by June Pichel Cook
CRAFTSBURY – Several years ago, the Craftsbury Outdoor Center awarded octogenarian George Hall of Craftsbury, the “Harry Potter Award: For being what everyone else secretly or not-so-secretly aspires to be.”
The award, given with a humorous twist, alludes to a man who successfully competed in 20 World Masters Cross Country Ski Championships and set a world record in the annual Concept2 SkiErg’s Sprints challenge of 1,000 meters (six-tenths of a mile). The event is held virtually in individual locations where competitors are able to access Concept2 SkiErg’s equipment. The Craftsbury Outdoor Center has held the challenge on site in the past, but did not do so this year because of COVID-19.
The SkiErg’s World Sprints challenge is in its 12th year and is a virtual race where competitors compare their time against others in a worldwide, four-day showdown.
In the past, some groups have held racing in person at a single location on the SkiErgs.
This year’s event, November 12-15, drew over 1,000 competitors from 34 different countries virtually. Age categories begin at 12 and under up to 80-89 in ten-year intervals. The SkiErg is an aerobic exercise machine, building both core and endurance and is designed to improve skiers’ performances on the trails.
Judy Geer, co-owner of the Craftsbury Outdoor Center explained the exercise machine imitates the primary motions of Nordic skiing, specifically the poling motions.
“But there’s also a lot of leg involvement, so it makes a really good form of exercise that gets most of the body,” she said. “Like other Concept2 ergometers, it has an electronic performance monitor that measures the work you put in and allows you to compare results from one machine to another.”
That ability to compare allows virtual races and rankings. Geer said although it started as a training device for skiers, it has come to be used as a workout by non-skiers.
Hall, an electrical engineer who turned 85 on election day, November 3, is a graduate of the Georgia Institute of Technology. He and his wife, Charlotte, had settled in Craftsbury in 1995. When he retired from Raytheon, they wanted to live where they could cross country ski without having to drive great distances. His wife passed away several years ago.
Hall holds himself up to high standards, Geer noted, and his record is quite impressive. In 2009, he held first place in the 70-79 age category; and again, in 2014, earned first place in his last year of the 70-79 category. In 2010 and 2011, he earned third place; 2012, earned second place; and 2013, fourth spot.
Five years ago, from 2015 through 2018, he again commanded first place in age category 80-89. His time was four minutes, 20.7 seconds. Although according to Geer, he would have been second this year, Hall chose not to submit his time.
“He sets very high standards,” Geer said. “His record is impressive.”
Hall’s interest in cross country skiing has taken him to 20 competitions in the World Masters Cross Country Ski Championships. His cellar wall is lined with competition bibs from each of the races in which he participated — United States, Canada, Italy, Germany, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland. The competition for the Masters rotates between the United States, Canada, and Europe. This year’s competition that was being held in Italy was canceled due to the pandemic. Hall, along with John Brodhead and Gina Campoli, (who are serious competitors), had their plane tickets, bags packed, reservations made and ready to go; the competition was canceled at the last moment.
Hall and his wife were alpine skiers who gradually transitioned to cross-country skiing. He skis both skating and classic style. He steadily glided into the world competition after first beginning with the New England Masters.
“The World Masters was something to work towards,” he said in an interview. “We went into it low key. Charlotte also competed and won in her women’s age group.”
“We were going to events in New England and looking forward to bigger events when we retired. We landed up in Craftsbury and wanted a place to cross country without traveling far.”
Hall said his only advice to young athletes is to “stay active.”
Hall, a familiar figure on the Common exercising with a group from the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, sprinting along Dustan and King Farm Roads, or walking King Farm and Mill Village Roads at a brisk pace, is the embodiment of “staying active.”