We didn’t plan to do a cover story on Justin Freeman ’98. In fact, we approached the whole thing rather backwards.At first, all we knew about Freeman, a runner and skier, was that he would walk around campus in shorts and bare feet long after the Quad became a cold, leafless landscape. Neat idea: “Barefoot Bobcat” would make a nice, brief story in Sports Notes.
Then, during the Nordic ski season, two things happened: Freeman skied to a series of top- five finishes, and we learned something about Nordic skiing at Bates.
Everyone knows that Bates skiing competes at the NCAA Division I level, several competitive rungs above all other Bates sports. But what few people realize is that in Nordic skiing, Bates competes against not only the best collegiate skiers in the country, but the best in the world. When Freeman finished sixth in the classical Nordic race at the NCAA Division I championships in Bozeman, Montana, the top five finishers were all native Europeans, mostly Norwegians, who receive athletic scholarships at U.S. universities.
Dazzled by Freeman’s athletic prowess, we researched his academic work (“and he’s smart, too!”) almost as an afterthought. But then we heard his thesis advisor saying that Freeman turned in his math- physics honors thesis a week early and, for the most part, proved his own theorems.
The more we learned about Justin Freeman, the more interesting the layers became. That’s the fun of following sports at a small college like Bates. The athletes – even a Division I All-American like Justin Freeman – don’t come trailing a public-relations juggernaut, so their stories tend to unfold slowly with small surprises all along the way.
H. Jay Burns, Managing Editor