Olympics lay bare risks and success
A training run. A nasty fall. A serious injury. Minnesota downhill skier Lindsey Vonn was set to be the darling of the Winter Olympics, which open today in Vancouver, Canada. But as the world knows now, a deeply bruised shin may prevent her from ...
A training run. A nasty fall. A serious injury.
Minnesota downhill skier Lindsey Vonn was set to be the darling of the Winter Olympics, which open today in Vancouver, Canada. But as the world knows now, a deeply bruised shin may prevent her from competing in the Olympics, let alone having a shot at multiple medals.
The timing could hardly have been worse for Vonn. But that's part of life in a sport where risk rides on every run, where the line between success and disaster is whisker-thin.
I'm not a downhill skier, and I have no idea what that experience must be like, whether you're a 5-year-old wearing your first racing bib at Chester Bowl or Vonn preparing for the Olympics. But I've paddled enough whitewater to know the dry mouth and the butterflied stomach. Risk is risk, whatever the playing field.
We'll see plenty of it in the Olympics over the next couple of weeks. We'll sit on our sofas and recliners and feel our heart rates rise because suddenly we care about whether Apollo Anton Ohno's speed skates hold their edge on those tight turns.
But risk doesn't have to be physical. I imagine that those high-school students who spoke before Duluth's School Board on Tuesday night felt as if they were taking a bit of a leap, too. But they did it for most of the same reasons we all take risks -- because the potential reward was too good not to speak up.
I have a friend who came up with an idea for a medical device that could make a routine screening procedure a lot more comfortable for patients. She has poured her heart and soul -- not to mention financial resources -- into bringing her invention to market. She's been at it for several years, overcoming numerous obstacles that could have been dead ends.
Will she succeed? It's still too soon to know.
But it has been worth all the risk because she believes in the potential benefits of a positive outcome.
I remember one evening on Canada's Baffin Island in 2007, when Will Steger's base camp manager, John Huston, returned long overdue from an evening ski on the fjord-like bay near the town of Pangnirtung. At temperatures pushing 20 below zero, he had run into issues involving open water and tide-jumbled ice along the shore of the bay -- in the dark.
At the time, I thought Huston was an adventurous guy, willing to embrace some harsh conditions in an unknown environment. Two years later, he and Ely's Tyler Fish were standing at the North Pole, the first Americans to ski there without resupply.
They call it risk because there are no guarantees that things will work out. Sometimes we don't reach our goals. The canoe swamps. Small-business ventures fail. A shin gets bruised, and an Olympic dream is suddenly in doubt.
We all have choices. We don't have to take most of these risks. But we learn at an early age that taking risks can deliver big rewards.
Look into the face of a 5-year-old after a run at Chester Bowl.
SAM COOK is a Duluth News Tribune columnist and outdoors writer. Reach him at (218) 723-5332 or firstname.lastname@example.org .