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Trio of former Aspen swimmers earn All-American honors for college teams

When Kelli Callahan first arrived at the University of Puget Sound, there were doubts about how long she’d last. A standout swimmer for Aspen High School before graduating in 2016, the mental and physical strains of studying and competing at the collegiate level looked daunting on her already frail body.

Longtime Puget Sound swim coach Chris Myhre called her “brittle,” part of what Callahan said was “a pretty bad over-usage injury” stemming from her AHS days.

Not only did Callahan overcome this, she went on to dominate the Northwest Conference for three years and rewrote the NCAA Division III school’s record book.

“Her first semester was really a nightmare. I didn’t think she was ever going to come out of it. There were days she couldn’t swim,” Myhre recalled. “She went home for the break over the holidays and came back and was a different person. She was able to put in the work and actually swam pretty well her freshman year, but it wasn’t anything like she did her next three years.”

Callahan wrapped up her collegiate swim career this past season by earning her first All-American honors for her performances in the 100 breaststroke and 100 IM. While this alone is worth noting, she wasn’t alone in the feat, as Callahan was actually one of three former AHS swimmers to earn All-American status this season alongside DI standout Kennidy Quist and rising DII star Davy Brown. The honors were handed out by the College Swimming and Diving Coaches Association of America.

All three even swam together for one season for the Skiers, who were then coached by Kelli’s mother, Kathleen Callahan, a former Division I All-American in swimming. A year later, when Quist was a senior and Brown a sophomore, AHS won its first state championship in girls swimming.

The trio gives a lot of credit to former Aspen Swim Club coach Gordon Gerson, who grew the club into a dominant force despite coming from a small ski town. Gerson stepped away last spring and handed the reins over to Tom Jager, a seven-time Olympic medalist, and his wife Becky.

“I hope this is motivation for a lot of the younger swimmers,” Quist said. “Hopefully this is motivation for them to continue and show that despite being in a small town you can continue through college and you can do well in college. I think Gordon was a great coach, but Tom has also changed the program a lot and I think a lot of those changes will be positive.”

CALLAHAN’S DOMINANCE

After getting her feet under her at Puget Sound, Kelli Callahan never looked back. She was named the Northwest Conference Women’s Swimmer of the Year as a sophomore, junior and senior, qualifying for the DIII national championship each year. Her career, like so many others, came to an abrupt finish after the coronavirus outbreak canceled the championship meet in March.

“I was very excited to hear I got it. It definitely helped end my career,” Callahan said of her first All-American honors. “I wish I could have had that one last swim, but it is what it is.”

Callahan holds Puget Sound’s school records in the 200 IM, 400 IM and 100 breaststroke. She was recently given the school’s Alice Bond Award for the Most Outstanding Female Athlete of the Year — that is, across all of the university’s sports — an award she also won her sophomore year.

She will graduate this spring from UPS with a degree in biology and minor in English. She’s been accepted into the Peace Corps, where she has plans to teach English in Sri Lanka once the pandemic is over.

“If she had been 3 to 5 inches taller, she probably would have been swimming in the Olympics,” Myhre said of Callahan, who is listed as being a mere 5-foot-4 on the team’s roster. “I just finished my 29th year of coaching the women at UPS — 26 years of doing both men and women — and she is definitely the most accomplished, most talented and received the most accolades of any female I’ve ever coached, ever. It’s been a good ride.”

QUIST’S BREAKTHROUGH

Quist, a 2017 AHS graduate, is finishing up her junior year at Harvard University, where she earned DI All-American honors for her roles on the school’s 400 free and 800 free relay teams. She said the group of 10-plus swimmers sent to the NCAA championships before it was canceled was the largest for Harvard since the 1980s.

“From the time I came to Harvard to now, that was something the coaches had always talked about, was getting a relay to NCAAs,” Quist said. “You know in the beginning of the year you have the potential to do it, but everything just went right at Ivys and we made it. It’s kind of a surreal feeling to actually do what you’ve talked about for so long.”

Quist has earned all-Ivy League honors each year at Harvard, and just missed the cutoff to qualify for the NCAA championships as an individual in both her freshman and junior seasons. This is helping to fuel her upcoming senior season.

