Senior Spring: Fabian Stocek '17, from the cradle of skiing to the king of the hill

by Jonathan Katzman | 4/10/17 1:15am

It couldn’t be more fitting: Dartmouth’s top cross-country skier hails from a town known as “the Cradle of Czech Skiing.” Surrounded by a family of Nordic enthusiasts, Fabian Stocek ’17 discovered his passion for cross-country skiing at a young age in the small town of Jilemnice, one of the Czech Republic’s northernmost towns, right on the edge of the Krkonoše mountains.

“My parents and relatives all did Nordic,” Stocek said. “I also did a bit of snowboarding because my father snowboarded, but I was much more interested in cross-country skiing than alpine due to the influence of those around me.”

Despite hailing from Eastern Europe, Stocek’s high school is a familiar name at Dartmouth. The Holderness School is a private prep school located just outside of Plymouth, New Hampshire, about 50 miles from Hanover. Holderness’ Nordic program, under the guidance of former U.S. Nordic Team coach Pat Casey, is second to none, with a long tradition of producing world-class athletes like Olympians Charlie Kellogg and Carl Swenson. Stocek spent his sophomore year of high school, his first in the United States, at Hopkinton High School in Hopkinton, New Hampshire, where he lived with a homestay family before moving on to Holderness.

While Stocek has made headlines this year on the snow, skiing wasn’t what drove his move to the U.S.

“When I was 15, some of my cousins and family friends did a year abroad, and I figured I might as well try going abroad as well to learn English better than I had,” Stocek said. “I also thought it would be valuable life experience to be away from home and really have to figure out what the real world was like.”

Had Stocek not spent two years at Holderness, he may not have found his way to Dartmouth. At Holderness, the Nordic standout came into the orbit of Head of School Phil Peck ’77, a former member of Dartmouth’s Nordic team and a former assistant coach with the U.S. National Nordic ski team. Stocek, a neuroscience major, credits Peck’s influence, as well as the tremendous research opportunities available to undergraduates, as the most significant factors in his decision to attend Dartmouth.

Stocek spent the first two years of his Big Green career in the shadow of NCAA champion Patrick Caldwell ’17. When Caldwell left after the 2015 season for the U.S. Ski Team, Stocek became an important team contributor during his junior year. But it wasn’t until his final season in the Green and White that he really exploded. Stocek went six straight weekends ­— the entire carnival season — with victories, picking up wins at the St. Lawrence Carnival, University of New Hampshire Carnival, University of Vermont Carnival, a pair at the Dartmouth Carnival, one at the Middlebury Carnival and gold at Eastern Regionals. A spot on the EISA All-East First Team complemented his stellar season, which fittingly concluded with the NCAA Championships in Jackson, New Hampshire, where he was the top-seeded Eastern division skier in both the 10-kilometer and 20-kilometer races.

In 2016, Stocek missed out on All-American status by a hair, finishing 11th in the 20k classic at the NCAA championships. This year, the senior finally nabbed the prize that had eluded him. His fifth place finish in the 20-kilometer event, just two seconds behind the winner, earned him First Team All-American honors.

“I had been hoping to achieve All-American status for the past two years, and after a 11th place finish last year, I figured I would stick with it for one more try,” Stocek said. “I think the race specifically was one of the most exciting in my career because I knew the whole race that could have potentially landed myself on the podium. At the end I had a surge and thought I potentially could win because the result was literally down to the finish line.”

Going forward, Stocek is looking to push himself even further. He will remain on campus the summer after his graduation as he seeks to publish neuroscience research on habitual behavior before applying for graduate programs in Europe. He will take next year off to focus on skiing, mostly through “marathon races” in both Europe and China. While Stocek’s longest collegiate races were 20 kilometers, marathon races can stretch to as many as 90 kilometers, making them skiing’s ultimate test of strength and endurance. A spot on the Czech Republic’s 2018 Olympic team remains the dream, though Stocek insists on remaining realistic.

“I tried to qualify for the Czech team last year, but it did not work out just by a little bit,” he said. “I am still going to try this year to shoot for the Olympics in two years. I will do enough training to achieve that, and if it works out, great. I am happy to change my plans for the next few years if it does.”

If anybody knows how to put in the kind of work needed to compete on the international stage, it is Stocek. Balancing rigorous course work with extra time in the lab and as many as 700 hours of ski training in a single year, Stocek embodies all that an Ivy League athlete is supposed to represent.

As Stocek climbs to greater heights, he will look back on his Dartmouth experience fondly.

“You can go mountain biking or run with members of the U.S. Ski Team before class, and then sit down for a lecture with one of the most accomplished professors in his or her field,” he said. “In the afternoon you can go work in a lab and then even dedicate time to community service and activism before meeting your professors for drinks. The great outdoors, combined with research opportunities and cool people, makes this place pretty special.”

As Stocek’s senior spring progresses, it’s hard to say where he could be found at a given moment. He could very well be biking through the mountains, lifting in Floren Varsity House, studying in the classroom or researching in the lab.

Rugged, outdoorsy, brainy, accomplished. Stocek sounds like the prototypical Dartmouth guy. Just don’t test him on the snow and expect to win.