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Lessons from Nagano

Although the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan are a half a world away, Vermont educators are getting a chance to cheer on one of their own.

Marc Gilbertson, a teacher at Lamoille Union High School in Morrisville, Vt., will compete in the men's 30-kilometer cross-country ski race on Feb. 22.

The 28-year-old social studies teacher, who has never competed in an international race, has had a remarkable path to Nagano. He was a little-known skier until his surprise win at the U.S. Ski Team Gold Cup, held last month in Lake Placid, N.Y.

The Indiana native, who had won only a few competitions and had no coach or sponsors, trained before and after school. He earned the nickname "Dark Horse," for training in the predawn and dusk hours with a headlight strapped to his head.

Yet training never interfered with his commitment to teaching the school's 7th and 8th graders, said Principal Nancy Guyette. "He's always one of the first in school and one of the last to leave," she said last week. She also praised his sense of caring and ability to relate to students.

Mr. Gilbertson took an unpaid leave of absence for a year to follow his dream. The Vermont affiliate of the National Education Association is soliciting contributions to help him financially during his leave.

The teacher communicates by e-mail nearly every day with the staff at Lamoille Union, Ms. Guyette said. "Even though he's not physically here, he's teaching us every day," she said.

Last month, shortly before Mr. Gilbertson left for Japan, the 820-student school held a two-hour "opening ceremony," complete with Gov. Howard Dean, Commissioner of Education Marc Hull, and Mr. Gilbertson's parents.

While training for an Olympic event may seem daunting, Mr. Gilbertson apparently considers his year away from the classroom a vacation."Compared to teaching, this is an easy year," he told the U.S. Olympic Committee.


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