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More of “Only here”

March 24, 2014 - John Stack

It seems every week I am reminded of what a unique place I live in. Things happen here that only could happen here.

This weekend I went to the ECAC hockey playoffs. (By the way, the Plattsburgh women won the Div 3 national championship and the Clarkson women won the Div 1 National Championship!! Woo hoo!). It was at the 1980 rink (foreshadowing….) Before the championship, they had a couple special guests drop the puck – Buzz Schneider and Bob Suter. A spontaneous chant of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” breaks out – at the rink where the chant originated with 2 players from the Miracle on Ice team on the ice! Then they walk right by us leaving the rink, with my buddy from ChevaStack Consulting wearing HIS US Hockey Jersey! How cool is that?

I shared that moment with about 8,000 other fans (too bad a bunch probably didn’t recognize the moment). Two weeks earlier I had another once in a lifetime moment, but on a significantly smaller scale, but unique to here.

My 16 son participated in the first year of the Junior skeleton development program. Thanks to Don Hass for getting this program off the ground and for former world cup and track record holder Becca Sorensen for some great coaching and advice. OK, so far this is incredible. We have 2 skeleton tracks in the US, and my son is sliding on one (he ended up winning gold in the Empire State Games – tying with Pat Kane – nephew of 2002 Olympic gold medalist Jim Shea). All of that was awesome and cool. I knew 13 years ago when I was sliding skeleton, it was something special, but it only gets better.

One of the most exciting – and scary – times in my life was my first time from start one (the top) on the skeleton track. Lots of guys have moved up quickly from start 4 to 3 to 1 (rarely was start 2 used except with bobsleds). Many never returned to the top after that first run. Ever. So I had them beat, which felt good.

During this season, I helped push bobsleds off from start 3 and 4 as they worked their way up to the top. One day, a driver had a new brakeman he recruited from his gym. He lasted 2 runs, never to be seen at Mt Van Hoevenberg again. I thought, “I’m 46, 200 pounds and I can still ride brakeman down from start 3 even though I’ve never done it”. I felt sorry for the drivers who can only practice if they have a brakeman. I remembered sliding way back when, and we had so many skeleton sliders, if a bobsled needed ballast/cannon fodder/a dummy – a slider might hop in the sled. I remember the late Army Captain Brian Freeman hopping in a sled when asked (great guy Brian – see link). I told Don I’d brake for someone if they needed a brakeman. The opportunity never came up – until…

Last night of the season. At the top. Young driver Jake Petersen – young man just brimming with charisma, confidence, talent and size (20 years old,6’1” 205). He’s first guy up in a 2 man. His brakeman isn’t there yet with 5 minutes to go. Will I brake? I didn’t need to be asked twice. I was ready quickly putting on a Kevlar vest with warning about wearing nylon under the vest because of heat problems in a crash..uh OK). We are quickly to the line. Did I mention most people I saw would get a slow push off the top? Au contraire mon frère! Jake Pushed off the top like he was going for gold. As a slider a decade ago, I would count the corners so I knew what was coming and how to react. I figured I would try this now. I round corners 1,2,3 and foooourrr…Bang zoom. Back and forth. The G forces unbelievable through the turns. I remember this from my sled, but I was 3 inches from the ice, not sitting up in a bobsled. My head is being pushed down between my legs on the corners. On the straights my head pops up. Afterwards my son kindly tells me my head was bobbing like a rag doll. OH MY GOD! I finally realize we are in the chicane because for 2 seconds my neck isn’t in pain being slammed about as I hit the only straightaway. Then into 17 and the heart. Finally, I am able to breathe as we pass the finish dock. Time was under 60 seconds. Afterwards, Jake thanks me time and again for helping him out. My heart doesn’t stop racing for another 15 minutes (but I tell no one there!). My neck, two weeks later, I think I’m getting over the whiplash. If Jake’s brakeman hadn’t arrived, I would have done another run, even knowing there was a good chance I would be in traction for a month. Why? Well, …I’m a guy. That’s what we do.


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