|A typical Monday night at Lester Park, Duluth MN|
At this stage in my life I can honestly say I have forgotten more skiing than most people have done in their lifetimes. So I can be straight when I say I don't really recall my "first" days on skis.
I do though recall when skiing first clicked for me. The time when I realized what nordic skiing really meant to me. It was in my 7th grade year. I was on the classic wooden skis, rat trap three pin bindings and horrible leather, toe eating boots. Putting the boots on was like forcing your feet into a vice and then crunching down the binding was like tightening it.
We lived in a rural setting, far outside of the small town of Winona, Minnesota. Our home was ringed by bluffs and the fields surrounding the house were cut in the fall, so we could ski out the door.
Usually we would plod along in a line across the base of the hill, dad, mom and kids trailing behind like drunken ducklings.
The year skiing really resonated for me though, I vividly remember my brother and I just going outside to see what we could ski down. Truthfully it was more along the lines of sledding then it was about skiing.
Turning was not involved.
It was a straight running, high ball, fall line game of chicken. At first we would try and go the length of the field, which had a solid pitch of at least 30+ degrees. The crashes were amazing, and how we did not break a leg with those 215cm solid wood skis on our feet is beyond me. After each attempt though we would get the knack and go a bit longer. Eventually we had to start higher and higher up in the woods above the field to get a good run in, but of course that also increased the danger factor a bit..........well maybe a lot.
So this is all a long lead in to the idea that at one point in my early life I was standing high on hill, in the woods looking down a huge hill, with a pair of toe crunching boots and 215cm wooden lever arms hanging off my spindly, 7th grade legs and absolutely engaged by it, intoxicated by it.
The results were obvious. Not only did my brother and I ski that run we loved it. We realized we were naturals at it, but most importantly I realized that there was something in my life that I loved, that I was good at, that gave me confidence, that I could own, that I could succeed at. Something my parents allowed me to do any time I wanted.
My adolescence could have gone a few different ways. I grew up in a rural setting. I am most likely wrong in describing Winona, MN in the early 1980's as a farm town, but the fact of the matter is that it was, or at the very least the town that supported the agriculture around it. There were not a lot of choices for a 7th grade kid, you could get into traditional athletics ( of which I sucked at), you could go the 4H route, or you could hang with kids who liked to party. Arts and music were a choice but again, I was not engaged by it enough to swallow me like skiing did, like most 13 years old males my attention span was short to say the least.
XC Skiing pulled me out of all of that, once I had that feeling of success it was a beacon for me, it was grounding. When I found out a short time later that I could actually join the ski team, it all became extremely clear to me what I wanted to focus on and what I wanted to do, not only in high school sports, but in my life.
As I grew older I realized that it was not just skiing that I sought, it was outside time. It could be on a bike, it could be on skis, it could be in a canoe, but it had to be outdoors.
I recall all this nearly 30 years later for a lot of reasons. First, because here I am, 45 and I am still bending over and putting on a pair skis every chance I get. When life gets crazy, when stress builds up in me like a pressure cooker, when work drives me nuts, I know that I can reach for my skis, or any other outdoor tool and go to another world, another place that allows me personal sanctuary. I would bet my life on it there are a huge amount of people out there that could tell this similar story, its not unique to me at all.
Now I advocate for this everyday, its my job, my avocation I guess. I have not only seen what being outside has done for me, I have seen what it has done for others who had truly challenging youths. I have also seen what it has done for communities, how it has improved the lives of people who live in them. I passionately believe that sports like XC skiing, mountain biking, hiking, climbing, paddling and otherwise can truly make people and the places they live happier and healthier (mentally and physically).
Lately though I have heard some signals over the airwaves, small but high pitched, that sports like XC skiing or off road cycling are "elitist" or the groups that promote them are "Special Interest" groups, that these are not things that the average Duluth citizen engages in, that its for "hipsters."
With that in mind I pull out the image of me in 7th grade, my first "Booster" picture for the Winona Winhawk Ski Team..........
All hail the hipster!
It still blows me away that my first full season of racing was on wax-skis, three pin boots, jeans and a wool jacket, and nobody batten an eye, until I started placing high enough to make the varsity team.
Being outdoors is not about being cool, its not about being special, its about being engaged, its about enjoying nature, its about being yourself and about building confidence in who you are as person. Its not limited to any one type of person, any one type of gender, race or economic status.
But if we as a community don't invest in it, make it available to everybody then we lose a very important opportunity to help make the world a better place for those of us that are spending our lives in Duluth or in Minnesota as a whole.
|My first MN State Meet (classic boots in a Skate race)|
|A long way from Wood Skis and rat traps. Awesome that its my little brother and his buddy watching the carnage.|