FRONT OF THE PACK- Bryan Fletcher competing in the 2015 World Championships in Falun Sweden.
Steamboat Springs, CO
The year was 2003, and I had just been selected to compete in my first World Junior Championships taking place in Sollefteå, Sweden. I had heard the stories of European travel for years. I mean to be honest, when I found out I could go to Europe for the sport of Nordic combined, that’s pretty much all I wanted to do. The allure of attending competitions in a far-off land seemed so appealing to a young kid. Life on the road skiing with minimal parental supervision, I mean come on, what’s not to like about that? Finally, that dream was coming true, tickets were booked, bags were packed, and horror stories of travel gone bad were passed down to me from the older generation. Nonetheless, I was ready and eager to conquer the journey. My travel instructions were simple, take the 3 flights to get to Sweden, get my bags off the belt, find the guy with my name on the sign, have him drive me to the hotel, where I would call DJ and meet the rest of the team. How hard could this be?!
The long-awaited day finally came. As I was about to board my first international flight, I remembered all my peers telling me how cramped and crowded the plane would be. They said it would be the longest 10 hours of my life. Their advice “As soon as the door to the plane closes jump on any open row available and throw your stuff all over so no one sits there!”
I was travelling solo and boarded the plane. It was huge, I had never set foot on a plane that big in my life, there was like 5 seats in the middle of the plane and 2 on each side. Immediately I began to fear how crowded this would become, yet I was bewildered by the lack of people in the waiting area. I assured myself that the masses would come but they never did. The boarding door closed and that’s when it dawned on me, I had 5 seats to all to myself and there was not a person for 10 rows in front of me or in back of me. That 10 hours went by so fast! I was like a kid in candy store, I slept, I read my book, I listened to my CD player, I ate candy and slept some more.
I arrived and just as expected I met the guy with my name on the sign, which was horribly misspelled! After loading my bags up in the car we were on our way. He told me it’s just about a 2-hour drive. I thought to myself that I probably should stay vigilant, I don’t know this guy, I am in a foreign country, I should make sure he is taking me the right way, to the right place! I mean he could be kidnapping me for all I know. Then it hits me, the jetlag, and as I try with all my might to fight it, I can’t and I doze off. I woke up a short time later and we are pulling up the drive of a massive old complex. It’s the hotel I am staying at but for some reason it looks more like a hospital. Concerned, I ask the driver if this is where I am staying, he replies in broken English, “USA, yes.” I unload my bags, go to the front desk, grab a room key, and as I am walking down the halls I can’t help but notice all the pictures of operating rooms, patients, doctors and nurses. I arrive at my room and open the door to find a vaulted ceiling, no TV and a hospital bed, you know the one where the head and feet lower with the railings on the side. Curious I go back to look at the pictures, as I do, I realize that not only was this place a hospital in the early 1900’s but it was also repurposed as a mental institution a short time later. I admit I was now a bit freaked out, I mean I had been there almost 3 hours, none of my teammates had shown up, there was not another soul in the building, besides the receptionist, and the calling card with a billion minutes I had purchased would not put me through to DJ or the USA to let my family know I was alive. At this point, I decided to retreat to my room and hide. Minutes seemed like hours as I waited for the rest of the crew to show.
Just when I was about to hit the ground running a van pulled up with a bunch of skinny dudes with dyed hair and US Ski Team jackets. Immediately I recognized them as the wild crew with which I belonged. My fear subsided and I went to greet them, they could obviously see I had been shaking in my boots. They gave me a rash of crap all in good fun, then the true experience began. The comps were nothing special results-wise for me, but the experience certainly was. I remember watching feverously as our squad took third place with some impressive skiing. They were competing against and beating the best skiers I had ever seen and I quickly realized that our guys were among the best. Inspired, I left that trip determined to join the ranks of the US Nordic Combined team. The rest of my career started on the travel home from that trip, I had a lot of work to do before I could reach the level of the U.S. Team. But that trip solidified the dream in my mind no matter how much work it might take.
The travel home was not the lap of luxury the trip over had been. This plane was packed to the gills, and I now understood the horrors of international travel from the middle seat in what might as well have been row 1000 and 1. But that didn’t matter as I was perfectly happy reliving the memories of my first international competitions!
WAVING THE FLAG for the USA as a member of the 2014 Olympic team that competed in Sochi, Russia.
AND NOW A FATHER- Daughter Ellery Ardene Fletcher jioned Bryan and wife, Nikki, on Aug. 29, 2016.
CURATOR’S NOTE- For a great recent article on Bryan (by Faster Skier) CLICK HERE