“It was pure joy and happiness and it seemed like everything sort of came together this year,” Quist said. “You always watch the seniors and you see it’s lights out. It’s your last chance, so hopefully I’ll be able to get my own cut times.”

She is studying environmental science and public policy, with a minor in economics, and plans to go into consulting.

BROWN’S DEBUT

Brown, a 2019 AHS graduate, is wrapping up her freshman season at Colorado Mesa University. She earned DII All-American honors in the 200 back and 800 free relay, as well as honorable mention recognition in the 400 IM.

“It was everything I thought it would be. I took a break in the summer, which I thought was the best thing I could have done to refresh. When I got there I was ready. I was missing swimming,” Brown said. “Once I got the hang of it, it was easier to relax into the process and trust the process I was given and I was able to excel after I got everything under control and learned the ropes.”

Brown was a standout in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference this season, where she was named the 2020 RMAC Freshman of the Year and won the league championship in the 200 IM. The aspiring medical doctor seemed to be peaking heading into the NCAA finals before they were canceled.

“I put blood, sweat and tears into swimming and when I was actually being recognized for all the hard work and succeeding in what I was doing, it was very fulfilling,” Brown said. “Gordon started it all. He taught us how to act in the pool and out of the pool. I think that really set me apart when I was an NCAA athlete, because I was able to carry those self-driven lessons that l learned from him and adjust to the program.”

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Former Aspen Leaf hockey player Fisher Scott drafted into USHL

Fisher Scott is that much closer to following in his older sister’s footsteps to the college ranks. The 15-year-old standout hockey player was recently drafted by the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the United States Hockey League, the top junior league sanctioned by USA Hockey.

“It was kind of a cool deal for him. It’s a tough list to get your name on and being a little mountain hillbilly from Basalt, Colorado, and earning your way on that list is not easy,” said Peter Scott, Fisher’s father. “It’s a tough team to make and being drafted doesn’t guarantee a spot on the team by any means, but it definitely guarantees you a spot at camp and to go earn your way onto the team.”

Fisher grew up in the Roaring Fork Valley and once played for Aspen Junior Hockey. Then, this past fall, he moved to Denver to join the Colorado Thunderbirds, one of the top AAA hockey organizations in the country. He’ll likely play for the Thunderbirds and 16U coach and former NHL player David Clarkson again next season, but not before going to Dubuque’s main camp this summer — coronavirus permitting — to try his luck in the USHL, largely a 20-and-under league.

“It’s pretty cool, especially from a small town like Aspen, being able to do that and show all the little guys that maybe look up to me what’s possible,” Fisher said. “It doesn’t really mean anything yet, but it’s a cool notice.”

Fisher was drafted in the eighth round of the USHL Phase 1 “futures” draft on May 4. Considering he’ll be one of the youngest players at Dubuque’s camp fighting for only a few roster spots, he understands his USHL playing days are likely still a few years out. Still, the experience he will gain skating against high-level juniors as much as five years his senior could pay big dividends down the line.

Should Fisher eventually get to compete for the Fighting Saints, the chances of him making it onto a college team skyrocket. According to the USHL website, “95% of USHL players receive Division I college hockey opportunities.” The league also boasts having 287 alumni in the NHL.

“It gives him an opportunity and this summer will be the most competitive and best hockey he’s ever been exposed to. All those kids are top shelf,” Peter Scott said. “He’d love to have an opportunity to play college hockey, for sure.”

Fisher’s older sister, Stella Scott, is a 2019 Basalt High School graduate who recently finished her first season playing for NCAA Division I Long Island University in New York. It was LIU women’s hockey’s inaugural season, one that included winning the New England Women’s Hockey Alliance championship.

Like her brother, Stella grew up playing for AJH before moving on to higher-level camps and teams in high school. She largely credits her time spent at the North American Hockey Academy in Vermont as paving her way to playing in college.

“Being out on the East Coast is the only way for a girl’s hockey player, personally, to make it to the level that I did, because there is so much exposure and the hockey out there is insane,” said Stella, who plays on the left wing for LIU and studies business. “That was the only ticket for me, personally.”

If all goes to plan, Fisher hopes to find that same success at the college level. A defenseman, he’ll hopefully get a taste of the USHL as soon as the coronavirus pandemic will allow it. In the meantime, his 16U Thunderbirds team is setup to be one of the country’s best next season.

