Methow native will compete at winter games next week
Fulfilling a childhood dream, Methow Valley native Novie McCabe has been named to the U.S. cross country ski team that will compete in the Beijing Winter Olympic Games starting next week.
McCabe, a 2020 graduate of Liberty Bell High School, is at age 20 the youngest member of the U.S. team and its only representative from Washington state.
She is extending a Methow Valley tradition: Her mother, Laura McCabe, competed for the U.S. Nordic team at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, and at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.
And, with McCabe’s inclusion on the U.S, team, this is the third consecutive Winter Olympics Games in which the Methow Valley will be represented. Siblings Sadie Maubet Bjornsen and Erik Bjornsen, who like Novie McCabe grew up in Mazama, each competed in the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, and at the 2018 games in PyenongChang, South Korea. Valley native Brian Gregg also represented the United States Nordic team at Sochi in 2014.
What was ahead
Novie McCabe had a storied athletic career at Liberty Bell, in both of the cross country sports (running and skiing) as well as track. Her Nordic prowess made her a star at the junior nationals level, and enabled her to compete in Europe as a teenager.
After graduating from Liberty Bell, she enrolled at the University of Utah. In late 2021, she concluded four weekends of World Cup competitions with her best finish at the Tour d’ Ski Hillclimb on the final day of seven consecutive races, taking seventh place. Her first World Cup points came two weeks earlier when she placed 28th in a 10K Classic race at Davos, Switzerland, on Dec. 12.
McCabe returned home to the U.S. in time to represent the University of Utah at the Montana State University Invitational at Sun Valley two weeks ago. That meet also doubled as a U.S. Super Tour meet. McCabe placed third in the Super Tour overall standings, took second in the College Invitational in the 5K freestyle, and won the 10K classic race.
McCabe was given an indication of what might be ahead for her when she was directed by the U.S. Ski and Snowboard team in December, during her World Cup tour, to purchase refundable airline tickets for Jan. 18 from Salt Lake City to Italy, and to have her bags packed and ready.
Then, late Monday afternoon (Jan. 17), she got the word, according to her mother: “She sent me a text Monday evening saying, ‘I made the team!’ It was all so quick,” Laura McCabe said. “She is in Italy at the pre-camp and left Tuesday morning after she heard the news on Monday night. Wooosh.”
Novie is training this week in the Alps of north central Italy, near Livigno, in the Lombardy Region, north of Milan. She will be traveling to Beijing this coming Saturday (Jan. 29).
Sean McCabe, Laura’s husband and father to Novie and her younger sister, Dashe, passed away in November 2009, when Novie was 7 years old and Dashe 3, succumbing to cancer of the thyroid at the age of 46. Also an avid runner and skier, he was a well-loved artist and teacher. After his passing, Laura raised the two girls as a single mom, with the spirit of Sean always serving as an inspiration.
“Raising my two girls as a single mom, this community was hugely impactful and supportive,” Laura McCabe said. “I wouldn’t have wanted to go about this task in any other place or community, for this I am forever grateful.”
Mimicking mom’s breathing pattern while riding on her back while Laura was skiing the trails around Mazama, riding her bike with mom and sister into Pearrygin Lake State Park, hiking down the hill to the lake for a swim and then back up, or hiking the trails of the Methow Valley and surrounding Cascade Mountains — all were part of Novie’s early start in the fitness and fastness culture.
It also became apparent early that Novie was dreaming of big things. In third grade, teacher Cathy Oliver gave her pupils a writing assignment that asked them to identify what they wanted to do when they grew up. Novie’s answer was short: She claimed she wanted to ski in the Olympics. Pretty much everything she did from that point forward has been directed that way.
Besides her mom, Novie benefitted from the guidance of Methow Valley Nordic Team coach Leslie Hall, a three-time Olympian herself, who believes deeply that Novie McCabe has an unlimited horizon.
“Since she was quite young she has put her all into ski racing,” said Hall. “There have been many bumps in the road but she has come through all of them stronger and stronger. I have an abundance of faith that Novie will do great things in ski racing.”
In junior high, McCabe won almost everything she entered, on trail, track or snow, and that continued into her high school years. Her junior high track and field coach, Thome George, said of Novie’s early effort and work ethic: “Yep, I got my once-in-a-lifetime athlete in my first two years. She was the operative definition of a prodigy. There’s good, there’s very good and then there’s great.”
McCabe led the Liberty Bell Mountain girls’ cross country running team to three straight state 1B/2B State Championships in 2016-18, winning the individual title by significant margins all three years.
Across the board, her coaches are all on the same page. Sarah Brooks watched her own daughter, Keeley, grow up with Novie running and skiing, and served as their high school running coach.
“One of the things I loved the most about coaching Novie in cross country running in high school is that she was the best teammate,” Brooks said. “While she was focused on her own racing, she also was always aware of how the team was doing and who was having a good day or who needed a little pick up. The whole U.S. Ski Team is so lucky to have Novie McCabe as their teammate.”
More in store
Hall and Sadie Maubet Bjornsen think bigger things might be in store for McCabe. Bjornsen, checking in from her home in Alaska, said that she had an opportunity to spend some time, prior to retiring from competitive skiing, with McCabe the past couple of years in the U.S. Ski program.
“It has been a pleasure to get to cross over being a teammate with her a few years, and getting the opportunity to work with her a little bit as a coach last summer,” Bjornsen said. “She is one heck of a talented human, and will go far with her calm, collected spirit.”
Hall believes the trip to Beijing is merely one more step in the young skier’s journey.
“When Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall won a gold medal in PyeongChang in 2018 in the team sprint, my sister-in-law [Suzanne King, also an Olympian] said, ‘Now it is never going to be quite as exciting when an American wins a medal in Nordic skiing because it has already been done,’” Hall said.
Hall’s take? “It will be way more exciting when Novie wins a gold medal!”
At the youthful age of 20, that might not happen for McCabe this year. But, it probably wouldn’t be prudent to bet against her, either.