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“It’s become my family:” Celebrating NMU Head Coach Sten Fjeldheim’s 34-year run leading Nordic skiing

This June will punctuate the prolific career of Northern Michigan’s Nordic ski coach that began in 1986.
Published: Apr. 2, 2021 at 9:04 PM EDT
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MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) - This coming June will be the final month of Sten Fjeldheim’s coaching career at Northern Michigan University (NMU), closing a chapter to 34 decorated years leading the Wildcat Nordic ski team.

“I hope you see me out there doing it when I’m 70-plus. Maybe 80-plus. But you know, I probably won’t be skiing very fast but I’ll be out there enjoying it,” Fjeldheim said.

Even when all is said and done, the long-time coach explained he will stay connected to help a program he fostered for decades -- as a volunteer and also in an advisory role as the NMU selection committee looks for its next head coach to lead the program.

After all, he describes skiing to be a lifetime sport -- that gets in your veins.

Among Fjeldheim’s achievements: over 30 Coach of the Year Honors, four NCAA Skiing Championships.

And this includes both the Women’s and Combined Nordic Team Championships in 2007.

More than a hundred of his student-athletes were All-Americans -- 13 of them competing in the Olympics.

“Motivation was never a problem with my class and nobody else that I’ve ever known that has come through this program. He had the right people on the team,” said Jon Mommaerts from Fjeldheim’s 1987-1991 teams.

“We all had a good idea as to the legacy that we were all a part of on that team. I think that in itself was motivating,” said Matt Weier, a 2001 All-American.

It’s been the head coach’s generational leadership highlighting his successful run.

“You know, you have to train consistently. There has to be mutual respect between the athlete and coach. There has to be really good communication,” Fjeldheim explained.

And a relentless player-coach mentality.

“You think he’s your coach but he’s a competitor! He’s not going to let you win. There was no way. He’s a total competitor. And you know that kind of rubs off (on the rest of the team),” said Scott Tuma, a ski team member during Coach Fjeldheim’s first year in 1986.

“There’s no limits to what a person can do. If they’re dreaming a big dream, you just got to break it down objectively, take it step-by-step...and your goals will be achieved. You have to be a little bit of a dreamer. You really do,” Fjeldheim said.

The head coach would say he’d step aside during times of victory, let his student-athletes celebrate together and hoist each other over their shoulders -- but this time, it was their turn to hoist him over their shoulders.

“A lot of respect for Sten. He’s going to be missed. I know he’s not going to go too far (from the Marquette area). He’s going to be very tough to replace,” said Mommaerts.

“Thanks for everything, Sten...friends forever and we’ll take care of each other,” added Tuma.

“Thank you,” echoed Weier.

And NMU’s decorated head coach, anticipating a new path that always stayed close to the heart.

“My wife Pam and I are looking forward to trying to spend as much time with our grandkids and our kids as possible,” he said.

Coach Fjeldheim officially retires June 30th.

The title of “Coach” -- stays forever in Wildcat lore.

“Northern Michigan is...I guess I got green blood and gold blood. It’s become my family,” he said.

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