Friday, December 23, 2011

Going Downhill Fast

“Dave Herd, we need someone to go over and race with the class “D” group.”

I had started skiing about 3 years before, taking my first ski lesson at Greek Peak, a small ski area near Cortland, New York, half way between Binghamton and Schenectady.  My girl friend’s home town was Cortland and she was a part owner of a condo just across from the ski area on the town’s outskirts.  At that time, Patricia and I were involved in a new and exciting romance.  We met because I was friends with her ex-husband and when I moved the family to Lancaster, PA, she was there, she was strikingly beautiful, and we were both single.  We had much in common and loved active sports.  What was not to like?

During Thanksgiving weekend 1979, we drove up to Greek Peak with my daughter and her two sons, to spend a couple of days on the slopes.  Talk was that my daughter, Kristi and I would rent ski equipment and take beginner lessons together, while Patricia went skiing with her sons.  And so it happened.

I was both anxious and exhilarated to begin skiing.  I had never been remotely close to skiing and never even knew anyone that was a skier until I met Patricia, other than her ex-husband.  Burnt in my memory forever, is how awkward I felt when boards were put on my feet and I was asked to then walk sideways up a very slight knoll to begin my first descent.

Kristi and I were athletic and determined to become comfortable with the label of “skier” and after many failed attempts to remain upright we were soon making turns with our skies formed in the shape of a wedge.  As I progressed in honing my incipient skills I realized that skiing is all about overcoming fear by gaining both skill and confidence motivated by desire to succeed. Soon I was able to advance to the chair lift and the bunny hill. 

A year later I was able almost keep up with Patti.  She was an elegant and graceful skier while I relied on brute strength and courage trying to master both speed and control.  Many times losing control resulted in spectacular wipe outs resulting ski, poles, hats, gloves, and goggles flying off in various directions with me bravely struggling off still another bruise.  One morning while on a week long ski trip, I was so sore and beat up that I had difficulty getting out of bed after one day of skiing.  I decided then and there that I would devote my efforts to mastering more control and sacrifice some speed, and then start to bring back the speed once the control was better established.
Eventually my days living in the East came to an end and a couple of years later, our romance finally ended also, but the skiing stayed with me and remains to this day.

 Dave Herd, we need someone to go over and race with the class “D” group.”  It is March 1983 and I am on a Midwest bus weekend ski trip with Fort Wayne Ski Club. The person talking to me is the race captain for the club.  We are at Boyne Mountain, near Petoskey, Michigan and all ski clubs that belong to the Indiana Ski Council have descended there for a weekend of ski racing, drinking, and making out as much as possible. 

I explain to the race captain that I have never raced before but that does not dissuade her from enlisting me.  I am given instructions where to go and soon I am standing in line with a numbered paper racing bib on my chest waiting to go as fast as possible around poles with flags on the top and to do so without falling down.

By this time, I have had time to size up some my competition and it is pretty plain to me that I can ski as well or better than most of them as determined how they looked skiing over to the starting area.  Thankfully, I was not one of the first to plunge down the slope so I have a chance to observe what some of the better skiers did.

It seems that there was this wand across the starting place and as soon as your legs push through it, the timer clock starts running and there is an electric eye at the finish line, which stops the clock when you break the beam.  So from my observation point, the goal was to get going as fast as possible at the start.

When my turn comes, I place my poles over the starting wand and as I wait briefly to hear that the course is clear, I try to think, “breathe out fear, breathe in energy” in an effort to eliminate my considerable anxiety.  Suddenly I hear, “go when ready racer” from the starter.  I push out with all my strength and skate hard towards the first pole. Around the first 3 flagged poles (I learn later to talk them “gates”) I go, trying to look ahead and see the next challenge.  I am picking up speed as the slope gets steeper.  At the fourth gate, my instinct takes over and my weight goes to the tails of my skies causing to spin 180 degrees and almost fall down.  I turned about as fast as possible and continued until the 8th gate where a reoccurrence took place.  I recovered again and continued on through the finish line, disappointed that I didn’t do better, but I heart was pounding and I felt the adrenalin kick in.  “Wow, I want to do that again, I know I can do better”, were my thoughts.

And so it began.  Later that night at the awards banquet, medals were handled out for the first 10 places in each racing category.  I came in 9th even with all the mistakes I made and I was amazed.  Obtaining a 9th place medal in the lowest race class helped me realize I had potential but that is something I kept to myself because a 9th place finish is not exactly something to bring up at a cocktail party.  But the fire was inside me and it burned intensely. 

Two years later I won the ski club’s “Most Improved Skier” award and also the Veteran Men’s Challenge Cup for my overall season performance covering several races.  My name was engraved on the club’s huge Challenge Cup and I was presented a miniature cup to keep.  I got to keep the big cup for a year and fortunately I had a fireplace mantel to give it prominence.

When I came to Chicago and joined Lake Shore Ski Club, I was soon well known because I started winning the club’s ski races dethroning the long time champions.  This in turn led to becoming the club’s president as well as several other positions within the club. I became a certified ski instructor when I retired and I also met my wife on a weekend bus trip.

I have a trophy case filled with medals and trophies and sitting in the center is my 9th place medal in honor of how it all started.  I sometimes think of Ted Baxter on the Mary Tyler Moore show who liked to say, “It all started at a 5000 watt radio station in Fresno, California”.  My saying would be, “it all started at a “D” level race course in Boyne Mountain Michigan.”

Skiing is a life sport and if there is a desire to keep improving, it is possible.  This requires more mental than physical effort.  So as I start my 31st year skiing, I am positive that I will continue to improve, not only as an all around skier but on the race course also.  It probably it unrealistic to think this will continue forever, but I really don’t want to think about it.  Not now anyway, I am having way too much fun.

1 comment:

GETkristiLOVE said...

I will always remember that day too. You have become an excellent skier and looking forward to many more years on the slopes with you.