Crimson Characters: Skiing's David McCahill

Crimson Characters: Skiing's David McCahill

Editor's Note:
The feature story below on men's nordic skiing senior captain David McCahill, is part of a year-long commitment to highlight Harvard’s captains and other intriguing student-athletes. For more question-and-answer features click here and enjoy the high-caliber student-athletes whom we have come to enjoy.

David McCahill, a senior from Lake Placid, N.Y., is now experiencing life after college athletics having finished the season almost two weeks ago. However, before he was finished with the season, he wanted to leave his lasting impression on the ski team and of course on

What is your area of concentration at Harvard?
Environmental Science & Public Policy.

How has it prepared for life when you graduate?
I’ve learned a great deal about how environmental decisions and policies are shaped and the role which scientific knowledge plays in the process, but most of all I’ve learned to be critical of what I read. I think that’s surprisingly important, but I’m still trying to figure out how exactly it might land me a job.

How have your studies helped you athletically? How have athletics helped you academically?
My junior year I chose to study abroad during the fall semester in Innsbruck, Austria. Having studied German at Harvard for three years, I was excited to finally apply my knowledge in such a culture-rich environment. Plus, Innsbruck is rather the “Mecca” of the ski-world, which worked out quite well. I skied every single day starting October 15th, both ski mountaineering up in the mountains and Nordic training in Seefeld, which hosted the events for the 1964 and 1976 Winter Olympics. I also gained inspiration for my thesis, which I’m working on now; it’s a case study of a village in Western Austria which I’m using to promote the incorporation of community-based sustainability initiatives in my home town of Lake Placid. Without skiing, the project surely wouldn’t have been possible.

When was the first time you went nordic skiing?
My father took me skiing in the backyard when I was a shade over two years old. My, how the time flies.

With so many major winter events taking place in Lake Placid, N.Y., was it your destiny to compete in the winter months?
Maybe fate, maybe destiny. There is a critical time in every youngster’s life in Lake Placid, right around 7 years old, when you’ve got to decide between skiing and hockey. Growing up right behind the 26-story Olympic ski jump dictated that I pursue the Nordic disciplines of ski jumping and cross country. Who knows, maybe I could have been the next Mike Richter... Probably not.

Tell us about your best ski trip you have been on.
In the summer of 2004, my teammates and I traveled to Ramsau am Dachstein, Austria for a three week trip training camp and some competitions. Being Nordic-combined athletes, (meaning both ski jumping and cross country), we got to jump on some of the most famous hills in the world, including the 125 meter hill in Bischofshofen, Austria, the site of the finale for the prestigious “Four Hills Tournament.” It might not sound too exciting, but it’s like the Super Bowl of the skiing community, so those jumps meant a lot to me. When not leaping off the jumping hills at 65 mph, we trained cross country up on the glaciers alongside many of the prominent World Cup teams; it was quite memorable. As I recall, the Finnish Women’s Sprint team members were quite friendly.

Who is the most fearless skier on the team at Harvard?
My teammate and co-captain Anna Schulz. Fearless is an understatement. In her spare time she enjoys operating heavy machinery with her brothers, running up mountains and beating up on the members of the men’s team during one-on-one ski sprints. She’s a great source of inspiration for the whole team.

What do you usually eat the night before a race? And on the day of the race, what do you usually eat?
Pasta, topped with a little bit of pasta, washed down with a little pasta. We Nordic skiers aren’t exactly huge proponents of the Atkins diet...

What was your favorite cartoon as a kid?
Popeye. Huge fan. I just wish I could shovel down spinach like him. Plus, Olive Oil was such a fox.

If you had to be named after one of the 50 states, which would it be?

Montana, but with no relation to Hannah. Of course.

What's the sickest you've ever been?
I’m not sure, but I felt pretty nauseous walking out of my Life Sci 1a final exam last semester.

What was your favorite place you saw in Europe?

I’ve been a few times, my favorite place is in a quiet little corner of Southwestern Austria, called Kaunertal. Some pretty great memories of some steep and deep backcountry telemark skiing with good friends.

If you could compete in any other sport at Harvard, which would you choose?
Football, naturally. I’ve always told senior cornerback Andrew Berry that if he’s ever feeling under the weather, I’ll jump in for him – no problem.

If you had to pick one movie to watch for the rest of your life, what would it be?
If I were to dig up Webster’s dictionary and find the entry for “comedy,” there would be a life-size portrait of Tim Meadows, SNL phenom. So if The Ladies Man with Meadows and Will Ferrell were on constant repeat, I wouldn’t complain.

When you look back at your Harvard career, what is the one thing you will miss the most?

I’m sure most athletes feel the same way, but it’s going to be pretty tough to walk away from an amazing group of teammates.

If you could give one piece of advice to an incoming freshman athlete, what would it be?
If it ain’t fun, why do it?

Did you or do you still play a musical instrument?
I used to be a serious trumpet player in high school, but I haven’t picked it up since. Not enough hours in the day.

What’s the best book you’ve ever read?

I’ve read some good ones, but I just finished Deep Economy by Bill McKibben, which I quite enjoyed.

As the season progressed, what was the most important aspect of your game you needed to work on in order to be successful?
Our season is short and sweet: seven consecutive weekends consisting of 30km of racing, so the toughest aspect for me is staying healthy and staying as focused as possible. This season, I’m taking the most pride in watching our team accomplish some outstanding results, but most of all, I’m making sure I’m enjoying my last weeks as a student-athlete here at Harvard.

Are you involved in any clubs or activities on campus besides skiing?
The First-Year Outdoor Program, Harvard College Marathon Challenge and I also wrench bikes up at Quad Bikes. I suppose it’s not an activity per se, more a lifestyle. After skiing ends this spring, I’m going to ride for Harvard University Cycling Association, the bike racing team.