“We should be a really good team again next year. Probably top 10, top five even. We should be really good, and the year after that I don’t know what I’m going to do yet,” Fisher said. “Playing college hockey is the goal. I’d say I’m on a pretty good path right now.”

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Colbert: Looking at Aspen’s Olympic hopefuls after ski team nominations

This past week, U.S. Ski and Snowboard announced its nominations for the 2020-21 season. Surprises were few in regard to Roaring Fork Valley athletes, with household names like Alex Ferreira and Simi Hamilton again on the list, and a couple, like Hailey Swirbul, getting a slight promotion.

What the nominations really do is give us an indication on what the next Winter Olympic season will be like. We’re past halfway between the 2018 Games in South Korea and the 2022 Games in Beijing, and this coming winter is an important one in terms of positioning for those coveted spots on the U.S. Olympic teams.

The bulk of the qualifying will happen in the two or three months leading up to the Beijing Olympics, but we’re plenty close enough to start making some guesses on who will don the Red, White and Blue in China. Below is a list of Roaring Fork Valley — or thereabouts — athletes who have a shot at making the Olympics two years from now, grouped by probability.

Keep in mind, these are nothing more than my best guesses and don’t factor in injuries or pandemics. Also, this list is hardly all-inclusive, so it may be missing a few of the athletes pushing the next level.

GOLD (see you in China)

Alex Ferreira: Aspen’s golden boy might be the best halfpipe skier on the planet right now. He won silver in his lone Olympic appearance in 2018 and has won gold at X Games Aspen the past two years. He’s a legit rock star (no, seriously, he’s sponsored by Rockstar Energy) and will be a frontrunner for Olympic gold in 2022.

Hailey Swirbul: The Basalt High grad was promoted to the A team for the 2020-21 season, a huge nod of approval from the U.S. cross-country ski team. This coming winter will only be her third with the national team, and if she continues on her current path, there’s no question she’ll compete at her first Olympics in two years.

Alice McKennis: The New Castle native and former AVSC athlete is a veteran on the U.S. alpine ski team and competed in both the 2010 and 2018 Olympics (injury kept her out of 2014). She was a surprising fifth in the 2018 Olympic downhill (only two spots behind Lindsey Vonn) and I think she’ll get one more shot at Olympic glory before calling it a career.

Chris Corning: He’s really more of a Summit County guy, but the big air and slopestyle snowboarding star did spend a few years training in Aspen with AVSC, so we claim him. He’s won everything under the sun outside of X Games Aspen and the Olympics, and in my mind rivals Max Parrot and Mark McMorris in terms of big air talent. He finished fourth in big air at the Games in South Korea, his first Olympic appearance, and should be a podium favorite in 2022.

SILVER (nothing is guaranteed, but decent chance)

Hanna Faulhaber: Only 15, the Basalt High School student is a star-in-the-making in women’s halfpipe skiing. With Maddie Bowman retired, a youngster like Faulhaber will have a shot at making the 2022 Olympic team. The 2026 Games might be more realistic for her, but Faulhaber has taken leaps, not baby steps, in her development each year, so let’s dare to dream.

Cassidy Jarrell: Aspen’s next great halfpipe skier is now on the U.S. pro team with Ferreira and Aaron Blunck, and will be one of a handful competing for an Olympic spot in 2022. He made his X Games Aspen debut this past winter, and we’ll be seeing a lot more of him going forward. However, men’s halfpipe skiing in the U.S. is lit right now, so Jarrell will have a lot of competition for only a few spots on the Beijing team.

Bridger Gile: The Aspen-raised alpine skier might have a legit shot at the 2022 Olympics, considering he’s been moved up to the B team for the upcoming winter. He was a star on the Nor-Am Cup this past season and will hopefully get his first World Cup start before the year is out.

Jake Canter: Another rising star who formerly trained with AVSC, Canter remains on the U.S. rookie team. Only 16, the slopestyle snowboarder has competed in knuckle huck the past two years at X Games Aspen. Sadly, knuckle huck is not yet an Olympic sport, so Canter will need to step it up in the traditional events to make it to China.

Hagen Kearney: The Telluride alpine snowboarder also has ties with AVSC and competed at the 2018 Olympics, taking 13th in snowboardcross. He’s once again on the A team for this coming winter and should no doubt make a good case for a return trip to the Olympics in 2022.

