One of NENSA’s finest traditions is presenting the John Caldwell Award. This award annually recognizes a single individual, or entity, which embodies the spirit, dedication, innovation, and pride of John Caldwell. NENSA is thrilled to announce Fred Griffin as our deserving 2020 John Caldwell Award recipient.
Fred has been involved in the New England ski community for over a quarter century and served as NENSA’s first executive director, a position he held for 8 years (1996-2004). Fred also coached Northeast Nordic for 20 years, coached BFA Fairfax (both running and skiing) for 23 years, led numerous U16 and Eastern High School Championship teams for Vermont and New Hampshire, and he has been teaching English for the past 23 years, and worked as a special-needs coordinator at the Galen Center. In addition, during the winter of 2002-03, Fred co-founded the technical delegate program with Jim Rodrigues. Fred’s friend and former athlete, Jennie Bender, describes Fred as a life coach, a master gardener, an adventure guru, an ultimate frisbee coach, and a loving husband among many other things.
While Fred’s resume is impressive, what stands out most is who he is as a person and how he impacts those around him as he moves through life in the many spheres he occupies. Fred has touched the lives of so many people in the ski world and beyond that I could fill pages with why he is deserving of this award. However, as my freshman and sophomore English teacher, Fred taught me that more is not necessarily better so I will try my best to be concise.
Fred is a dedicated, inspiring, and motivating individual who leads by example and galvanizes those around him into action. As Jennie described, “Fred sparks the fire in hearts wherever he goes because his inner fire for maximizing life burns strong and steady. He has a knack for making hard work fun, and guiding kids to find their grit, all the while genuinely connecting with people.” Fred challenges those he works with to grow as people and not just as athletes. Jennie shared that Fred kept those around him on their toes and taught hundreds of kids the value of confidence, being true to yourself, and believing in your abilities. Fred held his athletes to a high standard and enabled them to tackle more than they thought possible challenging them with 8 hour canoe trips, backcountry ski adventures, 2am crust cruises under a full moon, and 6am camp yoga sessions. As Jennie notes “you either thought he was a little crazy, or amazing, or both.”
Another friend and former athlete of Fred’s, Julia Snyder, shared similar sentiments about Fred making special note of his inclusive nature. “Fred truly believed that every member of the team contributed equally to the success of the season and on bus rides, Fred would walk the length of the bus and stop at each seat to talk to every person on the team. He saw his athletes and students as people first.” Julia noted that Fred reinforced his belief that being fun, team-oriented, kind, and supportive is what defines you, not your ability in the sport. Through this culture of inclusivity, Fred turned many non-athletes into life-long athletes.
The culture Fred fostered on his teams has had significant and long-lasting impacts on those he worked with. Jennie noted that Fred has developed hundreds of high schoolers into well rounded, kind, adventurous humans. Another former athlete of Fred’s, Heather Peatman, reflected that “Fred takes in kids from all walks of life and renovates them into individuals that are mature, free-thinking adults with strong leadership and team skills.” Jennie says that she tries to harness Fred’s energy in her own coaching and life, because “giving it your all is truly the best way to live. Fred will always be my inspiration.”
In addition to being inspiring, motivating, and inclusive, Fred is also a generous and adaptable man. Every year 20 to 30 of Fred’s skiers participated in the sport on loaned equipment thanks to a team gear recycling program organized by Fred. Friend and coworker, Dan Warner (Mouse) shared that “Fred always gives his time to make things better for everyone. A true leader!”
While Fred has recently retired from teaching and coaching, he has poured his energy into other outlets. Julia notes that Fred isn’t one to mourn losses. Rather, he pivots and adapts turning each loss into a new avenue for adventure. This sentiment is reflected in NENSA Board President, Carol Van Dyke’s observation that Fred’s “maniacal enthusiasm is ever vigorous as he is currently focused on the innovative Farm to School project at BFA Fairfax where the gardens are prolific, beehives are buzzing, compost is moldering, free-range chickens are laying their eggs and his renowned garlic heads gloriously grow.”
Fred fully embodies the spirit, dedication, innovation, and pride of John Caldwell, and we truly cannot think of a more deserving candidate for this award. While it is difficult to describe such a complex and multifaceted person in one sentence, I’ll end with this very fitting attempt by Carol: “Fred cares about all people holistically, and humorously goads them to be their best. He is the consummate teacher of all: from how to read and write, how to ski and run, how to coach and be coached, how to be a TD, and most importantly how to be a good and kind person with pizazz, aplomb and a bombastic dash of shock and awe.”