Roger Marolt: Roger This
The Aspe Times
Aspen CO Colorado
How many times have you fallen on the slopes this year? Don’t answer that. I warn you that it will only incriminate you. Besides, I already have a pretty good idea.
What brings this up is Gretchen Bleiler. I was skiing on Aspen Mountain last weekend and thought I saw her getting on Lift 1A ahead of me. It’s not really important whether it actually was her, but I mention it because it got me thinking about her performance in the X Games, and if I hadn’t done that then you would be reading about something entirely different here this week. Somewhere Mike Kaplan breathes a sigh of relief.
If you don’t remember, Bleiler fell in each of her three runs in the women’s Superpipe competition. And, the more I thought about it, because I had a lot of time to think about it on that old, slow lift, and this should not be taken as a derogatory comment about that old, slow lift since being old and slow are the things I love most about it, the more I thought how great it was that Gretchen did fall.
Now, I am not saying this because I was rooting for Kelly Clark and against the hometown girl. I would have loved to see Gretchen win back-to-back gold medals in Aspen in that marquee event. But, it didn’t turn out that way, so I decided to look at it in a way that maybe encompasses more of the woman pursuing her life’s passion rather than the result of one hour of that life. And, as it turns out, this way may have at least as much to do with us as it does with her.
Crashing on the slopes means something more than failure. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and hazard the branch breaking beneath me to say that the willingness to risk a crash, much more so in front of a huge hometown crowd and a humongous television audience, is one of the traits/skills/attributes that separates a woman like Bleiler from the rest of us.
Have you ever stood at the top and looked down the Superpipe at Buttermilk Mountain? Think of pushing off for a hellacious run filled with twists, flips, and grabs up and down the sides of that monstrous chasm of rock-hard ice. OK, now imagine yourself at the top again only with a pounding headache and a few bruises this time because a few minutes before you slammed down on the ice at the cup of the wall from about the third floor of the Hotel Jerome. You think that’s a little scarier?
All right, picture yourself one last time at the top feeling like your body is half Jell-O and half Mike Tyson’s punching bag because you missed another landing on the previous try like a flipped pancake missing the skillet and bouncing off the dog’s tongue before splattering on the kitchen floor … and coming up is your third and final run, knowing that you have to pull out all the stops for any hope of winning, which is the reason you came here to begin with.
I’m thinking this is about how Bleiler’s X Games night went – all courage, all determination, all confidence, and selective memory. So, it surprised me a little that she got a bit ho-hummed by the local press over her results. Whatever happened to the journey being more important than the destination? Because, for anyone who really watched that night, Bleiler’s journey was all the way to the brink, and not because she has better health insurance than the rest of us either.
The thing that makes sports the greatest drama of human creation are the easily forgotten but universally admired risks taken that devoted athletes make a part of them. It’s trying a one-in-ten shot to cut a dog leg to catch the leader and landing in the Pacific Ocean, settling for third instead. It’s whiffing on a nasty 104 mph cut fast-ball with a 3-2 count and the game on the line in the last at-bat. It’s missing the line by a millimeter because on the chalk was about the only place you might sneak it past the No. 1 seed’s backhand in the final tiebreaker. It’s going over the middle into double coverage with a minute left and getting clobbered stretching for a pass thrown 3 feet beyond your reach. It’s eating a folding chair beyond the baseline to swat a ball that ends up a foot out of bounds anyway. It’s running until you bonk. It’s riding to catch a breakaway until your thighs seize up. It’s the effort by the losers that makes winning worth taking the chances for and understanding that on days you don’t win you damn well better reciprocate.
So, here in Ski Town Earth it surprised me that when Bleiler fell three times that night at the X Games we yawned a lot, critiqued a little, and completely missed the point. Being skiers and riders and supposed explorers of our limits, we missed an incredible chance to admire a person who has devoted her life to what we profess to be the purpose of our own explorations of Bell Mountain, The Bowl, and back-country couloirs vertically striping this rugged expanse of high-altitude unsupervised playground just down the block.
If there wasn’t to be satisfaction for Bleiler in winning, all the better it was that she knew that she had been as good as she could have possibly been that night. She at least had reached for and touched her limit. Perhaps that is why the smile never left her face even as the tears of disappointment slid down her cheeks.
So, getting back to the question I began with: How many times has your fanny hit the hill this winter? I told you it would be incriminating.
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