RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
The Winter Olympics in Russia are coming up fast. And this week, the U.S. Olympic cross-country ski team names the athletes who will be going to Sochi. Veteran Kris Freeman is vying for a spot again. He's already been to three Olympic Games and he's considered the country's best long distance racer over the past decade. And he has diabetes. Freeman has had a successful career filled with challenges, but perhaps none bigger than this past year when his long relationship with the national ski team ended abruptly.
NPR's Tom Goldman reports.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Here you go, men's 30 kilometer.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Thirty-three-year-old Kris Freeman broke from the start at this month's U.S. Nationals in Utah, his unusual pre-race checklist, complete: ski wax - check, race strategy - check, blood sugar level - check.
In 2000, Freeman was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. It's a condition where the body doesn't make the insulin needed to convert sugar and other food into energy. In a 2006 NPR interview, Freeman demonstrated how he jabbed his finger, multiple times a day, to measure the sugar in his bloodstream and make sure the amount wasn't too high or low.
KRIS FREEMAN: Stick, drop blood. Result, OK.
GOLDMAN: Freeman now uses a device that continuously monitors his blood sugar level. The improved technology allows him to do a good job managing his sugar state, as he calls it - most of the time. At the 2010 winter Olympics, in the 30 kilometers, Freeman describes how he stopped because of low blood sugar before finishing the race. Actually, he collapsed.
FREEMAN: I did fall over. That would be another way to say I stopped, I suppose.
GOLDMAN: Vintage Kris Freeman, a stoic from New Hampshire who tries to keep his attitude as level as his blood sugar. But that attitude was seriously rocked last spring when the U.S. Ski team cut him.
FREEMAN: They said that my trajectory was not what they were looking for, that I had been skiing at kind of a plateaued level. I couldn't really argue with that except I thought my plateau was pretty high.
GOLDMAN: Domestically, it was. Last April, he won the latest of his 16 national titles. But a spokesman for the U.S. Ski Team, which declined an interview request, says criteria for team selection are based on international results, including a world cup overall ranking in the top 50. In 2013, Freeman ranked 75th; in 2012, 86th. The team felt its limited funds would be better spent elsewhere.
Freeman says as a result, he lost tens of thousands of dollars of support and, perhaps more importantly, health insurance.
FREEMAN: There was a lot of stress and a little bit of a steep learning curve this last year, trying to figure out how I was going to pay for certain things. And what I was going to do for health insurance once my COBRA ran out.
GOLDMAN: Personal savings and sponsorships helped make up the deficit. Then a couple of months ago, more help arrived.
CHRIS SUNUNU: This is a guy that has put himself on the line for the United States year after year. And to be dumped like that just didn't seem right.
GOLDMAN: So Chris Sununu, co-owner of Waterville Valley Ski Resort in New Hampshire, offered local hero Kris Freeman a job - teaching racing clinics in exchange for a little stipend and health coverage.
(SOUNDBITE OF A CROWD)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: And Kris Freeman out of Maine, powering his way towards the finish. What a phenomenal race.
GOLDMAN: After two third-place finishes at this month's national championships, Freeman says he's 99 percent sure he'll be named to the U.S. Olympic team. If he is, he'll still represent the U.S., even though he won't be a member of the U.S. Ski Team. But Freeman says that won't give him any extra competitive drive in Sochi. He simply wants his best Olympic performance yet, which Freeman believes, is ahead of him.
Tom Goldman, NPR News.
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