Steve Lewis/Durango Herald
Steve Lewis/Durango Herald
When Durango hosts a fundraiser for three local Winter Olympic hopefuls, guess who shows up?
Other Olympians, that’s who.
And national champions, world champions – champions at every level, at every age, in a multitude of sports and a variety of businesses.
“In a town like this, there are so many inspiring people,” Durango Olympic biathlete Lanny Barnes said as she gazed across the benefit crowd gathered in the basement of the Irish Embassy Pub on Friday night.
There was three-time mountain bike Olympian Todd Wells.
Not far away stood cycling legend, national and world champion Ned Overend.
On the other side of the room, three-time Olympic Nordic skier Mike Elliott of Durango chatted with Craig Ward of Aspen, a former U.S. Ski Team racer, and Dolph Kuss of Durango, yet another former Olympic skier.
“These are inspiring people,” Barnes said. “Not only great athletes but people who work hard in their jobs and make this town what it is.”
She said she and twin sister Tracy, both 29, draw inspiration from their Durango hometown that continues to line up support for their international biathlon careers.
The daughters of Deborah and Thad Barnes of Durango both have experienced the Olympics – 2006 and 2010. Both want to experience the Olympics again – 2014 in Sochi, Russia.
The Friday-night fundraiser, sponsored by the Durango Nordic community, was established to help the training efforts of the Barnes twins and Durango Nordic ski racer Tad Elliott, who also is bidding for a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team for 2014.
“The support we have back here at home just pushes us that much harder,” Lanny Barnes said. “That support ... motivates us. I think the people in this room sum it up.
“We don’t look at this as just a group of supporters. These people are family to us.”
The long months of international travel for their sport can be daunting.
“But just knowing you’re inspiring people back home ... it pushes you to do your best,” said Lanny Barnes, the older of the twins by 5 minutes.
“Tracy and I have always been about doing this for the people around us.”
In another corner of the Embassy, Tad Elliott talked about the vital support Durango provides for his cross country racing endeavors – and his dream of racing for the United States in the 2014 Winter Olympics.
The Durango High School graduate and former Durango Nordic racer scored his first World Cup Nordic points last season, when he also won his third U.S. national title.
Elliott, the son of Mike and Nancy Elliott, also won the prestigious American Birkebeiner ski marathon last winter.
“It feels like we’ll be racing at home all year,” said Elliott, who left Sunday morning on a four-flight trip to Finland where the U.S. skiers will have a training base above the Arctic Circle.
After racing in Finland, Sweden and Finland again, Elliott said he’ll be back home.
“We have World Cups in (North America) this year. I can come home and train in Durango,” he said of the World Cup races set for Canmore, near Banff, in Canada.
Elliott spent the skiing offseason as a professional mountain bike racer with the Durango-based Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory Sweet Elite team. A former junior national mountain bike champion, Elliott finished sixth at the U.S. Mountain Bike Nationals in Sun Valley, Idaho.
He also spent extensive time training in Park City, Utah, with the U.S. Ski Team staff and coaches, including Nordic coach Jason Cork, a former Durango Nordic coach.
“Jason’s my coach again now,” Elliott said. “He was my coach here in Durango (as a junior).”
He said the “strength room” work in Park City over the summer helped significantly.
“I haven’t gotten much bigger, but I’ve gotten a lot stronger,” said Elliott, and he can’t wait for the new racing season to begin.
But first, he personally thanked everyone who attended the Olympic fundraiser in downtown Durango. The event, he said, will help him make a push for Sochi.
Besides, the gathering was fun.
Elliott’s close pals on the U.S. Ski Team, Noah Hoffman and Michael Ward of Aspen, drove down to Durango to attend the fundraiser along with their parents and return the favor. A similar fundraiser was held earlier this week in Aspen, with the Durango crew on hand for support.
“We’re all in this together,” said Craig Ward, Michael’s dad. “It’s not an Aspen thing or a Durango thing or a Vail thing. We came down here to show our support. As you can see, there’s nothing better than supporting your local kids.”