"Sure, I can guide you, Goose," I said, thinking, "How hard could it be to keep up with a guy with one leg, one usable glute and only upper abs and arms to propel him on the hilly 23K Kortelopet course?"
Harder than I though, as it turned out.
John Burke of Wausau, Wisconsin, and myself were excited to "guide" Paralympic sit-skier and four-time cancer survivor Augusto "Goose" Perez of Syracuse, New York, originally from Madrid, Spain, at the Korte last February.
Our biggest responsibility was to alert others around Perez to his presence so they wouldn't run him over. When Perez needed a break on the uphills, we were to "hold" him and slow him on the downhills as needed. If he tipped, we were to make sure he gets upright again safely. We carried some food and extra poles.
How tough could this be? Only one other sit-skier had completed the Korte, and it took him four hours. For able bodied, fourth-wave skiers like Burke and I, piece of cake, right?
As we headed off from the back of Wave 1 for classic Korte skiers, reality quickly set in. Primarily a skate skier without decent classic skis, I had just added kick wax to my skate skis. It wasn't giving me any purchase in the classic tracks, however. In a panic, I had Burke and Goose stop so Burke could apply more kick wax and put an end to my whining. I remained frustrated, though, unable to kick up even the most gradual and gentle hills as the rest of Wave 1 flew by me. I'm sure they were annoyed by me, an obviously misplaced skier. But there I was on my racing skate skis, the pocket of which wasn't making contact with the trail.
I was forced to double pole in the tracks and skate or walk in the deep snow off to the right of the tracks to avoid further irritating those kicking with proper skis. I struggled to keep up with the amazing Perez, who was properly waxed and kept asking where the hills were. After watching him fly past all the elite male skaters on the uphills of the Powerlines, Burke and I declined to keep him waiting for us and let him go.
With "Duck" written on the bibs of Burke and I, other skiers kept asking who we were guiding? As I struggled to skate from 14K to the finish line, I was also asked if I was O.K.
About 20 minutes after he finish, Perez greeted me on his crutches with a gigantic smile to staple my finisher's pin on my guide bib. Burke, coming in another 20 minutes after this "lame duck," enjoyed the remainder of his journey.
Perez explained he had two spills, both of which he recovered from easily. Waiting for us, he said he got stuck behind Wave 2 and 3 skiers. He also had to wait for other skiers to clear a few downhills before he could proceed safely. Goose said he had a great race and is still wondering what all the fuss is about hills course.
Perez is currently taking applications from elite skiers willing to guide him through next year's classic Korte race. With the right assistance, he believes he could finish in 90 minutes or so. Meanwhile, Burke and I are taking applications from sit-skiers who genuinely need us for a more leisurely four-hour ski tour.
Eve Stein is an avid Nordic skier, skijorer, runner, cyclist and dragon boater in Duluth, Minnesota.