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December 27, 2013 - John Stack
Peter Crowley, The ADE editor recently wrote a column about the Olympic winter sports up here, and how he has grown to love them. I think that is a sentiment held by many other people up here. I arrived here about the same time as Peter, but I grew up skiing, shooting and sliding in the snow. Even so, I had no idea what I was really getting into. In my hometown of Mohawk, the biggest name was Gregory Jarvis, who happened to be a scientist on the ill-fated Challenger space shuttle. Athletically? Our school lived and died by wrestling (another under appreciated Olympic sport) and did win a state championship. I have a friend who is a veteran who can run a sub 3 hour marathon at 50. That’s about it.
I’m possibly the only person who graduated from Mohawk who has completed the Ironman. Here, I have maybe a dozen friends who have completed the Ironman. I know at least a dozen people who have completed the 46ers. I sometimes run into Olympians, but mostly I run into their brothers, sisters and parents out on the roads and trails. And they all seem to be good people. Not much of an entourage…
But to me, its even more. I was in Key West with an uncle. I was looking at a beautiful sailboat, and mentioned it would be fun to sail around the coast in that. He demurred, preferring the multi-million dollar cabin cruisers docked nearby. I then realized the difference wasn’t just the money and fame, but about human power and motor power. My family has had snowmobiles since I was very little. I still enjoy riding up on the family homestead in Herkimer County. We also ride four-wheelers, which I also admit to enjoying. But only to a certain extent. Not enough to buy a new one for here and ride every weekend.
There is the thrill of zooming along on a fast Polaris Indy. Or driving through the mud on our 4-wheel Polaris. But, I’ve slid skeleton on the Mt Van Hovenberg track (top 15 in ESGs one year). I have never felt for a second on a motorized vehicle like I have lying flat on a sheet of ice at 65 miles per hour on my skeleton sled. I have never felt the jubilation watching a basketball game as I did finishing the Wakely Dam Ultra. Standing with a great friend after 18 hours of rotten hiking on top of Ampersand finishing up peak 5 of the 6ers in the rain and ice? The NBA has never touched that awful, freezing, exhausted awesome moment.
It’s also as much the people. Mention to someone from the Saranac Lake area that you want to run Ironman/do the 46ers. You don’t get a “you’re crazy, you’ll never do it. You’re too old/slow/out of shape” or even a “Why?”. What you get is “Good Luck!” and “I can’t wait to cheer you on at the finish line” or, “I’ll run/ride/swim/train with you if you need a partner!”. I often read stories about runners/triathletes/etc who changed their lives to become crazy adventure/endurance athletes. Most all of them have one common theme – people did not believe in them. I think that’s too bad. Up here, with the people and athletes I know, you’d never hear that. It is the perfect place to be if you need or want support for your crazy plans. It doesn’t matter is you are a sub 3 hour marathoner or a 10 hour Wakely runner. People are behind you either way. Where else can you hike untrodden snow in the dark getting near lost trying to find a peak with a good friend while you freeze and hope your spouse really never finds out how crazy your adventures are, yet neither of you would be any other place?
So, if fame, fortune and adulation is your goal, this isn’t the town for you. If you truly want to strive to push yourself to heights (literally and figuratively) you never thought possible, this is the place for you. If you want to live life, and not watch other people’s lives this is the place for you. If you prefer your recreation to revolve around watching whining millionaires talk about dedication and “going to war” as they flop on a basketball court or pose on TV after a 3 yard gain, I hear Houston is nice this time of year….
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