U.S. Paralympics Nor... Features Nick Michaud, The U....

Nick Michaud, The U.S. Para Development Coach, Believes All Coaches Should Try Working With Adaptive Athletes

By Alex Abrams | Oct. 27, 2020, 5:16 p.m. (ET)

Nick Michaud (middle) poses with Crosscut Elite Athletes Hannah Cole and Ruslan Reiter. 

Nick Michaud decided to make a career change last year, but he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do next other than work with people in some way.

Michaud, 28, retired from professional Nordic skiing after narrowly missing a chance to qualify for the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.

He became interested when his mentor, Eileen Carey, offered him an opportunity to coach U.S. Para Nordic skiers. Carey, director of U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing, was one of Michaud’s first coaches when he got into skiing as a teenager.

“I wish that every coach had the opportunity to work with adaptive athletes because it forces you to take on a coaching philosophy that is humble,” Michaud said. “It allows you to understand that everyone is different, everybody has different needs, and it allows you to more creatively figure out how to help the person get to where they’re trying to go.”

Michaud has spent the past year making the transition to coaching. He works with skiers with a wide range of physical impairments — including vision loss, spinal cord injuries and limb impairments — as the U.S. development team coach.

In addition, Michaud serves as the elite team assistant coach at Crosscut Mountain Sports Center, which is a year-round recreation and sports training facility near Bozeman, Montana, that seeks to make skiing and biathlon more accessible to everyone. The elite team has Olympic and Paralympic athletes as Para athletes are integrated into their day to day program alongside their Olympic counterparts. 

The center provides a place for both novices to ski and Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls to train.

“I shifted gears, and now I get to work with a bunch of athletes that are trying to perform well at the (Winter Olympic and Paralympic) Games,” Michaud said. “And so I have an opportunity to take my wealth of experience and all that I’ve been learning with both of these programs and staffs and athletes to help a lot more people perform well at that time.”

Michaud admitted his transition to coaching hasn’t been easy. Making it more challenging, he’s coaching Para Nordic skiers who have impairments that he doesn’t have and never had to overcome during his pro skiing career.

When you try to really break through and try to become excellent, who you are as a person and the things that you need to work on end up becoming a part of that puzzle.

Michaud works with athletes who compete in all of the Para Nordic classes: visually impaired skiing, standing skiing and sit sitting.

In each class, skiers with comparable impairments race against each other using techniques or equipment that are specific to their respective classes, such as sit skis, skiing with one or no poles, or with assistance from a personal guide.

As the development team coach for U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing, Michaud helps bridge the gap to the national team. 

“To be honest, we have no idea what the fastest way (to ski) will be for somebody with a certain injury, and therefore it’s a really collaborative process with them to figure it out, to ask a lot of questions, to experiment, to understand what works and what doesn’t,” Michaud said.

“That process should be the case for any coach and athlete, and so that’s why I think it’s important that any coach has the opportunity to work with adaptive athletes. What I’m noticing with working with the non-adaptive athletes is that (process) is the exact same thing. Everybody has imbalances. Everybody has different needs. Everybody works and operates and thinks differently.”

Michaud’s father started Nordic skiing as a way to stay active after sustaining several knee injuries. He often pulled Michaud around on a sled, but Michaud preferred basketball, baseball and soccer to skiing while growing up in northern Maine.

He had to be dragged outside to go skiing — at least until the weather changed.

“Basically in the spring, the temperatures, they would rise during the day and drop during the night to the level that all of the snow in the field would crisp up, and so in the early morning you could fly over the snow,” Michaud said.

“There are a lot of potato fields in northern Maine, and so they’re all connected. So you could just kind of go for hours on these awesome adventures on the crust, and that’s when I really started loving it.” 

Michaud joined a professionally run skiing program near his home when he was in high school. He decided then to see how far he could go in skiing, eventually going pro after graduating in 2015 from Bates College in Maine.

Michaud raced for one more year following the 2018 Olympic qualification process before starting his coaching career.

“When you try to really break through and try to become excellent, who you are as a person and the things that you need to work on end up becoming a part of that puzzle,” Michaud said.

“I do think that the way I operate and think and the things that I’m excited about make me more suited for coaching. And now I get to help a bunch of other people work through their puzzles.”

Alex Abrams

Alex Abrams has written about Olympic and Paralympic sports for more than 15 years, including as a reporter for major newspapers in Florida, Arkansas and Oklahoma. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.