Anyone who has followed high school skiing in Maine for the past two decades probably remembers Leavitt’s Eileen Carey, the Nordic skier from the Class of 2000 won four state championships as a Hornet and dominated the Maine Nordic skiing landscape her entire high school career.

Fast forward to the present, and Carey was named the United States Paralympic Coach of the Year by the U.S. Olympic Committee two weeks ago.

Carey coaches the U.S. Nordic skiing and biathlon paralympic teams and has had a winding road to get to this moment. While the award was treasured by Carey, she said she’s not one for individual accolades.

“I am very accustomed to my athletes getting awards. I prefer it,” Carey said. “It was really motivating to see athletes and coaches, and to see different ways that they had excelled. It was inspiring.”

After graduating from Leavitt Area High School, Carey skied and captained the Dartmouth College Nordic team, but her career was derailed by hip and back injuries. After college in New Hampshire she moved to Colorado to coach at a boarding school before moving back to Maine to coach at what is now the Outdoor Sport Institute.

There, Carey was introduced to biathlon. The sport is a mix of skiing and marksmanship — a stark contrast from the all-out nature of Nordic skiing. Paralympic biathletes have to shoot at a 13-millimeter target from 10 meters away incrementally throughout their race.

“It’s a really fascinating sport because in skiing it’s so physical and you’re pushing the body to the limit,” Carey said. “In biathlon, you have to stop and have the ability to be precise and it takes mental fortitude, so that dynamic is really interesting from a physical aspect of skiing to biathlon.”

After leaving the Institute in 2010, the New England Nordic Ski Association needed a coach that had experience. Through that opportunity, Carey found herself coaching with the national team here and there, and in 2015 was named the head coach of the U.S. Paralympic Ski Team.

In just the past season alone, Carey has coached her athletes — including standouts Oksana Masters and Dan Cnossen — to a total of 33 medals in Nordic skiing and 12 in the biathlon.

Her approach to winning dozens of medals, including four times more than the previous biathlon season? Forget everything you’ve learned in skiing.

“I spoke about that after Sochi,” she said. “Our team made a collective choice to start over and to just throw out everything that we thought we knew, and to problem-solve and experiment and find ways to improve in a lot of small ways,” Carey said. “For me, that’s not an easy thing to do.”

Carey’s approach to the season was unorthodox, but her team took it to heart and it ended up working out, but patience was needed.

“It’s special to be on a team, to be with athletes and staff that have enough concept of failure to be bold enough to work in that way,” Carey said. “There were many times we made decisions that would have a negative impact on us winning medals because of trying new things, but I think it has led us to a lot of improvements. I feel really lucky to be a part of a team that will do that because it’s unique, it keeps things challenging and interesting for all of us.”

Saturday was the beginning of a new season, one that is leading up to the 2018 Paralympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea — Carey’s second Olympic Games as a coach. The first World Cup Series out of three this year before the Paralympics in March is in Canmore, Canada. Carey and the team have busy schedules leading up to races.

“On a typical training day we have two or three sessions,” Carey said. “We have ski and bi sessions in the morning, and in the afternoon another ski, strength or indoor shooting range workout. We do two or three of those each day.”

Carey travels all over the world, sometimes for half the days in a year. For that reason, she tries to find things that help her connect with home as much as possible.

“I love it,” Carey said. “I have always loved traveling, but I would say the way I do it has changed. Sometimes we spend 180 days a year on the road, so when you do that, I used to travel and find as much adventure as possible. Now I try to find as many home comforts as possible. I bring my coffee, pillows, things I bake to make it feel like home.”

The team also tries to have as much fun as possible while on the road in places such as Canada, Norway and Sweden.

“The things that are most exciting and gratifying are the ways we really have a strong team culture,” Carey said. “We have traditions that we carry through no matter where we are in the world. If there is somewhere near a body of water, we go swimming. We seek out experiences like that for memories and stories that are fun. That makes them exciting to be a part of and really incredible.”

Carey said the team is training in order to peak for the Paralympics in March and they’re on track for a great showing. The Leeds native is also excited to experience the games again.

“There is, first of all, so much energy and excitement and it’s incredible to be a part of it in any capacity,” Carey said. “But you also get to witness people who are the best in the world at what they do. It’s a pretty incredible experience. Coupled with everything your athletes have been working toward, it’s sort of game time, which is terrifying, but mostly really exciting.”

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