In 2014 NENSA began the tradition of honoring the top ranked male and female Eastern Cup skiers with the Gallagher Cup. NENSA is pleased to announce that Luke Rizio (Prospect Mountain Ski Club) and Evelyn Walton (EMXC) are the 2023 Eastern Cup Champions – their inspired efforts are a perfect way to celebrate Mike Gallagher’s legacy as an athlete, coach, and community leader. The two skiers who win this award each year do so by being consistently dominant in New England’s premier race series (winners are determined by the lowest average points from seven of the eight EC events).
Both of this years recipients share common traits that go beyond skiing, including huge smiles and being amazing teammates. Several of their race results throughout the winter were the same — which is not unlikely for individuals being rewarded for consistency. While Rizio might have a flare for distance, Walton has the same for sprinting — prowess that placed both of them on the US Ski Team radar this season for inclusion into the National Training Group, a program for bringing together the top talent from across the United States.
Luke Rizio is an upcoming star and a self-made skier who balances both high school and club skiing at an extremely high level. Until this past season, Rizio listed Twin Valley High School out of Wilmington, Vermont as his home club. Indeed, last season he went on to be a two-time Vermont State Champion as the only skier on his team. This season he raced for and led the Mount Anthony Union Patriots to the State Team Championships with another set of back-to-back victories.
On top of being a four-time Vermont State Champion, Rizio, as a second year U18, ended the 2023 Eastern Cup season ranked as the fourth junior in all of New England. In the seven events he competed in he was never outside the top-six for juniors and found himself on the podium three times. This impressive skiing was done under a new club name, and the watchful eye of his sister and coach, Mackenzie. The Prospect Mountain Ski Club, led in part by the Rizio’s, was the 16th ranked club in 2023 Eastern Cup competition in its first year!
In Luke’s second year at Junior Nationals he was a huge part of bringing the Alaska Cup home with three top-10 performances this winter in Alaska. He placed 9th in the 7.5km classic, 10th in the sprint, and after helping dictate the speed of the mass start 10km freestyle ended the week with an outstanding 4th place finish. There is a fun story about Luke here that ties into grit and self-determination — despite the near zero temperatures on race days — he was racing in only his suit, “because I get too hot.” On the final day he wore a poly pro under his suit seemingly unfazed by the bite of the polar Fairbanks conditions.
“Luke is a pleasure to coach. He is extremely self-motivated and puts his all into his training all year round. He lives apart from many teammates and training partners from other teams, so he travels all over the place and trains with different groups and coaches on a regular basis. He has a thoughtful and well-rounded approach to training and racing and comes to practice each day with a positive attitude. Luke competes in both club and high school racing and has found a lot of success in both circuits. The balance of doing that many races as a Junior skier can be challenging, but Luke takes it in stride. No race is too small or not serious enough for him. He shows up to compete for that top podium spot, but after the race you would be hard-pressed not to find him laughing along with his teammates or cheering on younger or less experienced athletes. He is a leader both on and off the trail as he has volunteered to coach youth soccer players for some years in his free time. In addition to his athletic pursuits, he helped start and run two small businesses based in our hometown.” Mackenzie Rizio, PMSC Coach and NENSA YIPD.
Evan Kendall, Dublin School and 2023 New England JN Coach added, “Luke is both a national talent as a skier and as a teammate. He trains and races with his whole being and with incredible joy. In addition to hard work, tremendous fitness, and technical know-how, Luke also stands out due to his ability to find balance among many of the challenges skiing presents. He works hard without losing sight of the purpose of a practice. He finds joy and humor in his training without diminishing its quality. He believes in himself without putting himself above others. He brings mischief, adventure, and camaraderie to his teams without undermining their central focus. In short, he provides an example to others for how to race, train, and find meaning in skiing for both racers and coaches alike.”
Evelyn Walton competed in all eight Eastern Cups this season and only placed outside the top-five junior skiers one time — she won both of the sprint races and was on the podium six times. Hailing from Concord, Massachusetts she is a product and leader of the EMXC team and a dedicated participant in NENSA programs. Throughout the first five years of her junior career she won at least one Eastern Cup sprint in the 2019, 2020, 2022, and 2023 seasons in her respective age group (that’s a perfect record because there were no true Eastern Cups in the Covid season of 2021). She ended the 2023 season as the third ranked junior skier in New England.
Walton has been a member of of four New England Junior National teams and scored major points for New England every year. The 2023 Junior Nationals were her strongest to date, placing 3rd in the 7.5km classic, winning the sprint qualifier and going on to place 3rd in the rounds, before capping the week with a 4th place finish in the 15km freestyle as a first year U20.
Walton is one of the leaders of the impressive EMXC junior squad giving time back to the team and inspiring future skiers. For the past few winters she helped organize components of the student led, Race for Snow, which brings together skiers from the Boston area to raise awareness and raise money for climate change mitigation. She has also been an active participant in both of our Youth Enrichment Services (YES) learn to rollerski clinics, a program to introduce young people in the Boston area to the summer version cross country skiing, build stoke for the winter season, and provide an opportunity for YES participants to get acquainted with the EMXC athletes who assist with coaching YES’s winter ski program. Evelyn will be continuing her career this winter at Dartmouth College.
“No matter the venue, be it Eastern Cup racing, team baking contests, or daily training sessions, Evie always shows up with her A-game and a smile. Her positivity and love for skiing are infectious, elevating both her own performance and the performances of her teammates.
To win the Gallagher Award, one must be consistently excellent across the course of the season. Evie is consistent in her excellence as a teammate, leader, and racer – so I can’t imagine a more fitting award for Evie!” Cate Brams, Head Coach EMXC