SOCHI, RUSSIA – Brian Gregg found himself all alone, with nothing but his thoughts, as a 16-year-old kid on an Outward Bound adventure in California’s High Sierras.
One of his tasks focused on establishing life goals, which he jotted down in a list.
Finish college without any student loan debt. Check.
Climb Mount McKinley. Check. Did that with three buddies after college.
Get married by age 28. Check, although he’s not sure why he put that down considering he didn’t even have a girlfriend at the time.
See a polar bear in the Arctic. Um, what?
“I don’t know, I was 16,” he said. “I thought it would be pretty cool.”
Gregg, a resident of north Minneapolis now, occasionally reflects on that list and the goals he set for himself 13 years ago. One, in particular, gives him extra satisfaction: Make the Olympics as a cross-country skier.
Gregg qualified for his first Winter Olympics and will participate in two events here: 30K skiathlon and 50K mass start freestyle. He’s scheduled to compete in the skiathlon Sunday morning.
The significance of his accomplishment dawned on him during his first day on the track this week.
“You dream of that perfect day for cross-country skiing,” he said. “It was sunny, beautiful, the tracks were firm. That was the moment where I was like, this is happening.”
Gregg’s wife, Caitlin (Compton), understands that feeling as well as anyone. She competed in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics in cross-country, finishing sixth in the team sprint. She failed to make the U.S. women’s team this Olympiad in what is regarded as the strongest American women’s group of distance skiers ever.
“When we got married, I mentioned to him that I wanted to do everything possible to help him make the team,” Caitlin said by phone from her native Vermont. “People have been coming up to me saying, ‘Oh, I’m sorry that you didn’t make the team. It’s such a shame that Brian is going without you.’ I say, ‘Honestly, I told him that I was going to help him make the team and he did. I’m like the world’s greatest wife right now.’ ”
Caitlin will watch and root for her husband from home. The two earn their living as professional skiers, so they opted to save money and allow Caitlin to focus on her upcoming events to help support their passion. The Greggs lack the financial backing of other elite racers in the national program so, in order to train at the highest level, they rely on a support from private donations, fundraisers, appearances at clinics, grants and some local sponsorships. And prize money, of course.
“Pretty much everything we make or do goes into our skiing,” Brian said.
Brian grew up in Washington state, graduated from the University of Alaska Anchorage and pursued a professional racing career in Wisconsin after earning his degree in business management.
Caitlin and Brian were teammates on the same racing team in Wisconsin, but they didn’t become a couple until four years after they met. Both had ties to the Twin Cities; Caitlin’s mom relocated years ago while Brian’s mom grew up in Mahtomedi and his family spent many summers visiting White Bear Lake.
As a young married couple, the Greggs decided to move to north Minneapolis. They love Theodore Wirth Park as a place to train, and they saw north Minneapolis as a place where they could help kids.
They bought a one-bedroom, one-bath home with cash collected by a prize check Caitlin won in a race and forgivable loans designed to curb foreclosures on the North Side.
“We don’t make very much money, but life is pretty good for us,” Brian said. “We’re married, we’re happy, we’ve got a dog. I assume we’ll have kids.”
For now, they help kids in their neighborhood through a program in partnership with the Boys & Girls Club. They teach kids about leading a healthy and active lifestyle. They started a running club and provide education on nutrition. heir group participated in a 5K together this fall.
“The kids are so eager for attention and leadership that it’s really fun,” Brian said.
The Greggs receive financial assistance through grants and donations.
“We’re huge advocates for north Minneapolis,” Caitlin said. “There are a lot of people that have been there for many years that have a ton of pride in the area. We’re trying to show our pride and show that you can do some pretty phenomenal things in north Minneapolis, including train for and make the Olympic team.”