Student athletes have a lot of pressure to overcome. They have pressure from coaches, school and teammates.
Ingrid Fjeldheim feels the pressure of all these things, and on top of that she feels the pressure of being the coach’s daughter.
But Ingrid, a sophomore, said her dad, NMU head ski coach Sten Fjeldheim has taught her to look at these situations differently.
“You have to take pressure from your coaches and from school as a privilege,” she said. “We are lucky to be able to do this. So he (Sten) just shows us that you have to enjoy every minute you have when you’re able to compete.”
Sten said he believes attitude is everything, which shows in the motto he built his program around: “First you form an attitude and then that attitude forms you.”
Ingrid had this motto in mind when she stepped in her skies and represented NMU at the National Championships for the first time in her college career at Rumford, Maine this past weekend.
“I think she wanted to represent Northern like all the athletes did – like a student athlete and not as my daughter,” Sten said.
This race was especially important to the Fjeldheims, because 33 years ago Sten raced those same trails in his first appearance at the National Championships for NMU.
Ingrid finished 28th in the classic and 32nd in the freestyle, and while these results were less than what she had expected, she said the experience will only help in her future.
“It was really intimidating being there with all the fast people from all over the country,” Ingrid said. “It was a really big eye opener and I definitely think I could have skied a little bit better.”
Sten said he did see room for improvement in his daughter’s performance, but what she needs to overcome is not a physical obstacle but a mental one.
“I think the biggest thing she needs to work on – and it is part of being my daughter, and being at home, and hearing ski talk, and hearing ‘This girl made the Olympic team,’ and ‘This girl made the National Championships,'” Sten said. “I think she finally needs to see herself as one of those girls.”
The NMU ski team has qualified for every National Championship since 1986 (two years before Ingrid was born). The program has also produced 40 All-Americans, three National Champions and 10 Olympians under the reign of Sten.
With this extensive résumé, winning is clearly in the genes of 21-year-old Ingrid, but she said growing up, Sten was always a father first and a coach second.
“When I was growing up, my dad never showed me a training plan, or pushed me to do anything,” Ingrid said. “The choice was all mine.”
Two years ago when Sten and NMU recruited Ingrid, Sten said he did exactly what he would do with any other potential athlete.
But he said he and his daughter had an agreement about their family life.
“We didn’t talk much about it at home, and she and I agreed that when we were at practice ‘I am your coach and you’re an athlete, and when we’re at home I am Dad’ and you’re Ingrid.'” Sten said.
He added that his assistant coach Jenny Ryan and the other athletes on the team trusted him and knew he would be a coach when he needed to and be a father when he needed to.
“Sometimes I catch myself wanting to be ‘Dad’ and there are moments when I can, but there are times when I can’t too,” Sten said.
Junior skier Anna Berglund said Sten has found a way to be both a coach and father for Ingrid.
“I think he does a good job of balancing the father-coach relationship and he acknowledges it in the right kind of way and he doesn’t favor her, because he is her father and her coach,” she said.
Because people could view Ingrid’s success as favoritism from her father, Ingrid said she works harder to prove she earned it.
“I am really cautious that he never favors me, and I feel like that wears me out because I don’t want to be favored over anyone,” Ingrid said. “And when I go into a race I am not thinking ‘Oh I have do well for my dad.’ He has taught me, ‘You have to do stuff for you.”‘
Ingrid raced her best race of the season two weeks ago at the Regional Championships, finishing with a fifth place in the freestyle and a seventh place in the classic.
Because of these finishes, Ingrid was able to edge out sophomore Christina Gillis for the last NMU roster spot at the National Championships by just one-tenth of a point.
“I told the team before the regional championships that we are going to go on the points no matter what, wherever they fall,” Sten said. “It could have been Ingrid behind one tenth of a point but the cards just fell the way they did.”
Ingrid said because of the trust and the ingrained positive attitude of the team, Gillis was supportive of the decision.
“She was more than happy to support me, and I was fully prepared to support her, if she made it and help her in any way I could,” Ingrid said.
Now that Ingrid has one NCAA Championship race under her belt and two years on the team, she said she has formed the attitude she needs in order to compete at that level again.
“I would like to be an All-American. I have two years left and that would be my goal,” Ingrid said.
Achieving this feat would again be following in the footsteps of her father.
Two years after Sten raced his first National Championships he returned and skied his way to a top-10 finish in the classic race and became an All-American representing NMU.
Sten said because Ingrid’s performance at nationals and her maturing attitude as a student athlete she could represent NMU as an All-American one day.
“I think Ingrid finally has that confidence and she is going to carry that into her training,” Sten said. “And I think she has potential to be an All-American for sure.”