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The ‘Iceman’ cometh

Pennsylvania dentist wins fifth skiing championship in giant slalom

April 23, 2019

By David Burger

the Iceman
Top of the world: Dr. Steven J. Rheault, second from left, smiles alongside his ski racing colleagues at the 2019 NASTAR National Championships in Squaw Valley, California.

Lancaster, Pa. — At his Pennsylvania dental practice, he is known as Dr. Steven J. Rheault.

But on the ski slopes, he is universally known as the Iceman.

“I was racing in Lake Placid, New York, on the Olympic Hill,” Dr. Rheault recalled of a long-ago race. “It was very icy. Athletes were falling and getting hurt. When I came down, everything worked. The announcer could not believe his eyes. He announced, ‘Look at that man take the ice. Look at him carve the ice. He is the Iceman.’ The name stuck ever since.”

The Iceman carved the ice once again April 6, when he won his fifth national championship for the giant slalom in his age group at the 2019 Liberty Mutual NASTAR National Championships in Squaw Valley, California.

The 65-year-old, who will mark his 40th anniversary as a general dentist in 2020, said he cherishes competitive ski racing and dentistry for the same reasons. “I love dentistry, and I love competitive skiing,” he said. “Just as in dentistry, in most cases, we all work together to get the best result. We set goals, we work hard to achieve them. We study hard. You just don't wake up some day and you're a dentist. Just as in competitive skiing and dentistry, you strive for perfection.”    

The 1980 graduate of Temple University’s Maurice H. Kornberg School of Dentistry began skiing at the age of 3, prodded by his doting father, who skied until he turned 92.

Despite breaking his arm when he was 7, Dr. Rheault continued to be a competitive aerialist through his teens but when he went off to West Virginia University for his undergraduate degree and then dental school, competitive skiing went by the wayside.

“I always wanted to be a dentist, since 10th grade in high school,” Dr. Rheault said. “I wanted to control my own destiny and help other people. I am so happy and proud of what dentistry has given me and I would definitely have to do it again. I am so fortunate to have chosen dentistry.”

After several years of dentistry, he had the opportunity to go skiing with Billy Kidd, legendary ski racer and Olympic gold medalist, in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Mr. Kidd saw Dr. Rheault’s innate talent and go-getter attitude and convinced the young dentist to train and become a competitive skier again.

Developed by SKI Magazine in 1968, NASTAR — NAtional STAndard Race — is the largest recreational ski and snowboard race program in the world and today, NASTAR is operated by U.S. Ski & Snowboard (formerly known as the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, the national governing body for Olympic skiing and snowboarding).

Since NASTAR’s inception, more than 6 million skier and snowboarder racer days have been recorded. Annually, more than 50,000 racers compete at 100 resorts across the country in order to qualify for the finals. A handicap system, not unlike what is used in golf, helps determine final results in each age and ability division. There are age groups from under 6 to 95 and older.

Dr. Rheault qualified for and reached the national championships for the first time in 2002, when the event was held in Park City, Utah. He finished 22nd.

After skipping the championships for a personal commitment in 2003, he and his fast-twitch muscles qualified again in 2004 and competed in the national championship. This time, he won.

It was the first of five.

Dr. Rheault doesn’t plan on retiring from racing or dentistry any time soon. His practice employs three associates, and “they give me discretionary time,” he said. That allows him train all over the country on top of training at night on nearby slopes; he said he can fly out of the Harrisburg airport in the morning and make it to the world-class ski resorts in Park City in about six hours. “It’s a mission of joy,” he said.

Dr. Kaushal P. Kapadia, an associate in Dr. Rheault’s office, said it is “amazing” that the latter used to work six days a week and still comes in five days a week despite the extensive ski training Dr. Rheault does. “He works more than 40 hours a week,” Dr. Kapadia added. “People in Lancaster County are very impressed.”

While dentistry is his labor of love, skiing does offer a different perspective. “Dentistry keeps me indoors,” Dr. Rheault said. “Skiing takes me outside, to the outdoors, seeing beautiful scenery. It’s like a theme park.”

Dr. Rheault’s life is a balancing act, but the dentist wouldn’t have it any other way. “Sometimes you have to prioritize. You have to take care of your family, patients and staff. I had to stop skiing for years to fulfill these obligations. Building a practice takes time and effort.  Fortunately, as the years continued, I had time for my training, to follow my passion, to become a national champion.”