Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Top of the World

(Photo: Calvin, January 23rd 2010.)

This weekend, like nearly every weekend between December and April, we loaded the car with skis, poles, boot bags, helmets, speed suits, jackets, and powder pants. I made sandwiches and filled thermoses. We checked the forecast and then loaded more jackets into the car.

We drove 45 minutes to our local ski resort, where we piled back out, everyone--right down to the five-year-old--carrying skis and bags from the parking lot to the lodge. Then up three flights of stairs (in ski boots). At a table, we dumped our stuff--helmets and coats and goggles--and greeted friends. Toby tackled his little ski buddy, and they wrestled in a cloud of blue snowsuit and fleece until I pried them apart.

Normally, we’d all get geared up and take a few leisurely ski runs before lessons began, but this was a race day, which meant registration and race bibs and more than a few bouts of nerves. And last minute equipment changes. And even further last minute worries over bindings and boot buckles.

And did I mention it was sleeting snow?

But still the kids went out there. They rode the chair to the top of the mountain--affording views as far as Shasta and Klamath when the weather is nice, which it was not--and then gathered at the crest of a steep run awaiting their turn to race. And it was cold. And windy. And yet they stripped down to their speed suits and they bounced a bit in place, their skis slapping the snow. And they adjusted goggles and goofed off together and were ushered back into line by their coaches.

And when it was their turn in the starting gate, you could see the anxiety on some of their faces. It’s a high pressure sport, ski racing. Any individualized sport is. It’s just you and the mountain and possibly the echo of your previous time messing with your head, and it’s a lot to place on six, eight, even fourteen-year-old shoulders.

The New York Times featured an opinion piece on youth ski racing a number of years ago. I just ran across it. At first glance, I was ready to dismiss it as yet another derogatory editorial: you know the type…we push kids too hard, it‘s all about us, not about them, etc. But the author surprised me with an epiphany of his own: watching his daughter race, he made the observation that it was the risk that mattered…the willingness to get out there, stand in that starting gate (the loneliest place to be) and try.

I couldn’t agree more. I’m proud of these kids for what they do. Clichéd though it sounds, it’s character-building to stand in a starting gate, alone with your nerves and your adrenaline. It’s a risk to ski down that course with everyone watching. And not all these kids will be championship racers, but they’ll all remember that they did something worth doing. That they were cold, and the wind was biting, and they were nervous, and the course was foggy and rutted, but they did it. They stood alone on a mountain and found their way down.

This post has been linked to Wordful Wednesday at Seven Clown Circus.

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