Tommy Biesemeyer experienced a dream so vivid that he just couldn’t shake it: He won the famed Hahnenkamm downhill race in Austria.
Only recently retired, the 32-year-old ski racer from Keene, New York, immediately had second thoughts. He needed to train more and keep chasing this alluring vision.
Then, his back gave out. He couldn’t stand for days. Scratch that plan.
New ambition: Leading a group that once subsidized him. Biesemeyer was just appointed the executive director of the World Cup Dreams Foundation, a nonprofit organization with the mission of helping reduce steep expenses for the next generation of Winter Games hopefuls.
It’s an assist that could one day prove worth its weight in gold – Olympic variety – for an athlete. The group certainly came to the financial rescue of Biesemeyer, who twice received support through the foundation to keep him going over a 12-year career that included a dozen surgeries.
“I want athletes to look back on their careers and have no regrets,” said Biesemeyer, who officially retired last fall. “Because if you get to a point in your career where you can really go for it in the sense of becoming an Olympian and racing World Cup and you fall short of that because you weren’t able to afford it? I find that really sad.”
The World Cup Dreams Foundation was started by American downhiller Bryon Friedman and giant slalom specialist Erik Schlopy in 2005. Over the last five years, it’s raised more than $1 million to assist athletes of all disciplines, including downhillers, technical specialists, snowboarders and moguls competitors.
Among the beneficiaries have been Olympians such as Tommy Ford, Wiley Maple, Megan McJames, Laurenne Ross and Leanne Smith.
Besieged by injuries, Biesemeyer – nicknamed “BZ” – had his career kept afloat through the foundation in 2016 and ’17, when he was allotted roughly $15,000 each season.
At the time, Biesemeyer wasn’t a fully funded member of the U.S. ski team. That meant he was responsible for picking up his share of the costs.
To race on the World Cup circuit for a season is about $20,000 – at the low end. In reality, Biesemeyer estimates it takes around $120,000 when factoring in coaches, trainers, technicians and other specialists.
“You have this dream, you have this passion and you have the talent, but then all of a sudden you slap $120,000 price tag on it,” explained Biesemeyer, who’s participating in a charity downhill race at Jackson Hole in Wyoming this weekend. “Obviously, that’s a premium price. But it gets you all the correct service in terms of making sure that you’re a professional and you aren’t running at any real disadvantages to your competitors who are on national teams.”
Among the ways the foundation raises money are by fundraisers – like the one held in Beaver Creek, Colorado, when the World Cup rolls into town – and through private donations.
“The spirit is to help athletes and help them stay in the sport, because, one, it’s the right thing to do. And two, because our country needs our best athletes to keep going,” Schlopy said. “Tommy will do a great job. He’ll carry the torch to the next level.”
Injuries and recovery were simply part of the territory for Biesemeyer, whose best finish in 89 World Cup starts was eighth place during a super-G on Dec. 27, 2016. He’s undergone procedures on both knees, along with his left shoulder, right Achilles tendon and herniated disks. He’s also broken his jaw and both hands.
His Olympic history has been a painful tale, too. Before the 2010 Vancouver Games, Biesemeyer tore his left ACL. He was in line to make the Sochi team four years later, but his Olympic hopes were derailed by torn ligaments in his right knee.
Then there’s the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, a squad he did make only to tear his Achilles tendon on a final training run the day before the Olympic downhill.
“It’s just like my own Olympic story and that’s what makes it unique,” said Biesemeyer, whose final World Cup race was a downhill on Dec. 28, 2019, when he finished 32nd. “You just sort of own it and take it for what it is.”
These days, he’s finishing a business degree from the University of Vermont (he’s chipped away at it for the last 12 years, he cracked). He’s also skiing with two-time Olympic medalist Andrew Weibrecht, conducting private lessons and of course delving into his new role with the World Cup Dreams Foundation.
“I gave it everything I had,” Biesemeyer said of his racing career. “Now I have an opportunity to help the next generation financially navigate their way through their careers. I’m proud to take on that responsibility.”