I spent a week and a half in Vancouver. I went because it’s my job to go, to talk to athletes, to get images, to tell stories, to find reasons for people to care when they turn on the Olympics next February. It doesn’t suck.
In ten days, I skied with world class Ski and Boarder Cross athletes. I spent the day with US aerialist Emily Cook and her Aussie competitor, Jacqui Cooper. They told me about coming back from injury: Cook shattered her heels, Cooper her face and her back. Still, they compete. 50 feet over a frozen landing strip they constantly bump their heads against the danger zone, trying to get better, more perfect in the air, more solid on the ground.
Daron Rahlves and Casey Puckett broke down their sport Ski Cross. They told me that they were frightened at times on the race course but that they do it anyway because nothing compares to the thrill of getting it right. What could be more fun than racing three buddies back to the lodge? Last one home buys the beers.
On the course that day, one guy didn’t make it home. A German athlete took the second to last jump on the Cypress Mountain race course and off-balance from the launch, the side of his head hit the packed snow long before his skis. I was standing no more than twenty feet from the jump when he took off, I could hear the fear in him as soon as he went airborne. When he landed, there was nothing to hear. He was out cold, three minutes at least, his skis stuck in the snow behind him made a black X. Here marks the spot where he could have easily died. He didn’t. Just a concussion and a small blood clot in his head that the doctors wanted to keep an eye on.
The physical courage of these men and women is humbling. Shocking.
And then there’s Vancouver and its surroundings. If you’re an outdoors kind of person, there’s so much to love. You can be in the heart of a cosmopolitan city in the morning and then twenty-five minutes later be standing on your boards at a more than decent ski resort. The weather’s cool in the city, colder in the mountains but neither place ever felt bitter. It’s manageable. They get enough rain for nearby areas to count as rain forests. The ocean is omnipresent. The skies are always changing. It’s easy to feel small in the landscape.
One day we got out to Whistler to shoot with Canadian Ski Cross athlete Julia Murray. Her Dad was one of the Crazy Canucks that took the alpine world by storm in the early Eighties. The product of her Dad’s love for her mother Stephanie, Julia sadly had to grow up without her father. He died of skin cancer before she could walk. But every time she skis, some of him comes alive. She’s crazy in her own right: fast, beautiful, totally endearing. In Whistler, they named one of their longer runs after her father. In the Olympics, the Dave Murray Run will serve as the men’s Downhill and Super G course. I took it several times as hard as I could but there were pitches up there that gave me pause, I had to turn, I didn’t have the stomach for that kind of speed. But Julia certainly did.
Through it all, I did my best to train. There were some workouts that had to be done in the hotel gym, early or late in the day. And there were several runs around Stanley Park, Vancouver’s rugged peninsula of a open space.
On my last day, with no work to be done save a flight home, I laced them up and went for 16. Bored with my “long run” pace, I decided to throw in two twenty-minute pick ups. As I got into the second one, I could feel myself starting to fold a bit. A million reasons for backing off swept through my head. But I kept turning the legs and focused on what I was doing instead of what I was thinking. And I ran faster and faster until for the first time since my last race, I once again felt like a real endurance athlete.
Going up to my hotel room, I was thinking about what we can learn from athlete’s, people that work so hard on their bodies, that speak so eloquently with motion and power. The great seduction of humanity is to spend our time in our heads. Our minds are so powerful, they coax us into believing that complete satisfaction is a state of mind that can be manipulated by the same machinery that will enjoy it. But as I ran hard over that last twenty minutes, I felt something that was euphoric and yet completely detached from thought. I was almost reptilian in the way I approached the tempo, legs, arms, breath, focus and yet no thought. In the end, in the middle and in the beginning, I was happy and complete.
We are physical beings, it feels good to me when I embrace this reality. Being around women and men that have committed their lives to sport, never fails to enlighten me. It helps me learn