SPOKANE, Wash. — Like many a mediocre high school athlete, I’ve long wondered if there was a sport out there for which I was perfectly suited.
Sure, I was too short and slow to be much of a basketball player. Ditto for running. But maybe my particular build and genetic disposition is custom-built for another sport.
A sport I’ve yet to try. One in which I could sweep by the more experienced competition with a serene smile of natural excellence plastered upon my face.
It’s the holy grail of athletic fantasy.
I learned last weekend that cross-country skiing is not that sport. My quest will continue.
Last Sunday, I competed in the Spokane Langlauf cross-country ski race. The 10-kilometer race, on Mount Spokane, brings all types. Former Olympians compete alongside 8-year-old kids and septuagenarians.
It was only my second time on cross-country skis, but I figured if push came to shove I could just run the dang thing.
I started late because I had to take photos of the starting line, but once moving, I quickly started passing people. This is it, I thought. This is my sport.
All was well, until I met Bjorn. Or maybe his name was Svein. Or Nils. I don’t remember, honestly. What I do know is that it was a Scandinavian-sounding name. And he had blond hair. And he was 8 years old.
See, I passed him on a hill. I didn’t think twice about it. I was a hill-passing machine. Soon I’d be up front. This was my time. My sport. My place.
But as I passed Bjorn/Svein/Nils, his father called out.
“Are you just going to let him pass you?” he said.
“Where is your competitive spirit?” he asked.
The boy didn’t answer. Instead, he just started skiing faster. I laughed to myself. And skied faster. Easy. I pulled ahead.
Then he went faster, and didn’t stop.
Soon, he was just a smudge in the snowy distance. My athletic prowess fantasy shredded in the wake of his 8-year-old strides.
And so it ended. I finished the race. But any illusion of excellence was thoroughly deflated. I realized that, as with every other sport, I was going to have to work at cross-country skiing if I ever hoped to beat Bjorn/Svein/Nils.
On the bright side, I got third place in my age group (third of three), had a blast and got a great workout without stepping anywhere near a gym.