OSI Community Coach Spotlight: Carl Theriault
By Brian Threlkeld
By the time I arrive at the Fort Kent Outdoor Center (FKOC), five plus hours north of my hometown of Portland, Maine, it’s 7:30 in the morning and just a mere four hours after Carl Theriault got to work. As I pull into the multi-use facility’s parking lot, a tenacious border collie named Molly greats me with intensity. I swing my legs out of the van, stagnant from the long drive, and stretch my arms as Molly barks enthusiastically. We’ve never met, but since I’m driving my predecessor’s van, who had a strong bond with Molly, she is both eager and apprehensive to see me get out of the vehicle not looking like Seth. After a quick “get to know you” smell, I make my way toward the main building to find Carl chatting with a local business owner who has just loaned a back hoe to FKOC for off season trail work. Nothing written to detail the loan, just a handshake and a smile to seal the deal. I got the sense that that’s how a lot of stuff gets done in this part of Maine. With a few words of welcome, Carl walks me over to a tractor, fires it up and starts heading down the trail with me holding on to the side, as we chat more about the outdoor center and where we’re heading. I’m quickly learning that as president of FKOC, Carl has talents, skills, connections and a work ethic that would put anyone to shame.
After working for years in sales and moving his family around the world, Carl followed his parents lead and settled back in northern Maine just over twenty years ago with his wife Pat and their two sons. When the opportunity arose to buy a local car dealership, Carl took it and sold cars until the early 2000’s. A fire unfortunately destroyed the dealership, but Carl made the most of it and decided to sell the business and “retire.” When the Maine Winter Sports Center (MWSC) was established in the late ‘90’s, Carl was there to help grow that organization and then lead the re-development of the facility In Fort Kent when MWSC transitioned ownership just a few years ago.
Now Carl coaches Nordic skiing in town, trains biathletes at FKOC, oversees the board of directors, coaches tennis, builds and maintains trails, coordinates events, and helps with the accounting. Pretty much anything that needs to get done, Carl has a hand in it. When I asked him about what the other board members do, he laughed and then listed another two dozen things that made me realize that FKOC isn’t just an outdoor center, but an integral community center, bringing together people to recreate in the outdoors year-round.
Carl works tirelessly to build inclusivity into everything the outdoor center does. Whether it’s creating snowshoeing trails, a disc golf course, or ushering in a new aspect of Nordic skiing called Nordic cross, where skiers race on an agility course negotiating obstacles and jumps on a small track that is very viewer-centric, he understands that many hands make light work and that getting children involved from an early age almost always ensures a life of healthy, active outdoor recreation pursuits.
Working with very “entry-level” kids to very experienced kids, often simultaneously, Carl and other volunteers are constantly recruiting youth to become more involved anything going on at FKOC. They know “you have to make it fun,” and that it’s “on us,” as adults, to meet kids where they’re at to break down the barriers some might have to pursuing outdoor sport.
There couldn’t be anyone better fit to be running FKOC than Carl. Riding on the tractor after nearly a full-day of trail work, we get back to the main building to let Carl lace up his boots and click into roller skis to get a workout with a young high schooler from town. Despite snow earlier in the week, warm temps had created a dry paved trail, perfect for a quick roller ski for these die-hard Nordic skiers. And that’s a typical day for Carl: five to six hours working on the facility and a couple hours working with kids. He says it sure is good to be retired.
Later that evening, we grab dinner at a local restaurant before Carl invites me to stay in one of the guest rooms at his and Pat’s house, which happens to be adjacent to the outdoor center. After a long night sleep, I awake to find a note from Carl, saying thanks for a great day yesterday, and that he was sorry to miss me this morning, but he had to get back out on the trails to finish up some work before the conditions went sour – it was six in the morning.
Driving south, Portland in my sights, I reminisce not about my short time at the outdoor center, but the lasting impact it had had on me. Fort Kent is truly a community of active, outdoor enthusiasts who come together for fun and positive experiences outside. It really made me think of what I can do help strengthen communities through outdoor sport and how I can encourage and help others to do the same.