Punching Above Your Weight

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Love + Team = Underdog Success

 I’m just home from an extended early season tour. I had planned on a little time to regroup before heading into the vortex of winter, but we’re full-on here in the east, and I’m not complaining!

That said, I need a sec to reflect on the past three weeks, and especially the last stop on my tour, Bob Beattie’s Memorial Celebration in Aspen. There, at the Hotel Jerome, a tribe gathered to pay their respects to “The Coach” and slip just one more time into the familiar comfort of “Bob Beattie’s Ski World.”

The celebration was preceded by a dual team race for local kids at Aspen Highlands, and a dinner the night before to share stories and raise money for the Bob Beattie Ski Foundation. Many of the people in attendance at that dinner were athletes Beattie had taken under his wing, even into his home, and had guided their lives in meaningful ways. That might have been while they were on the Middlebury or CU Ski Teams, or the US Ski Team, or as part of the World Pro Ski Tour. Their tributes and memories were funny, emotional and heartfelt.

Bill Marolt talked about Beattie’s Lombardiesque “Exhaustion Method” of training (we run until we are exhausted, and then we run some more), as well as his ability to anticipate and see opportunity. Ritchie Woodworth talked about Beattie as a bold innovator with an ability to draw people together. Terry and Tyler Palmer recalled how he encouraged and emboldened the two east coast youngsters, and Otto Tschudi about how he fostered entrepreneurship.

Billy Kidd, Beattie and Jimmie Heuga, celebrating team success.

What emerged through these recollections and others, was a picture of a person who expanded the role of “Coach” into something much more. Beattie’s brand of magic was in inspiring and motivating people to “punch above their weight”—to exceed expectations by banding together, working hard and aiming high; by doing more with less, and seeing adversity as an opportunity to shine brighter. They then used this essential skill to find success: as college teammates whose performance depended on each other; as upstart Americans in a European dominated sport; as young professionals racing for their next paycheck on the Pro Tour; and as athletes entering the business world with unconventional (and often woefully thin) resumes.

 I may have missed the US Ski Team in the 60’s and the WorldPro Tour in the 70’s, but Bob’s influence played heavily in my own life. This reflection, written shortly after his passing last April, describes Beattie’s influence and impact on my own path in skiing, starting with NASTAR, through Downhill racing, the US Ski Team, the World Cup and then on to advocacy for the sport and its people. Hearing these recollections reminded me of the awesome responsibility and uniquely powerful opportunity that goes along with being a coach. The themes that were repeated most—Bob’s gifts that elevated his charges individually and collectively—were love and team.

The gathering of 400 people at the memorial was stacked with the ranks of the World Pro Skiing Tour and several generations of the US Ski Team, but also members of the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club, a club dear to Bob’s heart, through which his Aspen Supports Kids (ASK) provides equipment and instruction scholarships for more than 350 kids each year. Jeff Gorsuch worked closely with Beattie to make ASK a reality, and now a treasured community resource.  As he said in his address: “We need more dreamers. We need more Bob Beatties.”

Bob on the big screen, at the Jerome

Beattie was indeed a dreamer, and, for us ski racers, a reliable source of optimism even in our team’s bleakest moments. Last April, when she first heard of Bob’s passing, one of my friends and teammates said, “Bob’s gone. Now where’s the love?” She and other dear ski friends were there with me, and in that crowd we had our answer. The love was all right there.

Aspen has always shown me the love, since the very first time I came there for a training camp at age 15, and the Greene family took me into their home and treated me royally. Fittingly, and quite by chance, the Greenes were at my table Friday night. Many more friendly faces showed up at the memorial Saturday, and were treated to, among other things, a meticulously prepared, star-studded video tribute that had been put together by ABC for Beattie’s 50th birthday. The time, energy, humor (and likely cash) that went into it served as its own tribute to Beattie’s reach. Note to the techies out there: can we get please get that on youtube?!?!?

The ceremony ended with three members of the 1964 Olympic ski team—Bill Marolt, Chuck Ferries and Billy Kidd—fielding questions, moderated by 1984 silver medalist Christin Cooper. Their recollections depicted how individuals can come together to be more than the sum of their parts, that is, to punch above their weight. Marolt explained how Beattie committed to the “American Way,” vs. being subservient to tradition, and how he motivated his troops to follow that vision. Chuck Ferries told a story that exemplified the team spirit Beattie engendered, of when teammate Buddy Werner literally pulled him out of the hotel and onto the hill, to lift him out of a slump. Later that same season Ferries became the first (and to this day only) American male to win the Hahnenkamm slalom. When asked to name the single greatest thing Beattie left as his legacy Kidd said simply, “Opportunity.”

Earlier that week I had my own unique opportunity, which was to ski with legendary powder skier, gelande jumper and lifelong ski instructor Junior Bounous at Snowbird, for an upcoming article on him in Skiing History Magazine (yes, you should give yourself a subscription for Christmas!). Like Beattie, Bounous’s true passion shifted from competing himself, to teaching and inspiring others. He based his teaching methods on those of his mentor, Alf Engen, whose approach to instruction was less dictatorial and militaristic than the traditional—and accepted— Austrian method of the era. Engen’s way of teaching started with building a relationship. Bounous explains: “Alf would say, ‘If you don’t like to be with people, and talk and be social, you’re in the wrong business. You’ve got to be friendly and love what you do, and love the environment.’”

Junior Bounous (left) sharing the love at the Bird.

Here’s a thought as we race headlong into winter: Let’s take a page from the playbooks of Engen and Bounous and Beattie. Let’s build up team, share the love and see what it feels like to punch above our weight.

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