Each month leading up to BMA’s 50th anniversary celebration, we present to you a fellow academy alumnus/alumna. Join us as we look “Inside the Den”, learn about how the academy has evolved over time, and gain new insight on how the school shaped these Burkie Bears’ lives in ski racing and in life.
Since its inception in 1970, the academy has been home to 1,178 students, including 36 who have gone on to compete in the Olympics and 145 who have been members of national teams representing the USA, Australia, Canada, Chile, Estonia, Great Britain, Japan, South Korea, and Spain. Above and beyond the athletic success of its alumni, BMA has always embraced a progressive educational model that focuses on engendering creativity, curiosity, and problem-solving in all of its graduates.
This month, we present you, Kelsey Levine. Kelsey is the proud new mom of baby Avery and she works as assistant professor of Physical Education and is the Head Alpine Ski Coach at Williams College.
Why did you choose to attend BMA?
The red buildings on the hillside, just below the mountain, were incredibly charming. A small school that focused solely on alpine and nordic skiing seemed like a great place to go to ski race. Also, I had only been on one airplane before attending Burke! When Kirk Dwyer starting talking about Chile and Colorado in our first meeting, I couldn’t believe I might be able to actually go to those places. It was beyond my imagination. Also, quite a few people encouraged me to check out Burke. It seemed like a great place.
What drew you to the academy?
Kirk Dwyer’s brother was a cross country coach in Maine and I ran for Brunswick High School. At every meet he’d say: “don’t forget to check out my brother’s ski academy!” That was the original bird in my ear. I also believe Wolfi Frandl talked to my dad on the side of the hill one race day. That probably helped, too.
What did you do after graduating?
I went to Williams and skied NCAA for four years. I made it to the championships once. I majored in computer science and studied abroad in Norway.
What was your professional journey after college?
After college, I stayed on as the assistant coach for Williams for four years under Ed Grees. I then took over the program as the head coach in 2014. Outside of our college season, I have taught classes in rock climbing, spinning, and beginner swimming. Alongside coaching, I am also working towards a master’s degree in computer science at UMass Amherst.
What memories stand out the most from your Burke days?
Working with Vlado Dzugas was transformative for me. At one of our first “group” races, we all got beat by a woman who hip-checked the snow. We were chipper while loading the van, sharing the positives from our race day. Once inside the van, Vlado wondered why we were so happy. He turned to us and said: “If a girl falls on her ass and beats me, I’d chew up my skis, spit them out and walk home!”
His high expectations pushed me to be better, work harder, and try to execute what was in front of me. His odd European turns of phrases always gave us great quotes to tap into. And above all else, Vlado tried to give us the best situation possible: One day at Sugarloaf for Super G, there was no dedicated warm-up trail. And he thought that was dangerous. He didn’t want us to race without having felt the long boards beneath our feet, and he knew it needed to be on a trail where there was netting. So, he had us standing in our skis partway down the trail early in the morning and cleared us all to warm up on the race trail. At the coaches’ meeting, he was shunned. But he did what he felt was right – and safe.
One day at Breckenridge, after the first run in a GS, Vlado told me he felt bad for my skis – that they had never really been used, never really been bent. So second run, I set out to prove him wrong and as a result, I scored my best race ever. At the end of the day, he took off his glove and shook my hand. I had learned something and made a race of it. He didn’t give out praise easily but when it was earned, he recognized it.
What was your favorite workout at BMA?
There were many gritty days and I appreciated all of them. But what comes to mind in retrospect as being particularly special is how strong of a weightlifter I was when I left Burke. I remember learning to hang-clean with a broom. And then working my way up in weight. Our form was carefully crafted so that the basis for the rest of my athletics was powerful and efficient. I have used what I learned there every day as a coach and as an athlete. This attention to form and detail has given me a lot of confidence through the years.
What is a memorable academic experience from your time at BMA?
Bryce Hubner taught a class called “Literature into Film,” in which we learned about turning books into movie scripts. We read some really fun books in that class, the highlight being “The Beach.” I had a blast turning the first chapter of Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” into a movie script. Bryce left us as seniors with a final message: “To have opinions” as we go through our adult lives. This is pretty powerful advice that I have held on to.
What lessons did you learn at BMA that you’ve carried forward in your adult life?
I learned to stick up for my team. I learned from Darrell that you can push the tough/crazy line in the best way. I learned to mountain bike. I learned what it means to be completely committed to something. I learned what it means to stick to a high standard and not allow anything less.
What projects and passions keep you busy now?
I am kept busing trying to make the Williams Ski Team the best it can be. This is both in terms of team atmosphere and performance. In my mind, the two cannot be separated. I still bike, run, and ski. I work on Riseline Apps for iOS. Our two apps are Alpine Fantasy Ski Racing and Scrap2.
What is your relationship to skiing now?
I am the head coach at Williams. But also, skiing is what I do to spend time with my family – my parents, grandfather, and siblings as well as my husband, Daniel! And I can’t wait to teach our new son, Avery, how to ski (he is just three weeks old though as I write this!)