The Long Road: Friends, Fans and Family Edition

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It’s March 1, which means it is time for the annual re-posting of “The Long Road,” a RacereX post that originally appeared 11 years ago. It is timed to coincide with the beginning of “Champs Season”—when anxieties reach a fever pitch in the ski racing world—as a way to give some perspective. The Long Road is part treatise/part plea to chill out; to look beyond the results that tend to drive us into a frenzy, and to see the long term wins that come from ski racing.   

This year’s edition comes at you with a shout out to the parents, friends and supporters who are there at every step in this sport that serves up failure solidly 90+ percent of the time. As Bob Cochran of Vermont’s skiing Cochrans clan likes to say, “the only sport harder than ski racing is being a ski racer parent.”

I’ve come to understand that as a ski racer parent the only way to improve the odds of your kid having a successful day at the races is to adopt more kids. This is a pretty easy thing to do as your own kids get older, and you become more invested in the success of their friends as athletes and as people. Of course, the downside to mass adoption is that no matter how wide you cast the net, you’re still only as happy as your unhappiest child. By upping your odds for good days, or even just ok days, you’re also taking on more of that spirit-crushing failure.

Even now, 50 plus years (yikes!) into living this sport as an athlete then parent, I am discovering new ways it can break your heart; but I know I’m never alone. With every kid I’ve “adopted” come their own actual parents and supporters. We’ve stood shoulder to shoulder on the side of the hill, in finish areas and in damp lodges, texted congratulations and condolences while watching live timing, and hauled more coolers and crockpots than I can count. We’ve stood together at U-12 qualifiers, State Champs, National Championships and World Cups, watching these communal “kids” (now young adults) at literally every level in the sport.  

On those rare occasions when our own kids have a great result, we feel a jolt of relief and lightness while also feeling each other’s pain and frustration. But no matter what, we keep showing up, in person and in spirit, like fans who trudge to the stadium wearing the colors of their favorite team with unwavering belief, no matter the outcome the week before. We make cookies and bring snacks. We watch livetiming with a mix of hope and dread. We give hugs if allowed and send texts that may or may not be read. We wake up and do it again and we always hold out hope for that rare great success.

We do this because when our kids commit to this pain-in-the-ass sport that offers up 90+ percent failure they also reap massive rewards. Among the many qualities they develop is that rare mix of supreme self-confidence and humility, a superpower that goes the distance in life.

The flipside of the sport’s high rate of failure is that 99+ percent of the time in ski racing is not spent between the starting wand and the finish beam. I happen to be writing this in the midst of a massive Sierra snowstorm reminiscent of the one that led to a legendary trip for my ski racing generation. Ski friends are checking in, remembering the fun times we had shoveling snow, building snowcaves, jumping off roofs and powder skiing over submerged snowcats. The one race that did end up happening on that trip is an afterthought at most. The rest of the experience is the stuff that bonds us.

Meanwhile, from the other side of the country, pictures are popping up on my phone of our Ford Sayre U-12 and U-14 kids skiing their hearts out and having a blast with each other at their home qualifier event. I am quite sure there were tears and frustration along with the smiles, but the pictures of these young friends, making their own shared histories, reiterate and reinforce the long road message.

If ever there was a year that proves finding your A Game in ski racing is a very long road, it is this year, as evidenced by long road warriors Paula Moltzan, AJ Ginnis and Laurence St Germain. All are testament to the power of hard work and undaunted belief to overcome setbacks and long odds. Their journeys also remind us of the priceless rewards baked into full commitment. These are rewards well worth the wait.

No matter what goals your kids have in ski racing, the pursuit of this very niche, under radar, low success rate sport will reliably tee up opportunities to reap lifelong benefits. These benefits have very little to do with podiums, results and races, and everything to do with the 99+ percent of time in between.

Parents, friends and fans out there, if you need a little perspective to bring down your pulse this time of year, or know someone else who does, take a look or a re-look at the Long Road. Then buckle up for March because it’s always quite a ride. Good luck to all!

For a look at past Long Road editions, check these out:









2 thoughts on “The Long Road: Friends, Fans and Family Edition”

  1. Always loved your thoughtful heartfelt writing.
    “Mom, I know we grow from disappointment, but right now I don’t want to grow!”

    • Thanks so much for reading Rosvita! And boy, who can blame any of these kids from wanting to Take 5 sometimes.

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