At the age of 17, Gustavus senior Jens Brabbit moved to Belgium to compete for the United States National Cycling team. Merely four years later, Brabbit is on the verge of graduating as one of the most accomplished athletes from Gustavus—as a Nordic skier.
Brabbit started biking at a young age under the influence of his mom. “My mom used to race and got me interested in the sport. When I was almost 13, I started riding. It was just a hobby at first and slowly built up to be a big passion of mine,” Brabbit said.
His passion evolved into a tremendous amount of success as he raced competitively in Europe for a semester at a time in his final two years of high school. “To put things in perspective, you think you are at a great level, and the next thing you know you are a small fish in a big pond when you are lined up next to world champions,” Brabbit said.
Even with an intense passion for biking, Brabbit chose to pursue skiing in college. As a high school senior out of Winona, Brabbit received multiple scholarship offers including skiing scholarships at the University of New Hampshire and the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay as well as a biking scholarship at Fort Lewis in Colorado. However, Brabbit settled on Gustavus.
“Jens wanted the ability to blend biking and skiing together,” Head Men’s Nordic Skiing Coach Jed Friedrich said. “But he also came to Gustavus because he saw the importance of his academics and wanted to put that ahead of his athletics.”
Yet, athletics and academics were not the only two factors that drew Brabbit to come to Gustavus. “I looked at Gustavus as a place where I could continue biking and skiing and a degree here would give me a great education. But I also came here because I really like the people,” Brabbit explained. “I like places where you can walk down the hall and you know people and can have conversations with them. I like having those relationships.”
Friedrich was able to see Brabbit fitting into the Gustavus community during recruitment as well as excelling on the ski team. “He was very humble and modest and never once did he give me the sense that he thought he was too good for Gustavus,” Friedrich said. “He’s such a talented athlete, and I knew he would be a positive part of this team.”
Indeed, Brabbit has been nothing but a positive asset to the Nordic Skiing team in large part due to his personality. “He’s extremely confident, yet not arrogant, which is a unique blend for a personality trait. He never had the attitude that he was too good for his teammates, but he also understands what he needs to do as an individual to help the team. I’ve never had a skier that has had as much confidence as Jens,” Friedrich said.
With the birth of the men’s Nordic ski program in 1999, the number of skiers on the roster has fluctuated with as few as two skiers in the 2000-01 season to as many as 14 this year. “Our men’s program was kind of hurting for numbers before he got here. Now, it’s completely turned around, and we have a very deep team,” Friedrich said. “Jens has brought a valuable leadership component to the team and definitely elevated our men’s program.”
Brabbit is most notably a third year captain and exudes the quality of senior leader. “I think Jens has helped a lot by elevating the level of all those other guys as far as how they train and how they prioritize their lifestyle around skiing and academics. He’s left a huge impact on the rest of the men’s program,” Friedrich said.
In effect, Brabbit is passing on his own air of confidence to the rest of the ski team. “I’ve always liked sports that are individual sports but also a team sport. I don’t like losing, so I always thought that I would like any sport where I couldn’t blame anyone but myself if I didn’t have a good result. But at the same time, I knew I was helping the team cause,” Brabbit said.
The majority of that impact Brabbit has left and will leave is due in large part to his success as a skier. His sophomore year, Brabbit missed the NCAA Championships by one point. “I was pretty bummed out, but it motivated me. I had never trained for skiing in the summer, but the summer before my junior year, I started skiing twice a week,” Brabbit said.
His training paid off last year, as he became the first member of the Gustavus men’s Nordic ski team to qualify for the NCAA Championships, held in Steamboat, Colorado at 9,000 feet in elevation. Although he was disappointed in his results, Brabbit took it as a positive experience for this year.
“I learned that you have to do your best in any given race. Nothing is set in stone, and if it were, you wouldn’t race. It’s tough at 9,000 feet and my races didn’t go that well, but that was also meant to learn for this year,” Brabbit said.
With all of his accomplishments in skiing and in biking, Brabbit has been able to balance his academics and athletics, while still being successful in both. “I think a lot of it comes down to support systems. I’m really blessed to have an extremely supportive family. My parents, my girlfriend, and Jed have always been very supportive of me,” Brabbit said.
Brabbit has had the opportunity to learn a few valuable lessons from his time at Gustavus not only associated with athletics. “For athletics, it’s not always your talent level but what you put into it. When you work extremely hard at something, you can do well at it,” Brabbit said. “But Gustavus has also taught me that a good work ethic will go a long way in the real world and all the relationships that you build through connections at school or with sports will pay off in the real world too.”
For the next couple months, Brabbit will focus on not only earning a second consecutive berth at the NCAA Championships in March but also performing better at the national meet, while graduating from Gustavus as the most accomplished male skier ever.