of parents and mentors

As I sit on a flight back to DC, my mind reflects on the past week spent in Utah. The trip featured two dominating factors: visiting my mom and reuniting with former ski teammates to honor our common friend and mentor.

First things first: sprite was a trooper through the entire journey. She didn’t have the best time, and had to endure a lot of boredom and frustration due to myriad reasons. I owe her a ton for this trip.

Visiting with mom for the first few days was trying. Our trip originally had us getting into Salt Lake City the night before surgery to repair damage from an injury sustained the previous winter. We planned to help her around the house for a few days as she recuperated.

However, at the eleventh hour she cancelled the surgery due to a lingering lung ailment, which caught sprite and me off guard. We had planned to do some much-needed cleaning of her house, to try and get her a leg up on typical spring chores – a task far easier to do without parental micro-management. So both sprite and I were a bit purturbed about the change of plans.

That said, we did get some housework done. Her bedroom got a bit of tidying. The front hall and kitchen received a bit of cleaning and sorting. I planted a cherry tree in the yard and we had her car washed from stem to stern. We also set up her new, flat screen TV, which is a big improvement over her old CRT unit.

And through all of this, she was amazingly cooperative compared to the usual routine. It was still draining on both of us (all of the dust was trying on our allergies, which is a workout on top of the housework). But she’s my mom, and I’m her only child – it’s just one of the truths of life, and truth isn’t always pretty.

The latter half of the trip had me at “OlleFest,” a retirement party for my former ski coach and mentor, Olle Larsson. After 28 years at Rowmark Ski Academy and many more years coaching for national and college ski teams, he has decided to hang up the coaching hat. And this retirement party brought out many former pupils, fellow coaches, family and friends to honor his years of service.

Olle was a wonderful coach who taught me a lot about not only skiing, but life and overcoming its challenges. His outlook on life is summed up in two key things: his telltale and infectious laugh, and his personal belief that every day is a gift. And by the huge turnout at OlleFest, it’s easy to tell that his footprints are woven into the lives of many people.

Since my relationship with Olle was forged through skiing, it was fitting that the best part of the reunion was skiing and hanging out with many fellow Rowmark alumni, both racers and coaches. On Saturday, we raced against each other in dual-slalom courses, followed by free skiing with Olle. And as a final act of coaching, he led his “old fart rust corps” of alumni through drills.

Yup, drills. You know, the basic lessons on the fundamentals of a sport. All Rowmarkers know the old drills: javelins, cardboard turns and the like. But with the new, shorter, more shapely skis, all of the old drills have been retired as the essential skills have evolved.

So a group of thirtysomething and fortysomething Rowmarkers, including former World Cup and Olympic skiers, did basic “ski racing 101” exercises on a bluebird day at Park City Mountain Resort.

And it was hilarious: all of us are still great skiers, but the new tricks didn’t come easily to many of the old dogs. And Olle, ever the critical analyst of technique, doled out his advice to one and all until we all got it right.

(And I was totally pleased to find out that my own analysis and adaptation to modern racing and ski technique was spot-on – as I said to Olle, the master taught his pupil very well.)

The evening’s banquet was great for catching up with still more friends, and while it was a bit long at times, it also brought back a flood of memories. Especially fun was a slideshow retrospective of Olle’s life and the racers whose lives he touhed. Seeing me as a teenager, acting all cool, looking every bit the young pup I was, made me feel both old and young at the same time. And sprite got to see slices of my life as viewed through Olle’s ever-present camera lens (did I mention that he’s one of the best sports photographers in the world?).

Sunday’s free skiing a Park City was a bit more free-spirited and casual. I skied with fellow alumni and we shared stories of youthful indiscretion and adventure between runs skied with reckless abandon. There were a lot of shared laughs, a lot of Olle stories and an excess of positive memories. New friendships were forged and old ones refreshed.

But the best part was realizing that Olle still is a mentor. He’s a Ph.D in the school of life, embracing every moment and inviting others to share the joy. And while he may not be coaching any longer, I can’t see him slowing down. Rather, I think hs simply changing course, trimmig his sails for the next challenge in his vast ocean. I can’t wait to see what comes next for him, as it’s bound to be interesting.

Both my mom and Olle helped forge who I am. Both provided challenges for me to face, both helped me up when I was down and celebrated when I was victorious. And this past week reminded me of how my own life shares the challenges and achievements they both brought to my life.

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