CONTACT: Jon Lundin, Lake Placid 2023 FISU World University Games Head of Communications & Media ([email protected]) Tel: 518-637-6885

By: Meri-Jo Borzilleri

Theo Mallett Carries the Haitian Flag into the Lake Placid 2023 FISU World University Games

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LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — When cross-country skier Theo Mallett walks in the opening ceremony for the Lake Placid 2023 FISU World University Games, Thursday, Jan. 12, he’ll be making history as the first athlete to represent Haiti in the winter World University Games.

He’ll also have some elbow room. Haiti’s delegation will consist of just Mallett, a dual citizen of Canada and Haiti, carrying the Haitian flag while walking with his dad, Dan, who also will serve as his coach, manager and wax technician.

It has been a good time to be a Nordic skier for Haiti, the tropical nation which also made history last month in qualifying its first athletes for February’s FIS Nordic World Ski Championships. Mallett, 21 and a third-year visual arts student at Heritage College in Quebec, will be one of two Haitian cross-country athletes competing at worlds in Planica, Slovenia, just a month after representing Haiti for the first time in the Lake Placid 2023 FISU Games.

“It’s exciting, and it’s going to be a good experience,” Theo said. “I’m looking forward to it.”

The Lake Placid 2023 FISU Games, an 11-day competition and educational festival, will feature 1,443 collegiate-athletes, ages 17-25, from more than 540 universities across 46 countries. The competition consists of 12 winter sports contested throughout northern New York, including Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, Wilmington, North Creek, Canton and Potsdam.

The Lake Placid 2023 FISU Games is the start of a four-year plan to see if Theo can make the 2026 Olympics in Milan and Cortina, Italy and race for Haiti, said Dan and Theo.

“It’s really about Italy 2026…and trying to improve each year, get enough FIS points to actually compete at the Games,” Dan said.

Dan and his wife, Diane Lemire, adopted Theo in October 2004 in Haiti when Theo was 2 ½. Theo remembers little about Haiti and has not visited but wants to one day.

“Right now, it’s pretty dangerous,” Theo said. “A lot of stuff happening. Maybe one day I’d like to go.”

The Malletts put Theo on skis that winter, skiing in a local program at Gatineaux Park, close to their home in Chelsea, Quebec, about nine miles north of Ottawa. Theo fell in love with cross-country skiing early.

“I started off getting pulled in a sled,” Theo said. “I’d come out of the sled and ski a bit. When I was a bit older, my dad signed me up for Chelsea Nordiq, the local club here, and I started training a little bit, started racing and realized I really liked it. Gatineaux Park, where we train, is like one of the best parks in the country.”

Theo might be a one-man team, but he’ll see some familiar faces in Lake Placid. Several of Canada’s biathletes train at the same park. Dan, a top-level biathlete who represented Canada in international competitions in the 1980s, served as Theo’s coach growing up before he moved on to the club’s coach. In Lake Placid, they’ll be back working together again.

Dan, who raced classic in his day, said he’d welcome any help he can get with waxing, especially with the freestyle events that involve skate-skiing technique rather than classic. He said he’d be willing to help wax other racers’ skis in exchange for any advice on wax types for what’s likely to be challenging conditions – warm and fluctuating weather.

“As a single athlete we’re going to have to be creative with waxing support,” Dan said, “so we might be knocking on the door of some of the bigger teams for some help if it’s difficult. Warm weather is the toughest condition for waxing.”

Theo and Dan discovered the Haitian Ski Federation – its logo features a skier slaloming around a palm tree — while watching the 2022 Beijing Olympics on TV. Based in France, it was started by French ski coach Thierry Montillet and Haiti native Jean Pierre Roy, a six-year competitor at worlds from 2011-2021, soon after Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake. Richardson Viano, the first Haitian native to compete in the Winter Olympics, when he raced alpine in Beijing, is an inspiration of Theo’s. Viano was adopted by an Italian couple in 2005 and has been a resident of France since age three, according to the Haitian Times.

The Malletts saw an interview with Montillet on TV during the Olympics.

“They were saying if there’s any Haitian cross-country skiers from North America we’d like to have you guys,” said Theo, who later had to do things like change his FIS nation designation from Canada to Haiti and get a passport.

Theo has role models right at home. Dan, a mechanical engineer who works for the Canadian government, remains an avid Nordic skier and Diane was a province-level triathlete who competed in her age group at the world championships.

“My mom skis almost every day, runs every day,” Theo said. “It is very inspiring and very motivating to have two parents that are really good athletes and still are.”

Said Dan: “She’s in the park now, snowshoeing with friends.”

Living just a three-hour drive away, Theo knows Lake Placid and has raced the competition trails at Mt Van Hoevenberg.

“This is like our backyard,” Dan said. “We go down there quite often for hiking and ski racing. So it’s this wonderful kind of coincidence that it’s so close.”

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