A Woodside family marks its passage with athletic excellence


It's been a drama-filled life in recent years for Woodside brothers Erik and Karl Arvidsson, and tangentially for their parents Par and Carol Arvidsson as they have looked on.

Erik is a world-class downhill ski racer, and Karl is on track to reach the top rank of swimmers in the United States. For advice on competing at such high levels, they have their father, Par, who won a gold medal swimming the 100-meter butterfly for Sweden at the 1980 Olympics. Carol, their mother, is a former triathlete.

So far in 2016, Erik, who is 19 and a member of the U.S. Ski Team, has participated in 44 ski races. Most took place in North America, but this year he's also been to Norway, Switzerland, Italy, France, Austria and Russia. In Sochi on Feb. 27 at the FIS Junior World Ski Championships, Erik placed first in the downhill category.

At Sochi, Erik also raced the slalom, the giant slalom, the Alpine combined both downhill and slalom and the Super G a downhill run with an emphasis on speed rather than technical skill.

"I have a really good feel for skiing," he said. "It just came naturally to me. It was so easy for me to work hard. ... I really enjoy the challenge of getting fit for ski racing."

Meanwhile in Austin, Texas, on that same February weekend, Karl, 17 and a senior at Woodside High School, placed fourth in the 200-meter breast stroke at the Speedo Winter Junior National Championships.

Seven months earlier at a swim meet in Santa Clara, Karl swam a 100-yard breast stroke in 56.13 seconds, placing him as one of the fastest swimmers in the United States and earning him the rank of All American.

"I always noticed that it was always fun to be with my teammates and practice and kind of forget (the rest of my life)," Karl said. "I felt like swim practice was a time when I didn't have to think about that. It was a time when I was not sort of stressed."

Speaking about his presence at the 1980 Olympics, Par called it "a remarkable set of experiences." He made friends and felt "very fortunate to be part of something bigger than yourself," he said.

His memories include a Cold War anecdote in which he discovered issues that swimmers have in common. "Here's someone educated in another country that we were not supposed to like," Par recalled in meeting swimmers from what was then East Germany. "We were (all) tired. We were (all) always hungry. It was the same thing. We were young adults!"

Carol, the daughter of Palo Alto track star Bob Wood, said her sons played many sports when they were young. "We would enable their activities. That's just been our life, splitting up and handling it," she said. "We made sure they became good people and good sports and enjoyed what they were doing and were not being pushed." Ms. Arvidsson added that she's always loved being a spectator.

Learning about fear

Erik took a winding path educationally. He'd been skiing since he was 10, and began high school at Menlo School in Atherton as an individual-studies student. As a sophomore at Forest Charter School in Truckee, he had ready access to snow. He graduated from the Lydian Academy, a private school in Menlo Park with a program for "athletes, musicians, and artists (who) want to pursue their passions," according to the school's website.

"Everything that I've done was 100 percent to do with my skiing," Erik said, adding that he has a deferred acceptance at Middlebury College in Vermont. "I'm committed to trying to make it (as a skier), but I'm going to go to school and have backup and other things going on," he said. He doesn't yet have a major in mind.

While it hasn't been a traditional school experience, what he's "lost" has been made up for in travel and being part of the ski community, he said. "You learn a lot. It's awesome. It's great."

He's learned about fear, for example. "Ski racing really involves the no-fear aspect," he said. "I don't really get scared easily. You just have to focus on what you know how to do. ... You just have to go for it. It's safer that way and it's your only chance to be fast, to be committed and not be scared of what you have to do."

In downhill racing, skiers average 40 mph to 60 mph and can reach 80 mph, according to the website About Sports. Alpine racing, Erik said, is a far cry from skiing even an advanced slope at a ski resort. "Race courses are gnarly, much steeper and the snow is usually pure ice," he said. "So the seriousness of the risk is much, much higher."

Asked how racers control their skis on ice, he replied: "Our edges are really, really sharp."

Technique is "just incredibly precise," he added. In competition, "margins are small, movements are small and beyond that, the differences (in finish times) are small," he said. As for the meaning of small, finish-time differences of 0.2 seconds are not considered small, he said, and differences of 0.1 second are not rare. He once lost a race by 0.03 seconds. "That's small," he said.

With differences like that, chance does play a role, he said, but the better skier you are, the more likely that chance works in your favor. "Sounds stupid, but definitely true," he said.

Tactics vary by hill, by course, and by type of race, he said. Weather and home-team advantages are significant factors, as is starting position relative to other racers headed down the hill. "It's really complicated," he said.

Knees and ankles

Karl started swimming at 6 years old and swam competitively at around 8 or 9, he said. As time passed, he pushed himself more and came under a coach's supervision around 11 or 12. He played other sports until swimming required his focus throughout the year, he said.

Progress came with simply growing bigger and getting stronger. But now he's about as big and strong as he's going to get, so "I have to think about getting better," he said. If every practice is as good as it can be, it will pay off, he said. His speed continues to improve, he said.

Karl said his knees and ankles are unusually flexible. "That's how my body is, so that sometimes helps me swim fast in breast stroke," he said.

His dad's advice, when asked for, has been a significant influence, he said. "I know what he's saying is true and pretty helpful," he said. "He tries to stay out of it and not to be too on top of me."

A key piece of advice: practice. "You've done it so many times, and your body knows what to do," Par said. "Almost let your body take over and let your body do it. Trusting yourself is incredibly important."

On two mornings a week, Karl swims before school. He's back in the water from 4:15 to 7 p.m. every afternoon, and swims two hours on Saturdays -- about 40,000 yards a week, he said.

He also lifts weights and works on his core muscles. Core strength is important in maintaining a straight body in the water, and muscle memory allows you to concentrate on other aspects of swimming, he said.

His diet became a factor around age 14 or 15, he said. He discovered that what he ate affected his practice, so now he avoids sugar and drinks lots of water.

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7 people like this
Posted by maureen wolf
a resident of another community
on Apr 29, 2016 at 4:17 pm

This list of outstanding accomplishments needs one more mention. Both boys are very bright students and outstanding young people. Having taught them both at Woodside Elementary, I consider myself privileged to have worked with such fine boys. It is a pleasure to see them succeed in activities at which they have worked so hard . Congratulations, Erik and Karl.

5 people like this
Posted by Society rag
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 29, 2016 at 8:26 pm

Not another vanity cover story. No knock against this particular family, lovely people I'm sure, but I am so tired of the Almanac profiling Woodside, Portola Valley, and Atherton residents. Not all of us want to read about the rich folks who live in big houses and spend mega bucks on their kids' self-serving athletic pursuits. How about running a cover on members of the community who are actually contributing to improving the quality of life for the rest of us?

10 people like this
Posted by Uh
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 30, 2016 at 6:46 am

Could we have some profiles of local residents making their mark through community service? Good works? People who have achievements other than pursuit of self-interest?

Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Apr 30, 2016 at 4:01 pm

We're always hearing about people "giving back." It gets pretty tiresome after a while. I, for one, don't buy it.

If what you do, if your passion in pursuing your own interests, is beneficial beyond your own interests, great. But don't try to tell me that you're somehow a better human being if you're not doing that. What you're doing is wasting your time on this planet with the one life that you have.

"Giving back." Give me a break from your phony pieties.

2 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 2, 2016 at 9:59 pm

"If you can't say something nice, it is better to say nothing at all"

These accomplishments are impressive and it surely took a combination of uncommon drive, genes, and family support to make this happen. Best of luck to these boys.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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