Episode 6: Judy Geer
Building a Venue that Feels Like Home
Olympians Judy Geer and Dick Dreissighacker had a vision when they bought an outdoor sports center in 2008. Today, the Craftsbury Outdoor Center has become one of the most vital sports centers in the country for biathletes and cross country skiers. From her home in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, tucked amidst the maples, aspen and larches, Olympic rower Judy Geer talked about her passion for outdoor sport in an episode of Heartbeat: The U.S. Biathlon Podcast.
It was a late fall day at Craftsbury. Light snow still blanketed the ground. Most of the leaves had fallen. In typical fashion, Judy was juggling a busy day balancing grandmotherhood with a desire to get in yet another rowing session on the water.
When COVID-19 gripped our world last spring, Judy and husband Dick joined with athletes to come up with a pact to keep Craftsbury an active and healthy environment. That bond between the athletes and the venue kept it open and alive, with athletes sequestered in a self-imposed bubble - looking out for each other.
Judy Geer is one of those very special individuals for U.S. Biathlon. Listen in to Heartbeat to learn more about her own upbringing, where she gained her passion for sport and how she loves to give back today.
To hear more, listen to Heartbeat: The U.S. Biathlon Podcast, as Judy Geer talks about gaining a passion for outdoor sport as a young girl, evolving into one of the nation’s top rowers while qualifying for three Olympic Teams and the mission she and her family have put in place at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center. Here’s a preview.
Judy, welcome to Heartbeat. I imagine you’re in that transition season in Vermont?
We had a really gorgeous, vibrant peak foliage season. It seemed a little early. We've been very dry here and we were initially worried it was just going to not be that great because of the dryness, but it ended up being lovely. And then after the oranges and reds of the maples, we moved into the yellows of the birches. And then we have this third season that I really love, which is the larches or tamarack season, where those trees turn just really golden before they drop their needles. It's been really lovely. And then earlier this week, we got eight inches of snow. And so it's you know, it's been a roller coaster
How did you gain this passion for outdoor sport?
When I was a young girl, I got into swimming and I swam winter and summer - summer in salt water and winter in the pool. I grew up at a time when there weren't that many sport options for young girls, to be honest. And you weren't able to do as many things as boys were. But swimming was there and it was very active and it had good coaches. I enjoyed the competition and I think that really gave me an aerobic base that set me up well for my future sport endeavors.
How did you find your way into rowing?
When I got to college, I heard of rowing and it just sounded intriguing. I'd grown up in water. So I was very comfortable with the whole idea of being on water. When I then saw the sport of rowing, I was just immediately intrigued with it. I started college at Smith College. Smith and Wellesley had rowing for ladies. They've had rowing for a long time. It was proper rowing for young ladies. It was very different than the rowing that I ended up doing, but it taught me how to row. And then when I transferred to Dartmouth, they were just starting a women's rowing program. I joined it and I rode the Head of the Charles for the first time that fall. I was totally hooked.
How did your family get into biathlon?
It started with my son Ethan. He was a boy and he was into guns. I was a mom who was not thinking I wanted my son to be into guns. It's sort of that classic situation. But I thought, OK, if we're going to be into guns, let's learn about them. Let's learn about how to use them in great, positive ways.
How did your acquisition of Craftsbury come about in 2008?
It happened over a number of years, back to 1986. We would go to Craftsbury as guests and sculling coaches. We would bring the kids along - sort of a working family vacation. Later, we knew that Russell Spring, the owner and the founder, was getting older. He was starting to think about what the future was going to be. And so we began talking with him and we spent a couple of years chatting with Russell and about our vision and their vision and did it align. For us, it was the idea that we were in a position to make it a nonprofit.
What is the mission of the nonprofit at Craftsbury?
The mission has three prongs. The first priority is to promote participation and excellence in lifelong sports with a special focus on rowing, skiing, biathlon, running and we've added mountain biking. The second prong is to use and teach sustainable practices. And the third is to be good stewards of the land in the lake and the trails. So you've got sport, sustainability and stewardship.
Sustainability is an important part of your mission!
When we took over the place in ‘08, we wanted to get that off of fossil fuels by 2012. We didn't make it by 2012, but we did it by 2013. So that's that's that's too bad. We sort of expanded and renovated the dining hall recently, and that's geothermal. We use the waste heat from our snowmaking generator to help heat the buildings. And we also burn firewood that is sustainably harvested.
When the pandemic hit, how did you approach it to continue to provide support to athletes?
We've been actually quite conservative here in terms of COVID. The last thing we want to do is be the place that brings COVID to Craftsbury, Vermont. We've created a bubble that's good for the community and good for the athletes. We have a long code of conduct - a pact, and all of the athletes had to sign onto that.
Craftsbury has played an important role for U.S. biathletes. Did you feel a special pride last February watching her win a second World Championships medal?
Oh, absolutely! I've been watching Susan for quite a few years. My own girls have been on the team with her and Claire Egan was one of our athletes, as well. So it's just terrific to watch all of that. And it does come back to the kids here - the little kids. The whole cross country community now knows the sport of biathlon, they follow it. They're big fans. So when you get a success like that from one of our athletes, it's just it's just so exciting for everybody.
FUN FACTS YOU’LL LEARN ON HEARTBEAT
As a young athlete, what motivated her to being named to three Olympic teams?
When not rowing or skiing, what does Judy like to do?
How had grandmotherhood changed her.
Take a listen to Heartbeat featuring Judy Geer to learn more about her past and present, along with insights on what has made the Craftsbury Outdoor Center such a vital part of the biathlon ecosystem in America.