Whenever Tess Fields of Newcastle tells friends or family about her adventures whitewater kayaking, rock climbing and even potato harvesting with the Maine Winter Sports Center, there’s alway a moment of hesitancy for her listener.

Winter sports?

“They were all very confused about it,” said Fields, 18, a Lincoln Academy graduate who has done three adventure programs with MWSC. “I always thought it was comical.”

That confusion is a big reason why the Maine Winter Sports Center changed its name to the Outdoor Sport Institute. The new name more accurately reflects the organization’s year-round, outdoor-based educational model.

OSI programs run year-round. They operate in all 16 Maine counties and beyond. They include adventure-based trips, clinics and camps for kids as young as 10 through adults; Nordic racing and development teams; equipment rental; outdoor training workshops, and trail development guidance and equipment.

Many of the programs stress self-empowerment, goal-setting and life purpose.

“It was easy to box us in as the guys who have the biathlon venues up north,” said Andy Shepard, president and CEO of the nonprofit. “We’re not really changing what we’re doing. What OSI reflects is the evolution of a company that 17 years ago started out focused on how to get kids in northern Maine on skis, and has evolved into so much more.”

Shepard announced the change Thursday night at an Ocean Gateway reception that also kicked off a $3 million fundraising campaign.

Shepard – with generous funding from the Libra Foundation – founded the Maine Winter Sports Center in 1999 to help re-establish skiing as a lifestyle in Maine. The organization built world-class Nordic facilities in Fort Kent and Presque Isle, and drew four biathlon World Cups to Aroostook County.

In 2014, Libra turned off the funding spigot after pouring $32 million into the MWSC. Shepard quickly launched a campaign and raised about $1.5 million. Subsequent donations brought in another $1 million.

“We’ve also raised $2 million in our endowment, with an additional $3 million matching gift on the table that we have until the end of January 2017 to match,” he said.

Mary Barton Smith, a native of Presque Isle, is Outdoor Sport Institute’s largest donor, having pledged the initial $2 million for the endowment and promising a dollar-for-dollar match up to $3 million more over the next six months, which could raise the endowment to $8 million.

The organization has a full-time staff of seven and a part-time staff of five, with an office in Caribou as well as Shepard’s home office in South Freeport. Its revenue stream includes grants, sponsorships, programming fees and an annual campaign.

Shepard said he initially resisted a name change because MWSC developed a global reputation for excellence, particularly in the biathlon community. The organization won national and international awards.

“The awareness of Maine Winter Sports Center as an organization that’s making a difference, that’s making an impact, was secure,” he said. “At the same time it was the power of that brand that was making it difficult for people to consider us in a different way. It was limiting.”

Shepard said MWSC has provided a $100 million economic impact to northern and western Maine.

For Fields, three adventure programs have given her a clarity absent when she graduated from high school a little more than a year ago.

“I didn’t really know what I wanted to do in college,” she said. “I applied all over the country and had no idea what I was in for. I didn’t have a goal.”

Her first adventure, three years ago, was a 10-day introductory whitewater kayak trip on the Penobscot River. Her second was a more challenging 12-day trip that included paddles in North Carolina, Tennessee and Pennsylvania.

Her gap-semester program lasted six months and included technical climbing in Baxter State Park and Acadia National Park, river and sea kayaking, meal and trip planning, whitewater rescue, and dealing with medical emergencies in the wilderness.

She became certified as a Wilderness First Responder and took part in the Aroostook County potato harvest.

This fall she will matriculate at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, with a plan to major in exercise science or neuroscience with a career path leading to physical therapy.

“I learned both hard skills and soft skills and all sorts of stuff,” Fields said. “It was a blast. I miss it already.”


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