We need to also shout out Eagle’s Jake Pates here, a halfpipe snowboarder and 2018 Olympian. He had a very brief stint with AVSC when he was younger and could push for a 2022 spot.

BRONZE (probably won’t happen, but you never know)

Cooper Cornelius: Another young alpine skier, the Glenwood Springs product and AVSC athlete is nipping at Gile’s heels in terms of being the area’s next great ski racer. He’s on the C team, so he probably needs a big winter to firmly move into the Olympic conversation.

Kate Oldham: The Colorado Rocky Mountain School senior and AVSC athlete was named to the U.S. national training group, which feeds into the national teams. The cross-country skier really is a long shot to make the Olympic team, but considering she’s knocking on the door of the national team and still has two winters to make her case, she’s worth bringing up.

Galena Wardle: Injuries have plagued the young Aspen alpine skier’s career so much that she wasn’t named to the U.S. national team for this coming winter. Doesn’t mean she’s out of the equation, but it’s not promising. Utah’s Isabella Wright, who has also trained with AVSC, made the U.S. development team for the 2020-21 alpine season. Current AVSC alpine skier Stella Johansson also is pushing the threshold of the national team, getting an invite to be part of the national training group.

Tristan Feinberg: Another one of the area’s rising stars in halfpipe skiing — we seem to have a lot of them these days — the teen is not on the national team but is certainly knocking on the door. He’s got a few World Cup starts under his belt and is only a couple of stellar runs away from adding his name to the mix. Young Kai Morris is coming up fast as well, so keep him in mind.

OFF THE PODIUM (been there, done that)

Simi Hamilton: Aspen’s timeless wonder is the only member of the men’s A team in cross-country skiing for the 2020-21 season. He’s a three-time Olympian and has long been the country’s top sprinter. However, he’s 32 and earlier this spring basically said this coming season will likely be his last. But who knows, maybe he has a change of heart ahead of the next Olympic push.

Noah Hoffman: A two-time Olympic cross-country skier who grew up in Aspen, the distance specialist retired after the 2018 Olympic season. Safe to say he won’t compete in Beijing, but we had to give him a nod for one solid career. He’s still got it, though, as he showed last fall by winning the Aspen Backcountry Marathon.

Wiley Maple: A true Aspen cowboy, Maple recently retired because of a lingering back injury. He’s been on and off the U.S. alpine ski team more times than we can count, but defied the odds and made the 2018 Olympic team, taking 30th in the downhill. Bon voyage to the Aspen legend.

Torin Yater-Wallace: As long as he’s been around, I’d bet a lot of money Yater-Wallace was at least 35. Shockingly, the halfpipe skiing icon is only 24 but has seemingly stepped away from the competitive world. The two-time Olympian did make an X Games Aspen cameo in knuckle huck back in January, but won’t compete in halfpipe anymore. He wasn’t named to the U.S. national team for the coming season, a choice he likely made.

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Lessons from the 1918 flu pandemic in Aspen

Should I use soap and water or wear a mask? Should I take the train? Will they close the schools? What will this do to local businesses? Aspen’s residents faced the 1918 influenza pandemic with the same questions we ask about the new coronavirus today.

The answers were not much different.

Aspen first took notice when newspapers reported a large outbreak in Spanish cities in July 1918, hence the informal name “Spanish influenza.” Spain may have seemed far away, but World War I had focused American attention on Europe. Around the same time, reports indicated the affliction had felled German troops, a greater consequence for Americans than the death of Spaniards: would influenza alter or end the war?

By August, papers reported the epidemic had killed 109 Swiss Army soldiers, and more than 14,000 others were sick. The pandemic began to quickly spread on our home shores, and grew into a tangible threat, rather than a far-away curiosity, much like COVID-19 has here since the first confirmed case in Washington state in January.

Late in August, the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office reported an outbreak of the Spanish influenza at Fort Morgan, an Army camp in Alabama. In September, newspapers across the country published his explanation of how the disease spread and his advice: “wear a gauze mask, and avoid crowded areas like street cars.”

At that time he considered quarantining impractical.

