Tuesday, February 24, 2015


I was dropping off my favorite four-legged friend at my parents' house Saturday morning.  He's technically my mom's dog, but we're best buds so I love the times I get to spend with him.

My dad was doing his normal channel-surfing thing, and he happened to stumble upon the Alpine Skiing World Championships.  He must love me because he ceased with his surfing for a bit to let me enjoy the competition.  (I love things like this!)

I was even more stoked than usual because we caught the final runs for women's slalom, and I just love watching slalom.  There's a rhythm and grace to it that I find completely captivating.

But it's also exciting because in the blink of an eye, a perfect run can fall completely apart.  And not necessarily in dramatic fashion like a head-over-heels tumble.  I have this distinct memory from the Sochi Olympics last winter.  A skier was having a great run, leaning into every turn, gaining time on the leader, and just looking fantastic.  Then seemingly out of nowhere, she just stopped and took herself off the course.  It was very controlled, and left the commentators stunned for a brief moment.

"She must have missed a gate," one said.  And indeed, a review of her run showed that the tip of her ski just missed the second pole of a double gate.  She hugged the edge too much by millimeters and the pole went through her legs.

Just like that, her run was over.

She wasn't the only one who had trouble. That Sochi course was particularly difficult. Part of it was the course, and part of it was the weather. Watching skier after skier try to conquer that particularly tight section of the Sochi course brought to mind these verses:
Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Matthew 7:14 (One translation says: "The gateway is very narrow and the road is difficult...")  
So be careful to do what the LORD your God has commanded you; do not turn aside to the right or to the left. Deuteronomy 5:32
I've been mulling on them ever since.

Doing the right thing can be hard!  It's a narrow and challenging course.  And like a slalom skier, things can be going so well, but it only takes a moment to lose it and get off course.

How do you do it?

Core strength. Being balanced on your skis, and being able to lean into those turns takes a strong core. Staying centered through life's twists and turns takes the same.

Look ahead.  I remember an interview with Ted Ligety during the Sochi Olympics last winter.  He talked about the whole process of an Olympic slalom run.  They go down those mountains at 50 miles and hour or more, so those gates come at them fast.  He said he's always looking 2-3 gates ahead and constantly planning how one turn will flow into the next.

Lean in. Saturday's story was a triumphant one. Mikaela Shiffrin kept her rhythm, made every gate, and found an extra dose of speed on the bottom half of the course to defend her title.  Doing so in her hometown made the victory extra sweet. But finding that speed is about establishing rhythm and then leaning in -- committing to each turn to get as close to each gate as possible, while at the same time maintaining control and finding the best curve.  (Which circles back around to core strength.  Flirting with that edge takes real strength that has to come from the center.  Both mentally and physically.)

Narrow is the way.  Difficult is the road.  And it takes both adventure and control to navigate it well.  Just like slalom, those gates can come at you fast, and any number of things can knock you off track -- whether by a millimeter or by a mile.

Thank goodness ours is a race that isn't one where missing one gate counts you out.  We get to brush the snow off our butts and continue.

For this I am very grateful.

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