Skieologians: The Applied Sport Theology Column
“We’re going to make it, Ryan,” said the 80-something-year-old striding alongside me, his cross-country ski form belying his age. Our un-planned daily meetups at the remote, snow-laden gravel road were now at a streak of 35 days. I could trust him, the only person possessing an obsession for training on snow equal to mine, and his confidence that we wouldn’t miss a day of skiing as we waited for that first “real blizzard.”
“Well, I better let you go,” he said, his aging voice, reminiscent of my deceased grandfather (the one arguably responsible for bringing skiing to our family), evoking my boyhood memories of sharing a game of H-O-R-S-E on the driveway when he was this man’s age. As I ramped the pace back up, my streaking, feathery-light border collie mix bounded from behind a drift and darted across the road to chase another squirrel friend, happy to be in her heavenly domain.
Despite the slow start to winter, a scene for better ski conditions than that morning couldn’t be recreated by Monet himself. After roughly 30-kilometers of perfection, I hopped into my car and drove back home.
The next day, eager to repeat the routine, I woke up at 5 a.m. downed my coffee, sent some emails, and fired up the rig to head back out to Narnia.
But, I found the wardrobe locked. I wasn’t Peter, in doubt. I wasn’t Edward, steaming mad – though I could have been.
I was Lucy, overcome with grief.
The seasonal road closure signs had been pounded into the ground between my coming and going. They were a barrier between me and my skiing. Between me and my Nordic daily bread. Crestfallen was not an adequate description of my soul as I stood, skis in hand in the frigid morning light, staring at the words, “Road Closed” as if my developing tears (ok…maybe that’s a little melodramatic) could clean away the text.
Devastation would be a more apt word; like a boy coming home from school, ready to play fetch with Fido, only to find that he had run away and was missing. Skiing would be missing from my life now, I figured, at least for the time being. I wondered if anybody, other than me and my old friend, would actually be affected by the local road department’s decree.
Instead of doing nothing, I decided to do something. My normally apathetic approach to civic engagement had finally been cleansed. I mean, you can raise taxes no problem, but if you block my ski course, it gets serious. First, I sped away to the “other” secret patch of snow I knew about. After 90 minutes on a 200-meter Nordic hamster wheel, I decided I had at the very least salvaged my mental training for the day. Then, I went to my computer and sent an email to an individual in the government. I won’t describe his position at length, though, he will only earn my praise in this article anyway.
The next day, with no reply expected, I headed back to the road to inspect the situation. The sign was still there, but I was prepared. They don’t call me the Seder-Skier for nothing, after all, and this seemed like a divine test of dedication.
Tires pumped, I delicately hopped on my road bike with my skis, poles, bike lock, keys, and extra clothes all loaded onto the caravan. After two miles of riding, I was warmed up for the ski. It was another morning filled with snow solace satisfaction, albeit attached to a little extra hassle.
Periodically throughout the rest of the day, I checked my email for a response from “the government.” There was nothing.
The next morning, the unthinkable gift came from above. The gate had been peeled back. Half expecting to see Marty McFly appear out of nowhere, unsure if a time warp had sent me back a week, I sped ahead, hoping to find clean snow and keep a clean conscience.
I got to the parking spot and saw this:
My sign had been moved so that skiers, or a skier, could keep skiing from their secret garden. Narnia was back.
Today, civic duty, politics, local government — they all elicit contentious thought, it seems. We never seem to get our way, nothing ever seems to get done, and everyone just gets angrier and angrier with one another.
That morning, as I stood, beaming from boot to binding and beyond, I couldn’t help but think, I might have been the only person who was affected by the signs being moved. I felt like Homer in the Simpson’s Movie. Failing in his attempt to save the world, his bumbling and stumbling is interrupted by the discovery and subsequent consumption of a half-eaten donut he sees lying on the ground. In between bites, and before getting back to saving the day, he exclaims, “It seems like my luck is beginning to turn.”
Because my voice, my feelings, and my needs mattered, and someone heard my plea and cared, a change was made. It might have been inconsequential for the majority of the community, but it was monumental for me.
I started skiing.
As the sound of the snow slithering along the skinny skis reverberated in the deepest chasms of my soul, I felt, just maybe, that my faith in government, politics …in people….had been restored.