Voelker excited to return to her roots as keynote speaker for The Berkshire Eagle's Berkshire All Stars Gala
Heidi Voelker hasn't been to Berkshire County in a few years now.
The former Olympian is looking forward to coming back on June 27.
Voelker, an eight-year member of the U.S. Ski Team who competed in World Cup events and three Olympics games will be the special guest and keynote speaker at The Berkshire Eagle's Berkshire All Stars Gala, sponsored by Berkshire Bank, on June 27 at the Boys & Girls Club of the Berkshires. The event honors the county's top high school athletes and coaches of 2017-18.
"It's an honor. It really is powerful that people remember me back there," said Voelker, reached last week from her current home of Park City, Utah.
Voelker grew up in Pittsfield before attending Stratton Mountain School in Vermont to further her racing career. Voelker competed for 12 years with the U.S. team, and skied for eight years on the World Cup circuit. Her high watermark on the Cup tour was a third-place finish in the GS in 1994. Voelker was the national champion in that discipline the same year. She competed in the 1988 Olympics in Calgary, the 1992 Games in Albertville and in Lillehammer in 1994.
And while Voelker said that she considers herself a local of Park City now, she's excited to come back to where everything started for her.
"I'm coming back to my roots. It's really the heart of where I'm from," Voelker told The Eagle. "I'm thinking about things I'll say and want to get across. It's exciting and sentimental."
For the older generations in the Berkshires, Voelker's exploits on the hill make her a local legend. For younger generations — including the athletes Voelker will interact with at the All Stars Gala — Voelker has come back into focus as a key figure in the rise of Mikaela Shiffrin.Shiffrin, a current U.S. skier that claimed slalom gold at the 2018 Winter Olympics, had Voelker sign an autograph for her when Shiffrin was 6. In addition to the signature, Voelker also wrote: "Always be faster than the boys."
That motto stuck with Shiffrin, and was a key part of a commercial that aired during the Super Bowl. Shiffrin also has the abbreviation "A.B.F.T.T.B" on her ski helmet.
Voelker said that the publicity from that story told in the commercial has been overwhelming.
"It's, as my mom always said, you never know how you're going to affect someone," Voelker said. "To know that she looked up to me and thought whatever she thought, that I was fast, the image of a girl she'd like to be like, that's overwhelming. And now I have to continue it. There's no time off now."
Voelker and Shiffrin also have a Berkshire County connection. Voelker's late dad, Larry Voelker, skied masters races with Mikaela's mom, Eileen Shiffrin.
"That's part of the story I don't tell people, because then they'll say 'no wonder Mikaela liked Heidi,'" Voelker said. "But yeah, it goes back to whether you have a local connection. Her grandmother living in Lanesborough and her mom and aunt racing masters with my dad, it's, it brings a smile to my face. That something she liked, now she's beyond it, but made her get up every day when she was 12 years old to be like somebody, and better for that matter."
Voelker is the current Ambassador of Skiing at Deer Valley Resorts in Park City. She transitioned into the role after retiring from racing in 1997. For a girl who grew up in the mountains of Berkshire County, Voelker admitted that she never knew back on the slopes of Bousquet that she would be living on a mountain across the country.
"I love Utah. It's, back when I was some of these children's ages that I'll be speaking with, I never really thought I'd live out west," she said. "You grow up back east, you think that's where you're going to be. Skiing was my life, and the ski team was located out here and I did a lot of physical training due to the ski team being out here. One thing lead to another, and here I am."
Voelker said that she has done some public speaking in her post-racing years, typically one or two events a year, and that she is thrilled to bring her message back to Berkshire County.
"This one is special in the sense that I've become more comfortable doing it, knowing really that you deliver a neat story, a nice message," she said. "As I try to tell my kids, every success you have, even by me doing the few I do, I must do OK because I'm still being asked to do that."
Voelker admitted that there will be some nerves when she takes the stage at the Boys & Girls Club at the end of June. But still, the former Pittsfield resident is thrilled to be coming back to her roots.
"You have to have the confidence that you do a good job. Of course I'll be nervous — you're talking in front of 200, 300 people — but you can only do the best you can."
Geoff Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @GSmith_Eagle on Twitter and 413-496-6254.
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