The National Sports Academy: Lake Placid, NY
By Ceri Turner
Mallory Fredericks is a teenage girl. She has naturally straight hair, as smooth and as sleek as corn silk, that most girls her age would kill to have. Her eyes are curious and sparkling and her mouth is in constant motion. She loves to laugh and to gossip with her friends. Fredericks is a fourteen-year-old like any other… except for one thing. As opposed to attending a traditional area high school, she attends the National Sports Academy (NSA) in Lake Placid, New York, full-time. NSA is a sports-specialized school where many of tomorrow’s top winter sports athletes are taught and trained. Fredericks is one of those athletes; since the age of eleven, she has been training with the Junior National Developmental Luge Team and is well on her way to future winter Olympic competitions. Fredericks is a slider, and proud of it! Despite her hectic training, educational, and social schedules, Fredericks took the time to have a conversation regarding her experiences both with the unique sport of luge and the National Sports Academy in general.
Q: What, if anything, initially prompted you to consider applying to the National Sports Academy?
FREDERICKS: Well, I didn’t really find the school myself… I was offered the opportunity by the USA Luge Association. They decided to do this thing called “luge school” and… they choose two athletes from each… team level basically and give them the opportunity to stay at the Olympic Training Center and attend NSA… National Sports Academy, I mean… full time.
Q: So you’re a slider then, correct?
FREDERICKS: Yep! Since I was… well I guess I was eleven… or twelve maybe? (laughs) I don’t really remember! But yeah… I’m a slider. Or a luger (more laughter)… whatever you prefer!
Q: How did you get involved with the sport in the first place?
FREDERICKS: I became involved in the sport… unlike most of the sliders. Most people that are involved in luge participated in these… slider search things. These “searches” are when USA Luge… they take a ramp around the country and hold these clinics where anyone that wants to can come out and try luging for themselves. Then they take… who they think are the best… or most promising, really… sliders from the searches and invite them to come up here, to Lake Placid, for a series of these two-week programs… they’re called Screening Camps. From there, they narrow it down to about 10 kids from 7 totally different camps that make the Junior Development Team. That’s most people, but I am a local so my story’s kinda different… I live in Lake Placid and I used to go to something called the local program where Lake Placid kids can go out and slide with the coaches once every week. So that’s how I got started… and Duncan, my coach, later asked me to officially join the team… and so here I am!
Q: Before we get back to the Academy, let’s talk a little about sliding in general. What specifically do you like about the sport?
FREDERICKS: I like the fact that it’s something so totally… and just totally and completely different from any other sport… and I love the feeling you get when it’s just you and the ice… basically without any other distractions.
Q: Sounds intense. Can anybody slide?
FREDERICKS: (laughter) Yeah, it’s a little hard core! But anyway… sure, anyone can get on a sled and go down the ice… but honestly… that just doesn’t make them a real slider. There are so many different things… involved with the sport… It’s definitely not just going down ice laying down. You need… to be physically and mentally capable. If you honestly love the sport and are truly dedicated to it, then there is a 99% chance you will succeed in it.
Q: What’s the most important quality to have as a good slider?
FREDERICKS: The most important thing is… basically that you have to be dedicated. It takes so much to stay with this sport… between keeping up with school and keeping friendships from home… it’s just not for everybody. It’s taxing.
Q: You seem to talk a lot about the heavy time involvement. Can you describe the journey from the Developmental Camps through the National Team level and estimate the total time involved?
FREDERICKS: So, you start out on the Junior Development Team… it’s the lowest team on the luge “ladder” I guess. Kids are, like, anywhere between… well eleven and I think about… fifteen maybe? Yeah fifteen… when they’re on this team. The JD team… is when the coaches will evaluate you, for about a year, and decide whether or not you have… potential in the sport. Next, there is Junior Candidate Team for people who have shown dedication in the sport… and they have a chance at traveling. Then it’s the Junior National Team and this team is for athletes that will travel to Europe, which is super exciting. Then finally there’s the Senior National Team… pretty much the Olympic Team. They compete in, like, Olympic Trials, and then they may or may not go to the Olympics… depending if they qualify, obviously. But that’s the Olympic level, anyway! The people on the Senior National Team are… well I guess around 20… or 25. I’m not quite sure (laughs)… but anyway it’s a good… ten year journey, I guess. You spend… like nine months of the year at the OTC… on the Senior National Team level…. but it’s so totally worth it!
Q: (jokingly) Any chance to see you at Vancouver 2010?
FREDERICKS: (laughter) At the Senior National Team level? Maybe not! But I’m most definitely hoping for the future… of course!
Q: How would you say the National Sports Academy prepares you, as a potential Olympic athlete?
FREDERICKS: I mean… it’s a lot more convenient, for one… if I’m living at the OTC already it’s easier to transition… to the actual training. Plus it’s great with school… so close… and understanding of my sport, you know?
Q: It sounds like the Academy is only for… hard-core athletes. Is the Academy particularly selective, if it’s catering to such an elite level?
FREDERICKS: Well, yes, I guess you could say so. But no more selective than… average preparatory schools.
Q: How would you describe the admission standards at the Academy?
