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The married couple from the suburbs found a house in a section of Minneapolis they knew nothing about, but the living room's wood floors and wide views out the bay windows took their breath away. They had to have it.

As a bonus, Theodore Wirth Park was so close that it felt like their own backyard with its expansive ski trails and endless beauty. It was all perfect, except for one tiny detail: the husband, Eduardo Arteaga, had zero interest in skiing.

A native of Venezuela, he remembers seeing snow once as a child, at the top of a mountain peak. He tried cross-country skiing one time after immigrating to the Twin Cities, and it was a disaster.

He had trouble standing, much less skiing. He was miserable. Never again, he said.

Not long after he and his wife moved into their new home in 2013, a neighbor knocked on the door and invited them skiing. The man was Loppet Foundation executive director John Munger, a prominent figure in the local ski community.

Munger was arranging a group outing and invited Arteaga, who cringed at the idea.

"Come on, let's go suffer together," he thought as he gathered his things.

"And it happened again," Arteaga said. "The most brutal stuff in my life."

And yet something kept drawing him back. The challenge of it, perhaps. Or maybe it was seeing others out there having so much fun. This is my backyard, Arteaga told himself, go enjoy it.

Skiing soon became an obsession. He'd stay on the trails for hours. He took private lessons and got better and better. He switched from classic skis to skate skis and "as soon as I touched the snow, I was flying. It was a natural connection."

That connection has guided Arteaga to the unlikeliest place. The 43-year-old father of three and marketing manager at U.S. Bank traveled to Germany on Friday to compete in the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships.

Arteaga is representing his native country as the only active member of Venezuela's cross-country ski team. He qualified for the world championships in the 10K at his debut FIS competition last month at Soldier Hollow in Utah, site of the 2002 Olympics.

Arteaga is the first to admit that he's not in the same class as the world's elite skiers. He only started competing locally in 2018 and is a "grandpa" compared to other racers, some half his age.

“I don't want anyone to think that because I don't hit the winning times that I'm disrespectful to the sport or the discipline. I'm very humbled and I'm very thankful that I get to do this.”
Eduardo Arteaga

He placed last out of 92 finishers at Soldier Hollow. But Arteaga hit a standard set by the International Ski Federation for the World Championships where he will compete in a qualification race on Wednesday.

Realistically, his age and experience put him at severe disadvantage against international competition. This is serious business to him though, going so far as to monitor his water intake down to the ounce each day in training leading into his race.

Arteaga is proud of his improvement as a newcomer in a sport he loves, and he hopes his story inspires others in nontraditional skiing countries to get involved.

"I don't want anyone to think that because I don't hit the winning times that I'm disrespectful to the sport or the discipline," he said. "I'm very humbled and I'm very thankful that I get to do this."

That he's even in this position is a reminder that life can take a person down the strangest paths.

'Thank you'

Arteaga grew up in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, the only child to a single mom who was an anthropologist and college professor. Never one for team sports, he got involved in Boy Scouts and loved to hike and ride skateboards. As a teen, he became an avid mountain climber at El Avila National Park.

He earned an engineering degree, then received a scholarship to pursue his MBA at Hamline University in 2002. He arrived in the United States with $900 in his bank account after selling his car.

His accent made communicating a challenge, winters felt unbearable and he didn't make any close friends the first few years, but he decided to stick it out in Minnesota.

He settled into a northern suburb after college. He gained U.S. citizenship in 2008, discovered a cool snowboarding hill near his house and "started to learn how to drink Michelob Golden Light and enjoy the flavor."

"I really got to understand Minnesotans," he joked.

A friend took him and his wife, Leah, cross-country skiing for the first time in 2011. Arteaga figured it would be his last time skiing. Then Munger knocked on his door two years later.

Arteaga already had found enjoyment in endurance sports. He has competed in half-triathlons and ultramarathons. He plans to enter an Iron Man triathlon later this year.

He noticed similarities between swimming and cross-country skiing during his training.

"Both require a very good aerobic engine with a very clean and curated technique," he said.

He figured bad technique in skiing would lead to bad results. So he sought private instruction.

As his training intensified, Arteaga leaned on World Cup racer Matt Liebsch to educate him on equipment. Liebsch, who competed for Osseo High and now co-owns a ski equipment business called Pioneer Midwest, specializes in ski waxing.

Arteaga receives no funding from the Venezuelan government. He has a sponsorship deal with a ski manufacturer, and a friend who owns a business helped pay for his racing suit, which features yellow, blue and red stripes in honor of the Venezuelan flag. Much of Arteaga's expenses come out of pocket.

"To have somebody from North Minneapolis who is a person of color doing international things, that's pretty cool," Munger said.

Arteaga found inspiration after seeing racers from warm-weather countries participate in international competitions. He compared their finishing times to his own and figured, why not me?

As he lined up for his first FIS race last month in Utah, he felt humbled but determined. His heart was pounding fast. He made a point to wish every racer near him good luck.

"Thank you very much for allowing me to race by you," he told them.

That was his way of showing his respect to the competitors and to the sport. He noticed his heart rate return to normal. He was ready to race.