On long drives to ski races and camps, the van interior transforms from a mere vehicle for transportation to a place of rich, memory-making dialogue. Conversations range from the philosophies of Kant, to superheroes, and future dreams. One of my great life joys is salting the conversation with open-ended questions. “What is your most memorable dream?”, “If you were any character in a book or movie, what character would you be?”, “What keeps you up late at night?” And one of my favorites, “What will be in your garage ten years from now?”. This final inquiry might seem incongruous if one were not to know that college students struggle and falter when I ask, “Where do you see yourself ten years from now?”. Thus, I have gradually morphed this question to the garage question. I find that answers easily roll off the tongue and in no time I have my answer to the more deeply coveted former inquiry.
Often answers to the garage question are quite lengthy and detailed. I will always remember Adam Karges detailing the bicycle collection he would own. Everything was exact, from the type of seat to the brand of hub. Ben’s Porsche 911 would require quite a lavish garage space. Nathan’s climbing wall would not necessitate a very fancy garage, but it would need to be slightly lofted. Every garage is filled with more than one sporting accoutrement. Generally, there are kayaks, bikes, weight benches and so many skies, skies of every type, from backcountry to tele and, of course, many pairs of Nordic skies.
It is December 28th, 2020. This auspicious year is the twenty-third in our coaching career and for the first time, we have a team wax room that is not our garage. A combination of funding through our Shanghai University of Sport team and a contribution from Christi and I allowed us to convert the garage behind the rental house (the other half of our duplex) into a real wax room. It has a heater, a fan and even insulation! Christi spent weeks moving wax benches and boxes from our garage to the new wax room. The new space transformed into a welcoming, dexterous place that was inaugurated when the skiers dripped green Fast Wax onto their bases for our first race of the year. However, the move left our own garage in a heap of piled remains, a graveyard of more than two decades of layers of our life.
We commit two days of our holiday break to unburying, cleaning and reimagining our garage space. I begin on the Northwest corner, unburying stacks of Papa John’s disposable plates from wax room pizza deliveries. I find pieces from the first gift that I ever bought for Christi – a Makita drill. These are surrounded by screwdrivers, hammers, a deep toolbox filled with the relics of the implements we needed to hang photos, measure rooms, and build our house together.
I move to the water bottle cupboard where row after row of bottle and coffee mug boast race logos and work events. From mugs embossed with Shepard Symposium on Social Justice and UW Science Initiative to Glide the Divide ski race, each bottle and mug was built to hold more than just hydration; each holds a memory. I unearth a large plastic insulated mug that is dated 1997 and labeled “L.L. Bean Biathlon National Championships & World Team Trials, Lake Placid”. The old plastic mug itself is worth nothing; in fact, it is likely not even BPA-free. And yet, the memory it holds is so powerful that I have to sit down for a moment to carry the weight of it. It was my Junior year in college when Christi traveled one last time to the Olympic trials only to be, once again, the fastest biathlete not to make the team. I show Christi the mug and we decide that we will make a special shelf for things like this in the new wax room. A shelf of memories.
My cleaning takes me deeper into the dust of memories. I wipe off the laminated posters, old race bibs and newspaper articles that cover the doors to the water bottle shelves: Riley winning Nationals for the first time, the Alaska twins sporting the original “waffle suit”. A more formal poster shows the smiling face of Alexander Panzhinky. He holds the silver medal that he won in the Vancouver Olympics; I smile back at him as I remember his brother, Zhenya after he toed to a win at our Nationals in Rumford, Maine. I ran to give him a hug and he said, “I will tell my brother what Gold tastes like.”
Nearby is a laminated photo of Marit Bjorgen, undebateably the most successful skier of all time. She is pictured on the front of a Norwegian Newspaper with the headline Norge I Form. She is getting ready to race in a black sports bra and shorts. Her abs showcase the perfect six pack and the photo would leave any skier with the feelings of lust and awe. But for me, these feelings are more palpable when my eyes lift to the nearby picture of my college coach, Knut Nystad. He is pictured on the front cover of Rocky Mountain Sports. His perfect classic stride would draw the attention of most, but it is to his eyes that my gaze turns. These are the eyes that I studied from the back seat of my college ski van. Eyes that sparkle with depth of thought, compassion and energy.
I uncover an old manilla envelope filled with 2014 All American certificates. I read Elise’s name and then Sierra’s. Both are written in beautiful cursive on the embossed paper. I touch the gold relief and realize that only these certificates, buried in our garage, had the time to silently reflect on the successes. Both scholars themselves moved forward in such a blaze that they likely forgot this victory as soon as the ink dried. Elise now in Medical school and Sierra working to complete her PhD, I wonder if they might now like to see these?
Surface after surface, shelf upon shelf, I uncover layers of old ski wax. I scrub and scrape. The warmer waxes roll up into balls, the cold waxes form sharp shards that sometimes hit my hands and face with a tiny prick. All of the pieces come together, a rainbow of colors, layers of memories, years of our life melted, dripped, re-coalesced and hardened together.
Hours pass and with every moment, a new surface is exposed. I am able to sweep the wax piles from the floor and Christi finds our old ski racks. Wooden, they are engraved with our names. Christi built mine and gave it to me my Senior year of High School. We carefully fill the ski racks with our own skies. I realize that this is the first time, since they were built that these racks again hold only our own skis. In fact, these racks, represent the very foundation from which our life grew to support and hold the success and adventures of hundreds of young skiers. If I had answered the question of what would be in my garage a decade after I sat staring at the inquisitive eyes of my coach, I don’t think I ever could have dreamed that my answer would be: my garage will be “the Friday” of hundreds of skiers race Saturdays.
This blog is a compilation of thoughts, essays, class projects, recipes, etc. from SNOW Athletes.
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