Jean Piaget described the development of a learner as a cycle in which, through a series of actions and effects of those actions on objects, learners come to recognize complex patterns. One might describe Piaget’s cycle as being a spiral, for as the learner comes to recognize more and more complex patterns, she is also able to achieve more complex actions.
My fingers trace spirals around his scapula and at the center of the spiral is the pressure point that relieves the trapezius and terus muscles. Perhaps part of the calm that I feel when massaging athletes derives of the familiar patterns. Scraping, releasing, passing three times in line with the muscle fiber. I recognize patterns that I can feel but not see.
Yesterday and today mark the first full race of the Games. The race unfolded over two days because it was pursuit style. Today the racers began where they left off yesterday only in the skate rather than the classic technique. Throughout these two days, I have been thinking deeply about patterns. In yesterday’s classic race, Nate had the race of his life; Trevor, Anna, Ana and Rya skied well. By contrast, Mason, Becky, Kevin and Mitch had tough days. What was the pattern? Did the skiers who skied well all do a morning run before breakfast? Did I have a chance to give all the high performers a massage? Was it the wax? The answer to the latter question seemed easier to systematically address so I started there. Isaiah, our head wax technician, had applied the same kick and glide to all athlete’s skis and all had a chance to test before the race. Mitch, Trevor and Nate all wanted their kick made faster and I made the same adjustment to their skis. Not the wax. Mitch did a morning run; Trevor did not. Not the morning run. I had massaged Trevor, Nate and Anna. Maybe?
The pattern could also be the literal pattern of the ski. When a ski is manufactured it is given a pattern on the base, called a grind. There a grinds for cold, dry snow and grinds for warm, wet snow. Sometimes in addition to the existing pattern on a ski, we also overlay another set of reels. We use a tool, called a structure tool. Today, Isaiah selected a particular pattern that he expertly pressed into each ski. This was the final ski manipulation in a series. The skis are first base waxed with a paraffin, then topped with a full fluorocarbon powder. Only moments before Isaiah pressed the structure pattern into the skies, Christi and I had ironed on the full fluorocarbon. The pattern of my breath through the respirator seemed to mirror the pull of the iron across the ski. To say that full fluorocarbon ‘melts’ would fail to represent the chemistry. It simply seems to morph from powder to an oily film that adheres to the ski base enough so that when excess is brushed away, the film repels water more expertly than any other known chemical. This allows skis to glide across the pattern on the snow (called corduroy) without experiencing any suction.
Perhaps instead, the pattern is the varying learner development spirals. As compared to most races at home, the World University Games is filled with new images, objects and experiences that, for some learners, extend beyond the patterns with which they are familiar, beyond the comfort of their existing empirical abstractions. Every day we ride a bus from the athlete village to the venue. It is a 12-minute bus ride if everything goes smoothly. In order to get onto the bus, we must show our credential. Once on the bus, a security guard seals the bus door. It is a literal seal of colored tape. If this seal is broken at any point during the drive than security is considered breeched. Once we arrive at the venue, before we can enter the gated compound, the bus is searched on all of its external crevices. A special camera is used to view the underside, to peer into any hiding place. Once we pass security and enter the building where the wax cabinets and changing rooms are located, we must again wear our credential. Inside our changing room, we store our bibs. The athletes wear bibs labeled ‘athlete’ and the coaches wear bibs labeled ‘team’. These bibs are required in order to be on the course.
For many athletes, this style of venue seems a world away from the quiet, snowy trails of Wyoming, Minnesota, Colorado, Vermont, Alaska… Does the pattern lie in the struggle to perform familiar actions in such an unfamiliar environment? Mitch and Kevin came to the 2017 World University Games in Kazakhstan. Trevor, Ana, Anna, Nate and Rya did not. Perhaps then, the answer is ‘no’.
Half-way through the race on the first day, as I walked back to the wax cabinet in the brief quiet period between the women’s and men’s races, I looked up and, as I tried to cross the street, was nearly hit by a cavalcade of white and black Mercedes Sprinters, SUVs and a limousine. I thought this to be out of the ordinary but not so much as to cause my focus to waiver. It wasn’t until half-way through the men’s race that I realized that the limousine had carried President Putin. He had come to watch the men’s race.
In the quiet after both races were complete I sat on the windowsill outside of our wax cabinet. I stared at the cavalcade of black and white vehicles. I felt that this pattern should cause dissonance at the venue of a sport that, in the United States, many do not even understand. Yet somehow, it did not. My eyes fell to the black and white letters on my Madshus boots; they were a perfect reflection of the vehicle pattern.
My fingers now trace a figure 8 in which the crossing point is centered at the spine and each lobe encompasses a scapula. This pattern is familiar, comfortable and does not put me outside of my cognitive comfort zone. In fact, in this place of mindfulness, I feel much more than I think. Perhaps this is the pattern. When I massage, I exist as a complete body-mind; I allow my body to meld with my mind and to take the lead. In a ski race, once the gun goes off, the body remembers more than the mind. Even when the mind feels unease, those athletes who can allow their body-minds to become one find familiarity, and a ski race under high security being viewed by the Russian President feels little different than a ski race in the cold, quiet woods of Wyoming.