Bar News - January 21, 2015
Practicitioner Profile: Olympic Skiing Runs in Lebanon Lawyer’s Family
By: Carol Robidoux
From left, four-time Olympian and Lebanon lawyer Tim Caldwell with his dad, fellow Olympian John Caldwell and his son Patrick, who is training for the Olympics.
Timothy Caldwell considers himself the black sheep of the family in some ways – yes, there are attorneys scattered throughout the family tree here and there, but skiing is the real family business – cross-country skiing, in particular.
His dad, John Caldwell, ski coach and author, is considered the guru of cross-country skiing. He was a member of the 1952 US Olympic ski team and went on to serve as an Olympic coach. After that, he settled into teaching in the classroom and on the slopes, and now, at 86, continues to ski when he can.
“Both my parents are teachers, and they were a little chagrined when I went to law school,” says Caldwell, who attended Georgetown University Law Center after earning his undergraduate degree in liberal arts at Dartmouth College. In that way, he followed in his father’s ski tracks – the semester structure at Dartmouth made it possible to take winters off to focus on skiing.
He also, like his dad, was an Olympian, participating in four consecutive winter games – 1972 Sapporo, 1976 Innsbruck, 1980 Lake Placid and 1984 Sarajevo, earning his best finish, in sixth place, at Innsbruck. He also competed in three World Championships, finishing second in a 1983 World Cup event.
But he is quick to deflect the accolades, refocusing on the accomplishments of others in his family – his younger brother, Sverre, also an avid skier, has spent his career coaching at Vermont’s Stratton Mountain School, and Sverre’s daughter, Sophie Caldwell, is a World Cup skier who came in sixth as a member of the US Olympic team last year in Sochi.
And then there’s Caldwell’s son Patrick who, at 20, has Olympic dreams of his own.
“Of course, that would be another three years down the road for Patrick. He’s a good cross-country skier. He’s a sophomore at Dartmouth. He’d love to be a good international race skier. He has a lot of work to do, and he’s in training now, so we’ll see what happens,” Caldwell says.
One thing he knows for certain is what it takes to become an Olympic-caliber skier: It requires devotion to the sport, which is why Caldwell waited until 30 to hang up his racing skis in exchange for law books, marriage and family, and his own law practice.
He hasn’t pushed his children toward competitive skiing, in part, because he worried about the pressure of having a dad who’s a retired Olympic skier. “I’m sensitive to that,” he says.
His oldest daughter, Lucy, was on the varsity cross-country team at Hanover High School, and his middle child, Heidi, gave up skiing for distance running at Brown University.
Although the evidence seems overwhelming, it’s still hard for Caldwell to say whether the urge to ski is nature, nurture or a little of both.
“I am not sure about that. Part of it is devoting yourself to it. As kids, my brothers, sisters and I just had a lot of fun skiing together. We were all blessed with being good athletes, and genetically having some of the attributes it takes to be a distance athlete. After that, it takes persistence. It takes hard work and discipline, keeping at it even when you fall – and you fall constantly,” Caldwell says.
Early on in his own skiing career, Caldwell found success as an alpine racer, but credits his dad for “subtly pointing” him toward cross-country skiing.
“When I was in eighth grade I came in second and qualified for an alpine ski tournament in Stowe, Vt. My dad said, ‘That’s fine, here’s the bus schedule to get up there.’ I was sort of on my own. The next year I qualified for the cross-country ski national championships in Alaska, and my parents bought me the plane ticket. They wouldn’t help me get to Stowe, but bought me a ticket to Alaska – and I got the message. That pretty much directed my ski career,” Caldwell said.
He raced in his first Olympics while a high school senior, and spent the next 12 years racing internationally, until entering law school. After graduating, he worked briefly in Washington, DC, but quickly learned that, either through conditioning or DNA, he was a mountain man at heart.
“One of the things about living in DC is that it is infectious – it attracts people who are either politicians or lawyers – or both. I thought it looked like a pretty good life, but after graduating, I knew I wanted to move back north,” Caldwell said.
So his second chapter began at 34. Caldwell, now 60, established his small law practice, Caldwell Law, in Lebanon, which focuses on estate planning and settlement for clients on both sides of the Connecticut River – allowing him to stay connected with his family in Vermont.
“I have strong Vermont ties. My folks still live in my hometown, and my brother is there. It’s where I grew up, and I’m friends with all the politicians there,” says Caldwell, who lives in Lyme with his wife of 25 years, Margaret – a teacher – where they raised their kids.
“The thing about being an Olympic skier is that everything else gets put on hold. I felt fortunate to get through college at Dartmouth in five years, but everything else – from starting a family life to having a career – was delayed. A lot of my contemporaries have kids who are older and they’re seriously getting ready to retire. We still have a kid in college, so for me, that’s still down the road,” Caldwell says.
Through it all, Caldwell can see how his years of dedication to skiing has translated to his work as an attorney – which requires the same willingness to roll up your sleeves and be persistent.
“Lawyering for me is like skiing. It’s hard, but I like it a lot and I can say I have quite a bit of job satisfaction. In that way, I guess you could say skiing prepared me for what I’m doing now,” Caldwell says.
“Skiing, for me, is almost a religious experience. I really feel at peace when I can go skiing in winter. It’s a combination of being in the world and feeling almost completely free as you glide along,” says Caldwell. “It’s engrained in my blood and I’m lucky enough to have inherited genes that let me run up hills pretty quickly. But the psychological part comes from having done it all my life.”