Thousands of young conscripted men resided in training camps across the country. Several men shared a small tent, and they pitched the tents close together. Men marched side by side all day, and the disease spread rapidly. In a short period of time the Army announced more than 20,000 cases, with 10,000 at Camp Devens in Massachusetts.

That eastern state seemed far away from Aspen. But soon the Army reported that the disease had infected troops who had been training on the University of Colorado campus in Boulder. Letters home from Aspen’s soldiers began to report illness and deaths of local troops in the camps.

Overnight, everything changed. On Oct. 24, Charles Wagner, Aspen’s mayor, wrote in a proclamation, “It appears that there are some well-defined cases of Spanish influenza in the city of Aspen and vicinity.” He closed schools, churches, assembly halls and theaters.

A week later, Aspen tallied eight people, including one of the town’s two doctors, in the hospital with respiratory problems. Four men had died. Aspen asked the Colorado Board of Health to supply an additional doctor to address the crisis. The local American Red Cross organized nurses to train other helpers and make home visits. Citizens were advised to “stop visiting neighborly talk, keep children confined to the yard, dress warmly, and if you had business downtown do it quickly without socializing.”

The common occurrence of influenza, or the “flu” as we refer to it today, added to confusion. Every few years outbreaks had spread across the country, including Aspen. Some people considered the Spanish influenza as just another flu.

But the pandemic took its toll on the young, the old and the vulnerable. Deaths from respiratory complications rose. No antibiotics at the time would hold at bay respiratory complications, such as pneumonia.

A century ago in Aspen, when the population was about 1,200, many miners died when mining and smoking damaged their lungs. Winter and high altitude added additional respiratory challenges. Childbirth killed many women and infant mortality ran high. Tuberculosis, or “consumption,” raged with little control. The Spanish influenza distinguished itself from other maladies mainly through a faster spread and higher mortality rate.

As with COVID-19 today, no cure existed for the Spanish influenza. Only the symptoms responded to treatment. Like today, quacks pushed unproven home remedies for the disease. They offered cinnamon oil to relieve congestion. Al Lamb Drugstore in Aspen advertised and sold Foley’s Honey and Tar. The ads claimed the mixture contained no opiates, and that children liked it.

Grand Junction closed its public places in October and reported 22 cases with one dead. In early November, Montrose reported 381 Spanish influenza cases, with 41 deaths in 55 days, a death rate that exceeded 10%.

We worry today about travel on airplanes. Compare a couple of hours on a crowded plane to a much longer journey on a crowded train. In 1918, trains connected the country. Aspen held close ties to Leadville and Denver. Salesmen and other businesspeople traveled among the towns daily.

Aspen’s quick action appeared to work and the number of cases and deaths began to drop. Near the end of November, the government lifted the ban on public events. But cases continued to add up, and another large outbreak occurred. In February, Aspen closed its schools again.

In January 1920, Chicago reported 2,230 cases of Spanish influenza with 31 deaths. An additional 321 pneumonia cases resulted in 45 deaths. A few people demanded that Prohibition be suspended because of the outbreak. A health official countered, “Whiskey is not a cure for the flu nor a remedy.”

The 1918 pandemic affected personal stories, including those of my family. As well as killing the very young and the very old, the Spanish influenza took its toll of younger men. John Sheehan, my grandfather, died at the age of 33 and left a widow with five young children. Sheehan’s brother-in-law also died from the influenza. His widow, Ethel Frost, had been pregnant and lost her baby. With little income, the two widows moved into a house on Main Street, now occupied by Explore Booksellers.

My mother had been only 10 years old at the time, and she told me her father’s funeral etched a vivid memory. Gatherings at churches had been banned, so the ceremony took place in front of their new home. The year dealt several grim blows: a pandemic, World War I, closure of Aspen’s largest mine and many left without work.

The 1918 pandemic infected an estimated 500 million people worldwide. It killed 50 million, including 675,000 in the United States. Aspen lost a large proportion relative to its population.

For COVID-1,9 we can use modern test kits to accurately identify the disease, we can treat it with more sophisticated ventilators, and technology offers the potential for immediate and far-reaching communication. But our main lines of defense have not changed — leadership, quarantines and our daily decisions and habits. The 1918 surgeon general’s admonition is worth repeating, “coughs and sneezes spread diseases.”

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while teaching Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective for The Aspen Times. Reach him at redmtn2@comcast.net.