By Merisa Sherman
The tears started early, at drop off actually. I got onto my knees and looked directly into the tear filled blue eyes in front of me.
“My tummy hurts,” she managed to hiccup out and I had to bite my lower lip to keep from smiling.
“Does it feel like there are butterflies flying all around in your tummy?” I asked the little 5-year-old athlete looking at me. She nodded her head yes and tried to hold the tears back like the big girl she so wanted to be. And then I couldn’t help but let out my smile.
Welcome to ski racing, I thought as I explained just exactly what those butterflies meant. She was excited to race, but nervous about trying something new. But we do one new thing each week, I reminded her. And today it was going to be ski racing.
The tears all gone, we made our way to the top of the course. A couple of the kids were beaming with pride, a sense that this was the day they were going to become big kids, just like the ones they had been watching all week on the Olympics. Their little faces were glowing and they babbled on the chairlift about how fast they were going to be. They had their bibs on over the tiny bubble gum pink ski outfits — I don’t think anything looks quite so adorable.
The top of the course was chaos, with kids running around all over the place, having no idea what they’re supposed to do or where they’re supposed to be. Except my kids, the KMS kindergarten. They were simply staring at the older kids with the biggest eyes, their minds filled with every possible thought and nothing at the same time. While the big kids ran around, we took off our skis and walked over to the course for our “inspection.”
Red and blue gates lined the bottom of Highline and the kids could see the finish line fencing at the bottom, whatever that was. So we brought them back to the familiar.
“What color are the trees we’ve been skiing?” I asked the little ones.
“Green!” “Brown!” They shouted back.
“And what about these gates?” I asked.
“Blue!” “Red!” The cheer comes back.
I reminded them we ski around the trees and now we will ski around these gates. It’s the same thing. A little voice pipes up: “So these are just like the Unicorn Woods only they are the Race Woods?”
Oh my goodness, yes.
With our inspection complete, the race is starting and it’s time to practice our cheering. As the first forerunner pushes through the Magic Wand, our little athletes practice their “Hup! Hup!” and start to get stoked. The tears long forgotten, now they cannot wait to get in the gate and run the course. Even if they have no idea what that means.
We head back to our skis and begin the important parts of being ski racers. We kick our legs back and forth, warming up our bodies just like Mikaela Shiffrin does before her races. And then we close our eyes and ski through the imaginary course, just like Mikaela does. And then we line up in our bib numbers (we’re really good at counting). We practice our quick feet. And then we get in the gate.
And now I’m crying. With laughter. One kid misses the first gate completely and we have to stand there to make sure the next one starts off the right way. The second kid makes the first gate, but then completely misses the second one and just free skis for a while until they make it back on track. A third somehow manages to make three turns in between each gate and it’s one the most adorable things I’ve ever seen. I can see the parents at the bottom of the course and hear them cheering as their little athletes cross the finish. The announcer reads out their times and I know they have no idea what he’s talking about.
As I slip down to the bottom to join my group, all I see is huge smiles reaching ear to ear across their little faces. They are literally glowing and bouncing up and down with joy.
“I was so fast!” one of the athletes yells out and I reply: “Of course, you were” and give each one a super big hug.
The parents congratulated their little athletes and it seems like they’ve each grown up way too much in the past few minutes. They are ski racers now, whether or not they grow up and make it to the Olympics (we’ll find out in about 13 years or so) … but for now, we’ve got to head back up for the second run because when it’s all over, there’s a big cookie prize waiting for everyone — even the coaches!!