The multi-faceted Debbi Waldear
Debbi Waldear was born in the Bay Area in 1950. She grew up sail-boat racing with her father in the San Francisco Bay. Here, one imagines, the spirit of competition was nurtured.
Debbi graduated from Sacramento State University in 1980 with a major in therapeutic recreation. It had taken her 10 years because she kept going off on her travels, mostly to affordable countries in Asia and South America. Straight after graduating she moved to Kirkwood to learn cross-country ski racing from Kirkwood founder and Olympic biathlete, Glen Jobe. Representing Kirkwood, Debbi traveled to many countries including Japan, Italy, Sweden, Germany, Canada, Alaska and in the U.S. on the east and west coasts. Sponsored by Rossignol she competed in the Great American Ski Chase, which involved racing every weekend in each of the regions of the country. The races were between 10 and 50 kilometers. In 1987, she won the overall Great American Ski Chase title. When she had become good enough to compete in the U.S. ski team, Debbi was offered the job of director of the Cross-Country Ski Center. She chose the center and still works there.
In 1992, Debbi started to race in the World Masters Championship, for skiers over 40 years old. She traveled to many countries, again enjoying Kirkwood’s sponsorship, winning eight gold medals and two silvers.
A strict regimen of training is required for skiing competitively. For three days a week Debbi would train at race pace, running or skiing (depending on the time of year) for one minute intervals. She would do 20 to 30 of these “repeats”. In between the hard days would be days of recovery. She has always had the discipline to train alone and to push herself. She says it takes a lot out of you and you have to be aggressive. Debbi has been a vegetarian for 40 years, paying close attention to achieving balance in her diet.
In summers, Debbi used to run competitively and won the San Diego and Golden Gate marathons. For years she ran in the Bay Area Dipsey, always placing up to 10th. She often had the best time, but because the race was handicapped, she was not first across the finish line.
Although I had met Debbi in various contexts, our first significant encounter occurred in spring 1990. Recently widowed, I needed help talking supplies up to my house in Alpine County, accessible only on foot. Debbi had offered her llamas. As we were in Pleasant Valley preparing for the hike, I admired Debbi’s quiet efficiency as she hooked each bundle onto the hand-held scale before loading it into a llama pack. At the end of the expedition, the first of several, Debbi dismissed my offer of payment saying simply, “It helps get the llamas in shape for summer.”
Debbi started raising llamas in 1982. The first baby was Hope, probably the only llama ever born in Hope Valley where Debbi was living at that time. She has had as many as eight llamas in the herd. In 1986, she began to run commercial pack trips during the summer. A good friend who worked for the San Francisco Chronicle wrote an article on Debbi’s new business. Other papers, including the New York Times, picked up the story of this appealing way to explore the Sierras, contributing to the success of the enterprise. People came from all over the country for the five to seven day pack trips. During the day they would go off with the expedition naturalist. Llamas, says Debbi, are gentle on the environment since they do not wear shoes; they are easy to lead (tether one to your belt and the others will follow) and bears stay out of a camp occupied by llamas.
Recently I visited Debbi in her home in Alpine County. Her llamas are old now. One came to greet me as I got out of my car. Her elderly dog, Sage, gave me a friendly welcome as I entered the house. What about Debbi today? She still coaches a high school cross-country ski team, now as assistant. She is a member of the Watershed Group and is president of the Friends of Hope Valley. Years ago, she was a CASA volunteer (a court appointed advocate) and took children on llama walks where they opened up about themselves while learning how to handle large animals; she would like to work again with kids in trouble. She still likes to travel but is always happy to be back. She loves to “hang out at home” with her animals. She has hiked all over the world but says, “The Sierras are definitely the best.”