Team Captain?

Exercise is the best medicine — the best cure for the fall blues. As I’ve mentioned earlier, fall is  the period when ski training kicks into high gear. After ignoring the gym for much of the summer, I’m now a regular at The Wave, our local gym. After breakfast, Cole and I spend a good chunk of the daylight hours lifting heavy things. Well, I should note, Cole lifts extremely heavy things with his freakishly large quads and I try and lift sort-of-heavy things and hope that I don’t fart loudly while doing squats.

When I was first toying with the idea of competing in telemark, it was a personal challenge — I just wanted to race at my home ski hill and I didn’t expect that I’d make the US team. Telemark racing looked like a lot of fun and I met some really incredible people who also raced so I thought I’d join their clan. In fact, I even brought chocolate chip cookies to practice to earn their favor. It worked! At the 2010 Nationals, I did OK. I was surrounded by talented athletes, young and old, and they all cheered for each other and drank beer at the awards ceremony (the older ones did. Not the high school students). I knew immediately that I wanted to be like these people, clad in a speedsuit, and panting through the skate section after rushing through a set of complicated gates on a steep slope. What I really wanted was to be an athlete again, a member of a team. I asked to join their club and they said yes.

In high school, I played a lot of sports. I wasn’t particularly good but I loved to play basketball, ski race, run track, and attempt to play softball. I liked moving my body and as any of my teachers at Boyne City High can attest, I had a lot of energy that needed a healthy outlet. I also loved being on a team. I loved sharing my experiences with my teammates — it made all those difficulties from running endless wind sprints to wrecking on the slalom course much easier to digest. I loved everything about sports: from practices after school, to traveling to other cities across northern Michigan and competing against rival schools, to having to maintain good grades to play, to team huddles, and hanging up motivational posters in my locker. Many nights were spent having serious life chats with my teammates on the late night bus ride home. I may not have been the best athlete — I sat the bench a lot — but I just wanted to play. But what I wasn’t good at was being a good team captain.

By my junior and senior years in high school, I was nominated team captain for my basketball and ski teams. I had plenty of leadership experience serving as the class president of the Class of 2000 but titles alone don’t make you a good leader. I was elected to student council and honored with the role of team captain because I’m outspoken, loud, challenge authority, and am not afraid to share my opinion. I truly cared about the Class of 2000 and how we functioned with the rest of the student body and I absolutely loved my teammates on all of my sports teams because the other magical thing about teams is that they become your tribe; but all of this didn’t equate to being a good leader. Now, I wasn’t a terrible leader. It’s not like I siphoned funds from the class treasury to buy popcorn or put gas in my ’92 Buick Century station wagon, but I was all talk and little walk.

When I was a freshman, all I wanted was to beat the upperclassmen in ski racing; I worked my tail off. As a (small) forward on our basketball team, I trained all summer so I wouldn’t get cut from the team. But when it came to motivating and encouraging my other teammates, I fell short. I delivered a lot of empty promises about summer workouts and extra time in the gym during the off-season.  By the time I was a senior, I fell into an apathetic state — I didn’t work so hard in the summer and once winter came upon us, I spent more time in the moguls than I did in gates. I didn’t do what I said I would. I let a lot of people down. I thought that after fours years of competition, I deserved to slack off, to not work so hard. I was wrong. I hadn’t earned anything.

Sure, that’s all 10- plus years in the past, but much to my amazement, I’ve had a second revival on the athletic track. And while I don’t necessarily remember how I placed at track meets or what my season record was during my varsity basketball years, I remember how I let people down. How I was boisterous in words but silent in action. I’m playing on a much bigger playing field and it not only requires more rigorous training — far beyond anything I did at our “Breakfast Club” morning weight lifting sessions — it requires a massive commitment from myself, and my bank account (there is zero funding to be on the US telemark team), and to my teammates who are flung about the country.

I’m not in anyway the team captain of the telemark team. Hell, we don’t even have a coach. But I am fully aware of the consequence of my actions — both the words I say and what I do on the ski hill, be it in Whitefish, Montana or Norway. OK, so no one would ever mistake me for Lindsey Vonn and I won’t be attending any Olympic games as an athlete anytime soon, but what I’ve realized since my Rambler days is that when you say something — something to people who look up to you and who count on you — you’ve got to be there.

So this fall, while I’m lunging across the gym, I’m working on how to be that person I should have been when I was in high school.

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