It’s not just about looking the part
Recently, I stopped mid-run to an observe an animal that apparently calls Vail ‘home.’
Not a moose, elk, mountain lion or goat — all of those flashy Alpine logos whose silhouettes embody Colorado better than a Patagonia-wearing Patrick Dempsey ever could — but a lowly snail.
First, I figured it was just one of those odd-shaped mushrooms I’m too stupid to forage for. I bent down and tapped it with my finger, at which point the gastropod slid back into its protective shell.
Well, I’ll be darned.
Instead of calling Dillman — our photographer — to snap what would certainly be an avant-garde Vail Daily cover photo, I thought about the unconventional sighting and muttered a worn phrase in my house:
“There’s probably a column in there somewhere.”
At my high school basketball coaches’ behest, I would order two Big Macs and a large chocolate shake after every road contest. Despite lifting weights five-days a week and consuming calories ad naseam, soaking wet my 6’2 frame was barely 165 pounds, which, according to Coach, was all that separated me from greatness.
When I left the sport for cross-country and the 10,000-meters in college, I went from being the skinny guy on the court to the Incredible Hulk on the track — which is to say I was carrying around unnecessary upperbody muscle.
At some point, someone pointed it out.
“You’d probably be faster if you stopped lifting,” he said in the dining hall, an appropriate place for such a realization to be relayed to me.
If you’re curious what this has to do with snails, stay with me.
Starting-line strategizing gradually turned into sizing up slender runners against my stocky frame. All of the sudden, my nighttime musings echoed Jared Leto’s from the movie “Prefontaine,” where the legendary American record-holding harrier perplexingly inquires of his girlfriend one night:
“Nancy, do I look like a runner to you?”
Over the course of the next 16 months, I gave up barbells and allowed high-mileage pounding to gradually slim my frame to 145 pounds. It was done healthily and my times dropped steadily. On the cusp of what was to be a breakout, college-defining senior season, however, I developed a nagging tendon injury that eventually sidelined me indefinitely.
During that depressing winter, I cross-trained religiously, hoping for a spring comeback, and, even though I wasn’t running, shed body fat I couldn’t afford to lose. Gradually, it became a focus — instead of the sport I pledged to be preparing for.
I traded the only real foundation for my identity — Christ — for whatever number the scale read. I woke up to pee a lot. Veins popped from my abs, striations were visible in my triceps — which kind of freaked me out. Long gone were those innocent McDonalds’ meals with teammates — heck I probably went six months without having cheese on anything. Eventually, I reached a breaking point, and thankfully, it didn’t require intervention. In fact, it’s really just a brief side note few even need to know about.
Today, however, as I ran across a snail colony, I didn’t receive an epiphany as much as a prompt to share it.
You see, given the choice of the entire animal kingdom, wanting to be a snail falls somewhere between ant and earthworm — who wants an existence of sliding across the mud and slinking into a shell? Usually, when kindergarten class polls are taken, eagle, wolf and T-rex are all safe bets to be drafted ahead of gastropods.
Yet, how many theoretical average Joes decline a local mountain bike race or trail run because they feel like a blob — a snail — racing up Berry Creek alongside coyotes, wolves and white-tailed deer?
If that is you, hear this.
Covering and competing in sports all my life, I’ve seen athletes of all shapes and sizes do amazing things.
The litmus test for pitching in the majors isn’t whether your knuckles drag on the ground when you stand up. Just ask Chris Freud about Tim Lincecum. Playing quarterback doesn’t require a tall frame and huge hands — look at Doug Flutie — and tryouts for receiver aren’t open only to Randy Moss lookalikes — what about Jeff Campbell!? Being a runner doesn’t mean your calf veins have to be visible, though it’s probably an intimidation factor.
If you want to be a skier, you don’t have to drive up to the resort in a tricked-out Escalade. Just get there.
If you want to be a concert pianist, your parents don’t need perfect pitch and neither do you.
Remember, King David didn’t look the part, and he did just fine.
If you love something — do it. Train ’til your hungry and eat ’til you’re full.
Don’t worry about where you live or what you look like.
After all, even snails can live in Vail.