Jaffrey-Rindge principal to skate Siberian lake during school break

  • Conant High School and Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School Principal Brett Blanchard routinely travels around the world in the search of the next Nordic skiing or long distance running event. Later this week, Blanchard plans to travel to Siberia to skate across Lake Baikal, the world's largest freshwater lake by volume.  Staff photo by Nicholas Handy—

  • Conant High School and Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School Principal Brett Blanchard routinely travels around the world in the search of the next nordic skiing or long distance running event. Later this month, Blanchard will travel to Siberia to skate across Lake Baikal, the world's largest freshwater lake by volume. Staff photo by Nicholas Handy—

  • Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School and Conant High School Principal Brett Blanchard poses next to an 8th century Viking rune stone in Uppsala, Sweden in 2014. Courtesy photo—

  • Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School and Conant High School Principal Brett Blanchard travels towards a 16th manor house during a 50-mile race into Stockholm in 2013.  Courtesy photo—

  • Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School and Conant High School Principal Brett Blanchard saw a lot of wildlife during a 2017 run through South Africa safari land including this giraffe.  Courtesy photo—

  • Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School and Conant High School Principal Brett Blanchard said he enjoys observing history while out in his travels, including this medieval cathedral in England.  Courtesy photo—

  • Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School and Conant High School Principal Brett Blanchard stops to pose for a photo in Iceland.  Courtesy photo—

  • Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School and Conant High School Principal Brett Blanchard saw a lot of wildlife during a 2017 run through South Africa safari land including this rhino.  Courtesy photo—

  • Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School and Conant High School Principal Brett Blanchard saw a lot of wildlife during a 2017 run through South Africa safari land including this lion outside his tent.  Courtesy photo—

  • Blanchard at the  Elfstedentocht, a 120-mile long skating event in Europe.  Courtesy photo

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 2/18/2019 9:07:14 PM

Brett Blanchard, the principal at Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School and Conant High School, plans to spend the upcoming school break skating across the world’s largest freshwater lake by volume – Siberia’s Lake Baikal – and that’s only the first leg of his journey. 

Blanchard, 55, of Spofford, also plans to compete against 27 other endurance athletes in a 100-mile race on Lake Khuvsgul in Mongolia during his two-and-a-half week long trip, living on the ice during both treks. 

“I'm a bit of a believer that suffering you can control has great benefit,” Blanchard said. “I'm more scared of not challenging myself, period."

For much of his adult life, Blanchard has been on a quest to find the most challenging and odd endurance competitions. He routinely competes in the cold winter months in running or Nordic skating events.

“It’s kind of a fear-based fitness plan,” Blanchard said. “I sign up for something every year that kind of terrifies me. I truly believe in the philosophy ‘Nobody cares, work harder.’ I know it sounds callous, but when I’m competing, nobody cares if I’m sick, if I don’t feel well, if I don’t do the training.”

Blanchard’s first bout with distance running – a mini-marathon through the New Mexico desert in the summer between his junior and senior year of high school – set the course for future endurance events.

The Wilton, Connecticut, native began running for the track team in his junior year after being cut from his high school’s lacrosse team. But prior to going to New Mexico, Blanchard had never run farther than 400 meters.

“If you really want to grow and see what your skill set is, and make yourself a better person, I believe you need to put yourself in massively uncomfortable situations that are truly foreign,” Blanchard said.

Before the mini-marathon began – an event in which he had to carry his own 70-pound backpack – Blanchard promised himself he wouldn’t stop.

Blanchard would blaze through the event, finishing before the finish line was even set up. After finally stopping, Blanchard had a thought – that he could have gone farther.

“Getting through that conversation with myself and realizing I controlled my own destiny, it changed my life,” Blanchard said. “I never thought I could be good at it until I finished.”

Blanchard’s competitive nature has taken him across the globe and placed him in a number of unique situations, including competing in a Viking pentathlon (which featured a foot race, high jump, rock throwing, wrestling, and more), running the length of a Christian pilgrimage footpath in Europe and even a race through safari land in South Africa.

“When the race starts, you can see wildebeests,” Blanchard said about run in South Africa. “It was a very unusual event, to be able to live in a tent when twice, at about two or three in the morning, a lion went by.”

When it comes to competing in the cold weather – Blanchard is planning on temperatures in the negative 20s during his time on the ice this trip – Blanchard said proper training, correct gear, and mental preparation reign supreme.

“A lot of it is mental preparation because you are going to be in the cold all the time,” Blanchard said.

In other races, Blanchard said he has dealt with hallucinations and frostbite due to the frigidly cold temperatures.

“All these things can be overcome for the most part. At some point, in almost every event, something sucks. And then you embrace it, realize you can overcome it for the most part.”

Despite running with lions, skating in extremely cold temperatures, and a few notable injuries – he once tore his meniscus 20 miles into a 64-mile race – Blanchard has not completed just one race, and it still haunts him to this day.

About three years ago, Blanchard entered into a 50-mile race through the highest peaks of Vermont.

By mile 42, many of the other competitors had dropped out due to the conditions, as halfway through the race they had to enter a 17-mile stretch of woods.

Weather that day was cold and blustery, Blanchard said, which made seeing the markers within the woods even harder than normal. After battling the cold and hallucinations, Blanchard eventually made it out of the woods.

Blanchard and four others made it to the final eight miles in the race, but they were eventually stopped by the event organizer before they could summit the final peak.

“He didn’t say the race was canceled. He said it would be stupid to continue,” Blanchard said. “Because he never said no, I’m haunted by that.”

As a life-long educator and father of three, Blanchard constantly uses his competitive mindset and what he has learned out on the trails and ice to teach his kids and students.

“I want all kids to challenge themselves. It could be presenting your science project. it could be presenting the video you created, but we all need to get out of our comfort zones,” Blanchard said. “I believe all kids – all people – need to be able to challenge themselves at a high level.”

Blanchard said he is currently working with five Jaffrey-Rindge students on individualized learning plans.

One student is utilizing his love of comic books to write a research paper. His challenge for the assignment? The student needs to contact the comic book company Marvel.

“It’s passion realized, and for me, that’s what I seek to do here. You use passion to drive skill set,” Blanchard said. “I’m not kidding when I say life is an endurance race. Put yourself out there, take a risk, then find the means to take that risk. That’s what education is all about.”


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