Kris Freeman

February 22. 2013 2:29PM

He's young, good looking and cocksure. The All-American boy, raised in the north country of New Hampshire, in a rural house his father built off a dirt road lost among the hills.

He has overcome physical setbacks - the kind that bring out the quit in weaker men - to become an Olympic skier.

Sound familiar?

During the winter of 2002-2003 he went to Europe, into the lion's den, where American skiers are treated the same way we look at baseball players from France: Bemusing novelties who ultimately gain little respect. Boy, did he change those attitudes.

He forced his way on to the world stage with performances rarely seen from Americans. He got his respect, not to mention a legion of fans treating him like a rock star.

>He has become the American skier that will revolutionize the sport in the United States.

Sounds like another Bode Miller intro, doesn't it?

It's not.

This story, the story of Kris Freeman, might be better.

Kris, 22, is a Type I diabetic who needs insulin injections five times a day. He has become the first diabetic to successfully compete at an international level in an endurance sport like cross country skiing. He was diagnosed in September of 2000, but that didn't stop him from training for the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.

Less than a year later, he had to have surgery for compartment syndrome, which caused abnormal growth of the muscles in his lower legs.

"I had the Olympics in less than a year, so I knew I had to deal with it," Freeman said. "It's a pretty simple procedure, but pretty painful."

Somehow, Freeman made the Olympic team. He walked side by side for the opening ceremonies with Jed Hinckley and Carl Van Loan, boyhood friends from their days growing up at the Andover Outing Club.

Hinckley, whose family lives a mile down the road from the Freeman house, and Van Loan, who is from nearby Webster, made the Nordic combined team. The only person missing was Kris' older brother, Justin, who narrowly missed joining Kris on the cross country team. Kris thinks Justin will be on the team for the 2006 Games in Torino, Italy.

Kris, who spends his time between the national team camp in Park City, Utah and his family home, said recent changes to the national team's coaching staff has made an incredible difference in his performance. It has shown.

He stunned the cross country world this winter in Italy by winning the Under-23 world championship in February and, a week later, finishing fourth in the 15 kilometer classic ski race at the Nordic World Ski Championships. It was the best finish by a U.S. skier since Vermont native Bill Koch won a bronze medal in the 30K race at the 1982 Worlds.

"I was so close to a medal, it would have been history," Freeman said. "I had been training to peak at the U-23s. A week later I had the world championships and I was skiing well.

"I got more press than the winner did, probably twice as much. They were shocked and they were happy, too. They want the U.S. to do well. It was a little overwhelming."

The races were carried live in Europe and Freeman said he became an instant celebrity during several ensuing races in Norway and Sweden. Over here, we hardly noticed.

While Miller, the favored son from Franconia, made headlines on an almost daily basis as he tried to win the overall alpine world title, Freeman's story was largely buried on the back pages. He also won the national championships this winter in Rumford, Maine, beating his brother out in an exciting finish in one race. That should have made great drama, especially when the Freemans live a few hours away and Justin went to college in Maine (Bates), but Kris said the crowds lacked the size and enthusiasm of those in Europe.

Kris Freeman scrapes his cross country ski to remove old wax residue.  (Photo by Dick Morin-The Union Leader)

"More people might still remember me running from high school," said Freeman, a former champion distance runner at Sant Bani.

Freeman's story is as removed from the eye of American sports as the location Donavon Freeman picked years ago to build his house in the hills of Andover.

Alpine skiing may be a sport that only catches our eye once or twice a year, but there is still a glamorous aspect to it, like the daredevil runs of Miller flying down the hill, that draws our attention.

Cross country skiing? That's a couple of guys named Swen stiff-legging their way through the woods in countries that consider New Hampshire winters tropical.

It was during the winters here that Donavon Freeman taught his two sons how to cross country ski. Now, it looks like Kris may be the one to bring the sport a popularity it hasn't had here since the days of Bill Koch more than two decades ago.

"It's a European sport, (and) for now I accept it," Freeman said recently. "One of my goals is to bring it to the masses. If you get an Olympic medal, its going to fire people up and bring interest to the sport."

He needs to look no further than Miller to know the power of an Olympic medal.

"Bode won world championship gold, (but) he also has a silver medal in the Olympics and that's what Americans pay attention to," Freeman said. "Most Americans don't even know there is a world championships. If you come from the U.S. and you want notoriety, you want fame for your sport; you put it together every four years when they put the show on. That's what Bode did."

"I think if I have the same success as him, notoriety will come."

That day may be coming soon. Freeman, who has become a spokesman for Lilly, the pharmaceutical company that developed the type of insulin treatments that allow him to compete, is getting ready to head back to Park City to begin training with the national team.

If he keeps progressing the way he did this winter, he will certainly be among the medal favorites in 2006.

And that's when millions will hear this wonderful story.

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