unique environment to train seriously for Nordic because of the altitude. So many athletes are training around 4,000 feet or lower, or even at sea level, so growing up in Summit was a huge benefit. But, you need to have that training dialed in pretty well to survive a summer of hard training up there just because of the pure altitude.
Taeler: Yeah, I’d agree with that. We also have the overall support of the community. When we’re training of the bike paths, people will always say, “Best of luck this winter.” That’s very cool to see.
Tucker: I’ve spent some summers away from home, across the U.S., and to this day I haven’t found an area that was better fit for Nordic training in terms of variety for roller skiing, variety for climbing peaks, all of that. For me, it’s like a paradise. I can run two or three hours and never run the same trail. That expensive bike path is just so nice, with the hills we need for intervals and everything. Most skiers through the U.S. train on roads, and I’ve never, ever felt unsafe in Summit, whether I’m on the bike path or even the road.
SDN: How did you two first get into Nordic? Was it the club or was it something else?
Tucker: When I was in elementary school they gave you the choice to do alpine, Nordic or ice skating. I did alpine — everyone did alpine — but one day, my fourth grade teacher, she basically told me to try something new. So I took the two-minute bus ride from the school to the Frisco Nordic center, and I guess since I was so small and skinny it was easier for me to pick up than alpine. I just didn’t have the alpine legs.
Taeler: I started because of Tucker, mainly (laughs). We got to travel around Colorado for races, so you’d spend the weekend or the morning going around the state. I was figure skating then, but I think my parents convinced me to give it a try at some point.
SDN: Did you two spend much time skiing together when you were growing up?
Tucker: Well, when we started skiing together at Summit Nordic, usually the guys would go off and the girls would go off. Through the years, we really did become quite close, I guess, just being able to go out and ski, whether it’s sunny out or a blizzard. Sometimes we’d just go out, put training and a workout aside, and just enjoy skiing together.
Taeler: That was something I always liked about training with Tucker. He’s so self-motivated all the time, and it’s so easy when you have hard workouts or when you’re tired to say “no.” But, he would always say, “You have to do it.” Back when the guys and girls would split, we’d get together and ski for a few minutes together at the end. He might give me tips, or sometimes not even. We’d just talk.
I remember one Christmas Morning when it was a blizzard. It’s Christmas, so you didn’t want to do anything, but he made me go out and do intervals, a really hard session. I remember him telling me, “How many other people are getting strong today?”
I think his overall maturity with training has helped me in the long run. I still use him as motivation, like this year, even today, when I have questions about training or skiing or anything. He’s been through more than I have.
SDN: Will your teams compete against each other?
Taeler: Yeah, we’ll get to see each other during the race season a few times. Other than that we’re on different race scenes. Utah isn’t really very close to Denver (laughs).
Tucker: Basically in the fall, whether you’re a national team or Summit Nordic, you have your own training program. A lot of time clubs and collegiate teams will join up with other teams to train. When you get a bunch of people together who are motivated, that’s when you get better. I was visiting Boulder at the end of October and there was an uphill running race that I did. DU showed up, the CU-Boulder ski team was there, because at the end of the day we all like the same thing, try to do the same thing to get better.
SDN: Tucker, looking back on your career have you enjoyed collegiate skiing? Is it what you expected?
Tucker: Absolutely. The support just can’t be matched — skis and equipment and clothing and everything like that. Some years, you get a new guy or girl who comes in who is an Olympian for their respective country. They are much, much better than you, so they offer training advice and experience. That’s when I grew the most as a skier. As a senior now, in my last winter as a Utah Ute, it’s the culmination of everything I’ve done. It’s shaped me and my skiing for sure.
SDN: Tucker and Taeler, what are your goals for the season? I’m sure they look different given where you two are in your careers.
Taeler: I think since this is my first year in college there is a big change, like my whole world has been flipped upside down — new team, new lifestyle. I’m living in the dorms and that’s always interesting. I don’t really know what to expect this season, but if all goes well I’d like to qualify for Junior Worlds. We’ll be flying to Michigan for the U.S. Nationals in January, and that will be the qualifying race. If all goes well there, I’ll be on a plane two weeks after that for Worlds.
But, I obviously haven’t race the college circuit here, so as long as I get settled into school and become an overall better skier — just technique and learning about myself as a skier — that would be the best thing. The girls here are older, faster, stronger, but I think I can be right in there with them. I’m very excited for the season.
Tucker: I’ve skied in Junior World Championships, like Taeler, so I’m focusing 100 percent of my energy and time on skiing at the NCAA Championships. Those are in Steamboat, so that’s basically the closest thing I’ll ever come to home snow. When you have the Championships on home snow, you want to be dialed in for those qualification races.
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