At 82, age not keeping Wain off the slopes or out of NASTAR
When it comes to Naomi Wain and NASTAR ski races, the just-turned 82-year-old Northstar resident has a knack for breaking age barriers.
In her most recent first-place finish at Park City Mountain Resort in March, Wain won a gold medal. The feat came in the Recreational division Female 80-84 Jeep King of the Mountain NASTAR Race of Champions, where she beat her only competitor, Angie Smith of Endicott, N.Y.
Wain said she was approached by Smith before the race, but she did not get to watch Smith’s run. Smith fell twice and was disqualified from the race, giving Wain her second NASTAR gold medal.
Although she is not the first over-80 woman to compete in NASTAR, Wain and Smith were the first over-80 females to compete since 2002. Another Smith, Nettie Smith of Rockford, Mich., was the only over 80 competitor that year, and there were none in that age bracket in 2001.
One might think beating out a single competitor cheapens the feat, but the fact that few in that age group compete each year is a testament to how difficult it is to travel and race competitively on skis over the age of 80. Wain was proud to say she never fell on her runs, but, admittedly, Wain was a bit worn out when it came time to accept her medal.
“I got up on the podium, and two guys had to give me a leap up,” Wain said.
Wain was 81 during her 2004 NASTAR performance, and it was an appropriate way to bring full circle her original NASTAR victory a first place in the first ever over 50 women’s age group finals at a Sun Valley, Idaho, NASTAR competition in March 1974.
Besides the thrill of competing, Wain’s appearance at NASTAR meant meeting one of her idols in the skiing world. Wain was excited to meet Truckee’s prominent skier Daron Rahlves, who was the pace-setter (the skiers handicaps are determined by the pace-setter) for Wain in the competition. She was also interviewed by Warren Miller’s film crew, a renowned ski filmmaking outfit, and Wain admits to watching nearly every movie attached to Miller’s name.
“There’s no guarantee that I will get in next year’s film, of course,” she said.
Gordon Morseth of Savannah, Ga., who competed in the Male Expert division 90-plus age group, was also interviewed by Miller’s crew.
Wain qualified for the latest competition at Alpine Meadows in February, with a little tug on the sleeve from her youngest stepdaughter Nancy Beisser. Beisser had looked on the NASTAR Web site and noticed that no over 80 women had competed in 2003.
“She said, ‘Get out there and try it,'” Wain said. Before Wain knew it, she was setting another precedent in her skiing career.
Wain will tell you that she is a powder skier at heart, but her fascination with NASTAR actually started because it wasn’t snowing enough. In 1974 at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, one of her favorite vacation destinations, she became tired of waiting for fresh snow to fall so she entered the NASTAR competition, not expecting more than a mere learning experience.
“It hadn’t snowed for five days,” she recollects, “and there were no qualifications of any kind. I felt very silly in the starting gate,” she said.
The next thing she knew NASTAR representatives phoned her on her anniversary, March 22, 1974, and told her she had qualified for the national competition and an all-paid trip to Sun Valley. Wain said she thought they were joking, but they called her back a few days later and convinced her to make the trip.
Wain beat out eight other women competitors to earn a gold medal and a first-place trophy, which she proudly displays in an upstairs sitting room in her home along with other trophies, medals, news clippings and old season passes to a number of ski resorts.
About 10 years ago, the ageless skier even tried to urge NASTAR to sponsor an over 70 group, but the event was running on hard times and had no sponsors. When she was in her early 60s, she qualified again for the NASTAR championships at Aspen, Colo., and came in fourth.
But her skiing life which has spanned the last four decades and also signified the beginning of a new life for her around age 40 was closely linked to her late husband, Jack Wain. A devoted husband of 38 years, Jack passed away three years ago after a three-year battle with prostate cancer.
Because of the demands of his job as a Certified Public Accountant, Jack could not always be with Naomi on the slopes, but he always supported her skiing habit. Jack was an avid skier himself and was introduced to the sport by his wife.
“He skied through January the year that he died,” she recalls her late husband. “It was so easy (for him) to go skiing because the bus came right up to our door.”
Naomi even convinced Jack to compete in his first NASTAR some time in the late 70s, and he earned a bronze.
But life hasn’t been the same for Wain since her husband died in July 2001 in the house they bought together five years ago. They had also owned a condominium in Northstar since 1984 when the two lived permanently in San Mateo. Now, she plans to move to Santa Barbara, Calif., in July or August, where Beisser now lives.
“I’m tired of being alone, obviously,” Wain said. “I don’t have many people here to ski with.”
That may sound sad, but Wain is not the type of person to feel sorry for herself. She seems to radiate with joy. A smile on her face is ever-present, and her move to Santa Barbara does not scare her at all because she is already familiar with the Southern California area.
Wain, born Naomi Scher, spent the first eight years of her life in Canada before her parents moved her to Los Angeles en route for the sunny skies of California. Although Wain cherished her memories of the Canada snow, she spent the first half of her life in Southern California working a stint at MGM studios and later as a saleswoman selling framed photographic prints to furniture and department stores. In her free time, she loved to take a swim in the ocean, she said.
She was even willing to practice skiing on dry land. Through a rare ski shop in Los Angeles in the early 60s, she took lessons on a hill of rice hulls, learning mainly to side step up the hill and ski a short run.
Wherever Wain resides, skiing is not too far away, and the 82-year-old is not afraid to travel. She said that Delta has recently implemented a non-stop flight from Santa Barbara to Salt Lake City. Wain has already planned four trips to Alta Utah (another one of her favorite areas) next ski season.
With her move, Wain will also be able to spend more time with her stepdaughters Beisser, Sheryl Glasser and Roberta Becker Jack’s daughters from a previous marriage.
As far as staying in shape into her eighth decade, Wain doesn’t offer up any mystery remedies or secrets. She prefers the most tried and true method.
“I exercise everyday. I do calisthenics, and I walk two miles.”