FREDERICKS: The admissions at NSA… well, like I just said, they’re similar… if not better… than the typical preparatory school. There’s lots of recommendation things to collect though… from old teachers, and coaches… you know, basic stuff really.. in order to apply. It’s expensive, though… for a boarding student it costs… $27,745, and for a day student it costs $12,915… plus the cost of books and other fees. The school… offers very good financial aid, though… so it sets off the cost of attending. But for luge… well part of the whole luge school idea… is that we don’t’ have to pay the typical tuition, we get support from USA Luge. It’s pretty sweet. But admission standards I’d say were pretty reasonable, yeah… especially for such a… special school.
Q: In what ways, specifically, is the National Sports Academy different from traditional school?
FREDERICKS: NSA is… very different from any of the schools I have attended… in the sense that it is made to accommodate… athletes that are expected to travel often. It is majorly an online school, but with all the… components of a traditional school… well mostly it uses an online service called Apex Learning. All of our assignments are online… so are quizzes and tests, but we have the typical classroom… you know, teacher standing up front teaching…. but mostly NSA is a super technology-based school.
Q: Describe a typical weekday at the National Sports Academy.
FREDERICKS: Well, every day starts out with luge training… or really any other sport-specific training for the other students.. in the morning from about 9:00 am to 11:00 am. Then we go to school from… 1:00pm to 6:00pm… oh and on Tuesdays we stay until 9:00pm for study hall. It’s pretty cool also the classes have a very unique way of being… ordered, depending on the day it rotates the order… Like, for example, Mondays we will have periods 1,2,3,4,5,6 and 7 but on Tuesday we have periods 2,3,4,5,6,7 and 1… on and on… so that we aren’t tired in the same class every day we go there. I think it’s pretty awesome!
Q: Eight teams are represented at the Academy, correct?
FREDERICKS: Yeah. Luge, alpine skiing, boys’ and girls’ hockey, Nordic skiing… what else… figure skating and snowboarding… (trailing off) one, two, three, four, five, six, seven… oh, and biathlon skiers! Yeah, that’s eight.
Q: How is the Academy able to accommodate eight different athletic schedules in an efficient and constructive manner?
FREDERICKS: At the school, as I said before, the athletes have training in the morning, so we are still able to go to school… basically they try and… make it so that we all get all of our training out of the way first thing… so that we can stay focused on school… during the day. So they make it so it’s only one schedule.
Q: How often would you say you personally are “out of the classroom” due to a luge-related absence?
FREDERICKS: Um… well sorta a lot. I think I heard that it was about… 1/3 of the year? Yeah, that sounds right. When we travel, it’s pretty far, since there really aren’t… luge tracks everywhere, you know?! We go to Utah… Salt Lake City… every other year for Youth Nationals in February.
Q: That’s amazing. How do you manage to keep up with schoolwork when you aren’t physically present 1/3 of the year? Is there a policy specific to the Academy?
FREDERICKS: Well, it’s easy to manage work, but it’s not so much a policy as… the way the school’s set up.
Q: Can you elaborate on that? How is the school set up?
FREDERICKS: Well… since the school is online, it is actually really easy to keep up with schoolwork. We… the students… are able to keep in… pretty much constant contact with our teachers through podcasts, e-mails, and IM’s… they designed it so that you are able to get ahead… or stay at your own pace, so that when the time comes to travel… you have hardly any work to do. So, whether we are in Germany training for World Cup, or… just getting ready for an Alpine race in Colorado, we are able to keep up on… with our work.
Q: How is it possible to create a sense of school unity when the student-athletes spend so much time off campus?
FREDERICKS: Many people have asked this question (laughs)… and though it may seem like one that cannot be answered…. well, to begin, there are only, like… a total of 84 kids that attend the school. In order to create this sense of “school bonding” everyone talks about… there are many activities called summit events… They’re all school activities that are mandatory… to go to. One main tradition is Mountain Day, and this is a day where the whole school goes to hike one of the famous high peaks in the Adirondack Park so, when we are at the school, there is a very strong bond within the school.
Q: At most schools, student-athletes are “students first, then athletes.” At the Academy, does this statement still apply? Or are the students “athletes first?”
FREDERICKS: The policy at NSA is technically student athletes as well… but they consider the athletes… athletic part before students. Since it’s considered a “sport specific school” they put us… well, they put us in the center and surround us… with all the components to make us better athletes, along with being a better student.
Q: Compared to traditional schools, how much emphasis is placed on the sports aspect of the National Sports Academy?
FREDERICKS: The whole sport… point of this school is to put athletics first. If they didn’t it wouldn’t be National Sports Academy… it would be any other prep school. They put the same emphasis on education as they do on sports… Really they maintain a very healthy balance between the two.
Q: How does the Academy provide each student with adequate skills to proceed onto a college-level education?
FREDERICKS: They put a high level… of importance… on the higher-level education at NSA. If you have problems with keeping up… doing your homework, they will help you along the way so that you get it done. If you are excelling in classes, you can switch to AP classes… at any point you want. There are counselors there… that help you on your way to becoming the best you can be.
Q: Thank you, Mallory! It’s been great talking to you. Happy sliding!
FREDERICKS: No problem! (laughter) And thanks!