Photo credit (above and all below): Makeen Osman.
In the first 24 years of his life growing up in Venezuela, Eduardo Arteaga thinks he might have seen snow one time.
“I think I saw it on the peak of a Venezuelan mountain,” he strained, thinking back to growing up in a South American country with an average February temperature of 81 degrees. “But only enough to make maybe, like, one snowball.”
Since immigrating to Minnesota for his education in 2002, you could say that snow has become a big part of his life. The first time he saw it, on the Hamline University campus in St. Paul, it brought tears to his eyes. In the two decades since, he has taken up winter activities in his backyard wonderland that is the historic Theodore Wirth Park.
Later this month, Arteaga will marry his love of snow and his Venezuelan roots. On Feb. 24, he will compete at the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships 2021 as the sole active member of the Venezuela national cross-country ski team.
The competition is the result of an eight-year journey from novice skier to world-class athlete. The first time a neighbor invited him to go cross-country skiing, he was skeptical, having already preferred a snowboard to skis on the slopes. But after clipping into skate skis on the ground, he recalled with a smile, “I was gliding.”
Arteaga, who has completed triathlons and ultramarathons, started to pay attention to the competitive levels of the sport and considered whether, with proper training, he could qualify. Over the past few years, he has trained with a professional coach during winter – which, conveniently, tend to be extra-long in Minnesota. With three kids who are ages 7, 5 and 3, “early morning and late evening training” is key. And during spring, summer and fall, it’s been all about running, biking, swimming and “squats, squats and more squats.”
This winter in preparation for a qualifying event in Utah and now the championships, Arteaga has been out almost every day at Theodore Wirth Park, where he has become a bit of a celebrity. So much so, in fact, that sometimes he wears headphones because otherwise he spends all day chatting.
“When I go to Theodore Wirth,” he laughed, “everybody knows me. ‘Viva Venezuela!’ they yell.”
So, back to the Venezuela part – yes, Arteaga recognizes that he is a cross-country skier representing a country you could cross without seeing snow. This has meant infusing some DIY into the journey, such as taking to social media for design ideas on his national team uniform.
After posting “I need a racing suit. Who can help me out with the design?” on Facebook, he connected with a Venezuelan designer living in London. Together they set out to design a classic suit in which he would be easy to identify as Venezuelan. The result is a black suit with the “amarillo, azul y rojo” stripes of the national flag down each side.
He was with his kids when he put on the suit for the first time a few weeks ago.
“They were like ‘Papa, you’re going to race for Venezuela!’” he said, “That just watered my eyes.”
That cultural pride has translated to his professional life as well. Shortly after joining U.S. Bank in 2016, Arteaga was the founding president of the internal Nosotros Latinos business resource group, which connects employees with Hispanic backgrounds and those interested in learning more about the culture. Today, the group has 2,200 members.
“I feel proud to work here,” said Arteaga, who is in prospect marketing and analytics. “I really like how we are always looking to do something better and something that we have never done before.”
As Arteaga does something new himself, he will have plenty of fellow U.S. Bankers cheering him on (as well as fellow Minnesotans, as he was recently featured in the Minneapolis Star Tribune). The 10K event streams live on NBC Peacock beginning at 7:30 a.m. CT on Feb. 24.
At 43 years old, Arteaga will not only be among the oldest participants in the race, but also likely in the extreme minority of those who have been around snow for less than half their life.
“The important part of an international competition is the plurality of nations and the love for the sport,” he said. “That’s what I have, the love for the sport – and I can’t wait to show it to the world.”