by Jim Flint
CRAFTSBURY ̶ Exploring new roads comes naturally to Susan Dunklee, director of the Craftsbury Outdoor Center’s Running Program. Dunklee took the leadership reins in September. She follows in the footsteps of Heidi Caldwell, who guided the program for three years. Caldwell has returned to her native state of New Hampshire. She started work this fall as a school counselor at Lebanon High School.
Dunklee, 35, grew up in Barton. Her father, Stan Dunklee, competed on the U.S. Nordic Ski Team at the 1976 and 1980 Winter Olympics. During Susan’s childhood, Stan coached the cross-country skiing and running teams at Lake Region Union High School. Susan often tagged along with her dad and hung out with the athletes.
Dunklee started cross-country skiing at age two and entered her first competition at age seven. During the off-season, she enjoyed running and unicycling. The five-mile Runaway Pond Road Race in Glover was her first. She also regularly ran in the annual Barton Turkey Trot 5k on Thanksgiving morning. One summer, she completed a five-mile race around Echo Lake in Charleston on her unicycle.
Dunklee focused on academics at Barton Graded School, especially science. Her older brother ran varsity cross country at Lake Region. As a middle school student, she discovered that several meets had a junior high race that she could jump into. Dunklee’s parents gave her a choice of where to attend high school. She selected St. Johnsbury Academy for its strong science curriculum.
Chip Langmaid taught science at St. Johnsbury Academy. He also served as head coach for fall cross country and spring track and field. Dunklee excelled in both sports and continued her winter passion for cross-country skiing. She qualified for the New England Junior Olympic Nordic Ski Team throughout her high school career. In 2004, she graduated from SJA as salutatorian of her class.
“I loved the community aspect of cross country,” said Dunklee. “So many memories of warming up and cooling down with athletes from other schools. After a race, seeing the many colors of our uniforms running together was very special. I felt accepted. This was my community, my people. I loved the adventure of running through the mud pits at Thetford that would sometimes swallow shoes. In track and field, my favorite event was the 1500-meter run.”
Dartmouth College recruited Dunklee as a cross-country runner and skier. She earned All-Ivy League honors in cross-country running and All-America honors in cross-country skiing.
During her first year at Dartmouth, she also competed in spring track and field. She took on the challenge of the 3000-meter steeplechase, the most grueling running event. After struggling with injuries, she gave up the spring season of collegiate competition to concentrate on fall and winter sports. An exception was the Vermont City Marathon Relay, which Dunklee entered several times with friends. She also occasionally filled in on the Dartmouth College Woodsmen team.
After she graduated from Dartmouth in 2008, the U.S. Biathlon team invited Dunklee to apply for its development program. She was accepted and began training with the team in Lake Placid. Workouts regularly included climbing two or three Adirondack peaks at a time. After a hard session, it was not uncommon for the biathlon coaches to send team members off on a one- to two-hour recovery run.
Dunklee competed on the U.S. Olympic Biathlon Team at the 2014 and 2018 Winter Olympics. She plans to retire from the team after the 2022 Winter Olympics. Until then, she is balancing Olympic training with her new responsibilities as the COC’s running program director.
“I bought a house and feel rooted in Craftsbury,” said Dunklee. “I wanted to find a way to stay here and make a living. During the summer, I helped with the running camps and learned from Heidi Caldwell. I got to know the camp staff and how things are run.”
Dunklee has a keen interest in youth running. During the past three years, she volunteered with the Craftsbury Girls on the Run Program. Over the summer, she helped initiate a new 3k kids race as a regular part of the Tuesday Night Trail Races. On September 19, she directed the Genny Tenny Race from Craftsbury Village to Albany Village.
“Running is a simple sport that you can do anywhere,” said Dunklee. “Making it a lifelong sport is important to me. I want to include a focus on sustainability in our running camps ‒ how to stay healthy and motivated.”
The pandemic spurred Dunklee to create a new personal training program. During the spring of 2020, she ran every road in Craftsbury, including bushwhacking along connector trails that were no longer on the map.
“I found corners of town that I didn’t know existed,” said Dunklee. I ran all the roads in Craftsbury and Albany, then Greensboro’s roads. This year I ran all the roads in Wolcott and Eden. Now I’m working on Glover.”
Like in her own life’s journey, Dunklee envisions linking coaches, roads, and runners. She seeks to bring athletes of diverse ages and abilities to Craftsbury and to help facilitate their stories. Through camps, race events, and the community track and field group, Dunklee sees running as a way to build bridges.
“I like to start and end a run at different points,” she reflected. “To feel the connection to place.”