A BIZARRE THING can happen when you repeat an unnatural motion, like skate-skiing, as intensely as Kris Freeman does. Your muscles literally grow too big. It's called compartment syndrome. In the ten-time cross-country-skiing national champion's case, this happened with his monstrous calves, and the pain was excruciating. "The pressure in my legs was well over twice what it should have been," he says.
But for Freeman, 29, the episode before the 2009 world championships was a hiccup compared with his Type 1 diabetes. So he decided to compete anyway, which made his fourth-place finish in the 15K Classic even more impressive. Especially when you consider that no American skier has won a world-championship medal or any Olympic hardware in cross-country in more than 30 years.
Freeman's diabetes, however, is harder to play through. The disease requires him to be hypervigilant about everything from his caloric intake to the playlists on his iPod. "If I get too fired up before a race," he explains, "I leak adrenaline, which will raise my blood sugar. So instead of listening to 'Welcome to the Jungle,' I might have to listen to 'Patience.' "
It's an apt choice. Vancouver will be Freeman's third Games. And while he was touted as a contender in Turin, there's reason to believe this is his year. Actually, there are several: At 29, he's in his prime. He's healed from surgery he had last year to fix his calves and has a new insulin pump, with no tubes exposed.
Then there's what is essentially a home-field advantage. "We've been training [in Vancouver] since the trails were built," says Freeman. "We know the courses backward and forward."
The one thing he hasn't been doing? Attracting attention. "I've been living in Thornton, New Hampshire, for about a year and a half, and I think some of my neighbors might know that I'm a ski racer now."