When my daughter is pushing her broccoli around, mulling over quitting the soccer team mid-season, I’ll be able to say, “It’s important to finish what you started,” and back it up.
After chipping away at my sports science master’s degree since 2015, a winding path that has seen six unexpected career changes and required two — while, maybe three depending on how you look at it — moves across the country (in both directions), I finally arrived at the homestretch this summer. There’s more to that backstory — and I don’t blame you for not checking my blog to read everything. Heck, reaching the finish line is a lost art.
I guess that’s what this column is all about.
After graduating with a music education degree in 2015, my student-teaching experience with 95 middle school flute players convinced me of one thing: maybe I need a backup plan. I applied for a master’s in exercise science from Adams State University that year, tailoring options towards my obvious lifelong obsession with sports. That spring, I spoke with Dr. Tracey Robinson, the head of the physiology department, for the first time upon my acceptance into the program.
Our bi-annual conversations over the last 7 years inevitably revolve around my dramatic life changes and consequential degree-altering plans as much as my actual research topic: the relationship between strength/weight relationships and double-pole performance in Nordic skiing, a proposal I started fine-tuning in 2017.
The risk: a lack of available elite cross-country skiers willing to donate time to research. I failed to find participants in the first year. COVID knocked out the next 18 months. Two more new jobs forced graduation date rescheduling. Finally, I scheduled testing with four-time Olympian Andy Newell’s elite team in Bozeman for this July.
The preamble to the finish line was long and winding. The homestretch would be brutal.
My wife, Christie, 11-month old, Novi, and 2-year-old border collie/German Shepherd Ajee loaded into the sprinter van on a July Sunday morning at 4:00 a.m. I’d dragged my family through this whole marathon … they deserved to witness the end, right?
After a day of testing, Christie and I envisioned returning through West Yellowstone, the site of our honeymoon in January 2015 (Nordic skier thing …) as a romantic and appropriate celebration. My marriage, after all, had been refined through the fire of this rollercoaster degree, which, now that I’m currently in my real dream job as a sports writer, holds less career-defining weight than ever.
It’s about following through, though.
With Bozeman 100 miles away, I struck a deer with the van at 10:00 p.m. that night, destroying the radiator and rendering the vehicle useless. After calling state patrol and State Farm, we spent a hot and still night in someone’s field, restlessly turning over our sweaty sheets as the baby cried and we tried to problem solve.
When your daily driver hits a deer, it’s like having that 100-year-old oak tree blow over in your front yard. It hurts. It’s a hassle. With a sprinter van, it’s more like that same tree blowing over onto your house. Both hurt and hassle are magnified, plus you lose access to your bedroom.
After wasting hours listening to the automated voices of triple-A and State Farm, state patrollers and busy, impatient mechanics, we secured a tow to a nearby town, Columbus, population 1,800. We rented a car to get me to Bozeman for Tuesday’s testing, which — miraculously — went off without a hitch. Unfortunately, the same could not be said about the return home.
On my Wednesday morning run, I stumbled upon two brown bear cubs two miles from my car. I dashed back, avoiding another catastrophe. We heard back from the repair shop — 6-8 days for parts and repair.
On Thursday, we secured a different repair in Billings at a bigger shop. On Friday, the only day a rental car was available to shuttle the Sederquist entourage to Denver, Triple-A was on cue to give us a few more hurdles. The tow could only hold two adults — no baby. I gave all tiers of Triple-A management my best reformed Baptist tirade, which lacked swear words and thus probably any effectiveness.
Long story longer, we made it to Billings by 8:00 p.m. and spent another 90-degree night in the van with a baby who refused to sleep. This is what life — marriage, kids — is all about.
The next morning, my wife was denied the keys to our rental car because, as Dave Ramsey loyalists, we have never had a credit card. My wife, crying at the counter, with a baby doing the same, moved the helpless checkout desk worker who couldn’t understand the policy but also couldn’t help. Meanwhile, I sat with Ajee in a 95-degree parking lot, waiting.
After four more hopeless hours of problem-solving, a gracious mom, recognizing our utter desperation and dogged exhaustion, came to the rescue. She accepted our cash for her card on the car, a supreme act of trust. We drove from Billings to DIA. A friend from Leadville pulled her own good Samaritan act and drove all the way to get our entourage from there to the Cloud City. At midnight that night, we arrived in our own bed for the first time in about a week.
The hilarious part is that my return marathon to retrieve the van was even more epic. It involved taking a greyhound buses from Denver to Billings, the final one with four shattered windows, arriving at 3:15 a.m., and then running, ex-convict style (two words which are insanely ironic, but I won’t explain why), 6.2 miles through pitch-black streets, in civilian clothes and with a backpack, to my waiting vehicle….which I then drove 11 hours back to Colorado in 95-degree heat.
My thesis draft due dates always coincided at the worst possible times. Last week, the final, final submission for the 225-page behemoth was on the first day of Birds of Prey coverage and less than a week after I was waking up at 2 a.m. to do World Cup broadcasts. Thanks to hunkering down at the Vail Daily offices and basically sitting in front of a screen all day, I got it done. Tomorrow, I’ll defend my thesis. It’s possible this will be the final academic thing I ever do. Then again, if there’s one thing I’ve learned through this process, it’s that you should never say never.
In this race, there’s been few cheerleaders, attention or fun. There’s been a lot of pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps and just doing what had to be done — dirt, sweat, frustrations and all. Maybe that’s why finishing is a lost art these days — because patience and endurance in the face of adversity are, too.
When Novi gets a little older, I can tell her to finish her vegetables, finish her homework and finish the season. And, when she asks why it’s so important, I’ll have a reason or two…
Or, at least I’ll have a good story. I guess the degree might be worth it in the end.