One of the best and most challenging parts of being a skier at Middlebury is that there is just so much to do here. As student athletes we are constantly trying to strike a balance between giving everything we can to our team and playing the role of an active student. Last spring I found myself feeling unsatisfied and looking for a different outlet to throw myself at after a difficult ski season. Middlebury’s Solar Decathlon project was that perfect outlet.
Every two years the U.S. Department of Energy selects twenty teams from across the globe into a competition they call the Solar Decathlon. Teams with selected proposals then spend the next two years designing and building their own solar powered house. A group of students began planning for and designing InSite two years ago almost immediately after the close of the 2011 competition. When I joined the project last spring over 100 students had already contributed to the project in some way. I spent the semester working on media and communications for InSite and stayed in Middlebury for the month of June working as the graphic designer for the project. After months of planning and design work, we began building our house last March and finished it towards the end of July. By the end of August, the house was completely deconstructed and on it’s way to California where the competition is currently being held.
While I enjoyed working on media for the project, I spent my spring break working long hours outside helping to put the house together. I was surprised how much I enjoyed working on a construction site and knew immediately I wanted to go to the first week of the competition in Irvine, California during which we would rebuild the house. As we continued to work on the house throughout the spring, I recruited fellow teammate Heather to join the project and spend a few hours during the weekends drilling the walls onto our house. She too was excited about the idea of being a part of another team and made the decision to travel to California to help reconstruct the house.
Heather and I knew the rough outline of what we would be getting into by traveling with the team to sunny Irvine, California. We knew we would be working construction at least twelve hours a day, that it would likely be hot out and that we would have little to no time for our ski training or any of the school work we were missing. We didn’t consider just how rewarding all this hard work would be or how it would change our perspective about what it means to dedicate yourself to something.
After spending a week working shoulder to shoulder with a diverse group of people, the biggest thing Heather noticed was that these students had put equally as much into this project as she has with skiing. It is a grounding and humbling feeling, realizing that everyone is as busy, as excited, and as dedicated to something as you are. As athletes, we tend to limit our experience as Middlebury students with the justification that skiing monopolizes all of our time. But after a week with members of the solar decathlon team, we have seen our teammates invest equally as much time and energy into something and to still thrive within that group and beyond.
That being said, the power of teamwork extends across every group of people with like-minded focuses. Our greatest success this week was in rebuilding InSite over the course of just five days, a feat that would not have been possible if every student involved in the project wasn’t grounded by a common goal. It will take the efforts of over seventy Middlebury students throughout the four weeks of the competition to rebuild the house, prepare it for inspections and tours, educate the public and woo the judges on the features of the house, and to take the house apart again in order to send it back to Middlebury. Spending a week on the other side of the country missing classes isn’t an easy task and requires a certain commitment to the project; it was apparent to Heather and I that every person that chose to make the trip clearly wanted to be there. We were impressed with the atmosphere of the team and contribute much of its success to the energy each member brought every day to the worksite, an energy that can only be sustained with the deliberate decision of doing what you want to do.
Both Heather and I have returned from California with tanned cheek bones and work boot tired feet, ready to jump back into our routine with a team we feel so passionately about. We thank our all of our teammates, both skiers and decathletes for the constant flow of support.
For more about the Solar Decathlon and Team Middlebury, click here.