FORT LEWIS, Wash. - Under ideal circumstances, keeping an Olympic dream alive will test the finest athletes.

Try doing it as a well-traveled Army wife and mother of two young daughters.

That's the challenge facing Melissa Schwartz of Lacey, Wash., an elite cross country ski racer whose husband, Capt. Eric Schwartz, is with 5th Brigade at Fort Lewis. When she's not attending to the needs of her family, Schwartz heads for the snow.

"I just do what I can do, day by day," Schwartz said. "Right now, I'm doing a lot of distance training."

At 28, Schwartz should be entering her prime as a competitive skier. The time she took off to have daughters Evi, 3, and Julia, 18 months, and to earn a master's degree in history from State University of New York-Oswego effectively cost Schwartz three years of intensive training in her mid 20s.

"My fitness level was back to scratch a year and a half ago," Schwartz said. "I'm just trying to be conservative."

Last year, Schwartz squeezed in 275 to 300 hours of training. She said that her 2009 goal is 400 hours.

"So it's a big jump," Schwartz said. "It's an endurance sport. I'm actually at the right age now. I think having children isn't that big an obstacle. There's lots of racers on the circuit who have children."

Her skiing resume indicates that increased training could reap big rewards. A former All-America skier at Northern Michigan University, where she and Eric met, Schwartz has represented the U.S. at international competitions. At the 2008 U.S. championships, she finished 63rd in the 5-kilometer freestyle race and 72nd in the 10-kilometer classic event.

Earlier this winter, Schwartz raced at the Nor-Am Cup at the Canmore Nordic Center in Alberta, Canada. Her top finish there was eighth in the 1.2-kilometer freestyle sprint.

"I was a little farther back than I hoped to be," said Schwartz of her overall performance. "I hadn't really been on snow ... Putting it all into perspective, I think it was OK."

Recently, to get better access to snow, Schwartz returned with her daughters to her hometown in central New York state. This weekend, Schwartz will compete in a U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association Super Tour race at Stowe, Vt. Then she will race in the 2009 Canadian Cross Country Ski Championships March 8-15 in Ontario, Canada, which is a little more than 5 hours from her hometown.

"It's good competition," she said. "It's a good opportunity to get points."

Her performance in upcoming races will determine the intensity with which she trains as the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, B.C., approach. Schwartz said making the U.S. Olympic Team "is a little far-fetched right now, (but) I wouldn't want to rule it out."

Her family responsibilities and Eric's military career remain priorities, and they influence her athletic life.

"I don't know what the future holds," Schwartz said. "It's hard to plan out a whole lot, because there's so much unknown."

That doesn't mean she will give up competitive skiing anytime soon.

"I love it so much," said Schwartz, "I keep on trying."

Bob Reinert is a reporter with Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16