Brian Flannelly, a 55-year-old Bellingham firefighter, has never lost a burning enthusiasm for Ski to Sea.
"You could say that," he said with a laugh.
Flannelly, by rank a captain based at the Fairhaven fire station, has competed in every Ski to Sea race since 1990.
He is captain of the Bellingham Firefighters team, which is defending champion in the Corporate Division and is sponsored by Union Local 106 of the IAFF.
"Since the Corporate Division began in 1995, we've won seven championships," said Flannelly, who grew up near Washington, D.C., and was a high school crew competitor and a club lacrosse player at Virginia Tech. He ably mans the canoe leg along with bowman Christian Carson.
"Sea to Ski is still just as exciting as my first race," Flannelly said. "The adrenaline is there, the challenge is there, and the rush of competition is there. There's also the fear of appearing unworthy in the eyes of my workmates. There's pressure on us to win, but it's self-imposed pressure."
However, as much as they love to win, Flannelly said the team is so tight it continues to stay together, with little turnover.
"The race is a natural extension of what we do for a living," he said. "We train as a team, fight fires as a team, handle medical emergencies as a team. We've been together quite a while. Basically, I tell everyone he's on the team until he opts out, and then his job is to find a replacement who is just as good as he is."
The only newcomer this year is mountain biker Rob Kintzele, who replaces Ryan Gilbert.
The team's other veterans include cross country skier Mark Brennan, downhill skier Brian Jones, runner Jake Jarvis, road biker Willy Spaulding and kayaker Jason Sims.
Win or not, what's most exciting for Flannelly and his buddies?
"It's seeing our kayaker (Sims) come in, 'piped' across the finish line by the firefighters' bagpipers and drummers," he said. "People at the finish love to see the guy on the winning team cross the line, and they also go nuts when they hear the music when our kayaker comes in. They love it!"
People who know local firefighters will recognize the affable, outgoing Flannelly for playing the role of St. Patrick during the past two St. Patrick's Day parades in Bellingham. He also participates in the Ski to Sea Grand Parade.
Can the team defend its title?
"You never know who's coming along, but we'll definitely be competitive," he said.
Browse the Ski to Sea special section at BellinghamHerald.com/skitosea.