By Kelly O’Day, Editor,
Heroes can mean so many things to each of us.
Of course, it’s easy to venerate those pillars of community and sacrifice, the young ones who risk life and limb in the military, the dedicated teachers who spend their own money and time to provide the best learning experience possible, the volunteers who provide manpower to endless underserved good causes.
Then there’s the realm of team sports, with players like Aaron Rodgers jumping immediately to mind. They don’t seem to get the same level of adoration in the world of silent sporters, which I take as a statement of more balance in an active life. Personally, I find it easier and safer to root for teams, with the mercenary feel team sports have taken on in the age of what-have-you-done-for-me-lately management and every-last-dollar-I-can-milk players.
Within our sphere of silent sports, the frontrunners often get the billing in our hearts and minds. Those superhuman specimens who crank out winning performance after winning performance, seemingly with much less effort than we’re exerting despite our less-than-impressive results.
But lately, I’ve been moved by the unsung. The ones who compete despite having no chance at any kind of podium, age group or not.
The ones who battle back from injury as fast as possible just to return to a trail, road, waterway or wilderness.
The ones who never tried an endurance sport until years and even decades of the effects of a sedentary lifestyle finally made them shout, “Enough!” Determined to turn that reflection in the mirror from a funhouse version into something more-closely approaching their inner image, by committing to a regimen including some combination of riding, walking, skiing, snowshoeing, running or paddling.
Whether that means gradually building up to 5K or going whole hog for a marathon or ultra, I love seeing someone discover the joy many of us have known for ages. And their surprise at what they can accomplish. Their joy at seeing the pounds melt away over doing something so fun it lost the designation “work-out.”
Perhaps the epitome of this process is right on the horizon for many of us, the gauge by which we measure our relative growth and/or maintenance. Or the siren song for the years we fall short in that measurement, waiting to dash us on the rocks. And yet, we still greet that grail – the American Birkebeiner – in our many different stages of preparedness and life.
Back when I was faster (never fast), some would ask how I could finish a Birkie in three hours and change. I would truthfully respond I was impressed with how they could stay up on skis for eight-plus hours.
Walking up Main Street or standing there in the glow of that ideal healing brat-and-beer at the Angler, you would see their faces beaming for hours after it was done. Occasionally glancing down at the medal hanging around their necks, as if to make sure they hadn’t dreamt the whole thing.
The initial one is probably the best, but the event never seems to lose its magic for all of us that have toed the start line in Cable or Hayward, and now Seeley. And basked in that perfect exhausted moment when someone asks if they can help you remove your skis.
But if this is your first, you’re my hero.