Sunday, April 13, 2014

Snowbirds


My last day in the Nation's Capitol was jammed packed. I got up early and got in a run into the Georgetown neighborhood, along the Potomac River, then through the National Mall in Washington DC. Once I got back, it was soon time to head to the USA Today / Gannet Media offices across the river in Virginia. As I was coming from DC, the managing editor of the sports page picked me up right outside my hotel. I couldn't almost believe it, and made for a great way to learn a little bit more about the communication industry. From the managing editor and her team; from the most read section of the most read paper in America, no less.



While at USA Today, I got to shadow reporters as they had their daily meetings about when they expected to write and add articles to their online offerings. Most of the time, though, the conversations centered over what articles, graphics, and images would make the print edition. Between meetings, different journalists would take me aside, and show me what they were working on. Filing open records requests, investigative journalism, determining online layout, editorial decisions, designing for digital readership today and tomorrow were all areas I got to go and peak behind the curtain. Many thanks for Roxanne Scott, Mary Byrne, and many others at USA Today. 


After DC, I headed for Arizona. My grandparents are snowbirds, calling the Twin Cities of Minnesota their home during the summer months, and Arizona their refuge when the cold weather, snow and ice hit their home state. My favorite time of the day in Arizona are the evenings. During the day, the heat just hits you so hard, but the nights are just about perfect. When the sun starts setting, I always head out and do something, be it running a few miles, hitting a bucket of balls, or catch up with friends I haven't seen for far too long on the telephone.


The last day in Arizona, I was helping my Grandma out with some of the ins-and-outs of the digital world. We came along some old photos. Here's one of my favorites, from the late 1950s at Clear Lake, Minnesota.  

To Hab's 6th Grade Class at Orchard Elementary, I'm getting closer to my return! To the best of times, and those that will be.








Saturday, April 5, 2014

Life on the Nation's Capitol


So much about sports is the hard stuff, the hours spent running and roller skiing, the tiredness that seeps into the body from all the training, or the feelings of disappointment that can linger when one does not fully reach their potential in a competition. Fortunately, the Team USA visit to the White House is not like this. At all. The US Olympic Committee really takes care of the returning Olympians. I got flown in to the nation's capitol from Zurich, picked up at the airport, and ushered to a Hilton on the Virginia side of Washington D.C.


The first day in the Nation's Capitol, I was whisked away to Capitol Hill. It was fascinating to see the U.S. Congress in action.  While so many times it might not seem like the political system doesn't feel like it's working, I can tell you Senators Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Amy Kobluchar (D-Minn.) were operating at some of the highest levels I've seen in business or politics.

The Hill just hummed with the energy of efficiency and purpose. And what looked like the just about all the young, hungry, over-worked, under-paid interns in America. A peak into a different world, for sure.


Who knew walking the Senate halls I'd run into the moose.  Also interesting, every Capitol Hill member I met not-so-subtlety mentioned that on the close of the business week in DC they were on a plane back to their home constituents. Every week.


Another cool point of mention is how both Team USA and the Olympic movement is the respect of opportunities given to Paralympians. The Olympic movement prescribes to the Greek (and not English) meaning to the prefix para:  "at or to one side, beside, side by side." When you think about it, this is a refrain of the most beautiful quality. 

On April 7th, NBC will play the "Best of US" television special we filmed while on the White House visit. If you tune in, you'll get to hear paralympian downhiller Mark Bathum (pictured above) give an acceptance speech that should send shivers up your spine. I know it did mine.



For an American writer, I think the most revered recognition of your work would be to have your book in the Presidential library. Every book in there was written by an American, with the exception of the Qiran and the Bible. Maybe it was mostly the setting, but the book I most wanted to pick up off the shelves was one titled "The Making of an American." How can you not but wonder how you'd measure up? 


 I can think of no better ending to this large helping of patriotic words and images than to play for you a little video I put together for Mr. Haberberger's class following the conclusion of the Sochi Games:




                     "Never curb your enthusiasm. Put the whole of yourself into it." -Percy Cerutty

To the best of times. And those that will be. -Torin

Monday, March 24, 2014

Heading to the Bernese Alps: Swiss Nationals in Bex

With the weekend came the opportunity to see a little sliver of the globe I've never been to before, the French-speaking corner of Switzerland. This year the Swiss National Championships were in the very much mountain town of Leysin. I'm pretty sure one day I saw most the kids from primary school walk by for a ski day. Later that night, a group of locals were outside my hotel, putting climbing skins and heading out for a moonlight-and-headlamp alpine tour. The local ski club Bex also is home to two national cross country team members, Erwan Kaeser and Jovier Hediger. In Davos, Jovier lives in the flat right underneath the one I share with Bettina and Mauro.

The first day in Erwan and Jovier's hometown, the view of the multi-summited Dents du Midi was pretty spectacular.



This season, Jovier put up the fastest qualification time on the World Cup, and made a couple WC Finals. Racing on his home course, Erwan won his first national title - at the expense of me trying to take it from the gun before getting spun out from behind on one of the many corners of the mini X-Games like course. It was still a pretty great night of racing though, and I felt a decent satisfaction to stand on the podium with Erwan and Mauro Gruber. As a country, only Norway has more depth in men's sprinting than Switzerland (FIS points). It was also pretty cool, because though I was ineligible to take the medals or cash as a foreigner, later that night 4th place finisher Martin Jager gave me a Swiss Franc handshake, splitting half his prize money with me.

I'd trained a fair amount with Martin, his father waxes my skis when I race in Switzerland, and I have only have the upmost respect for the guy, but I thought this was really a classy move. Thank you Martin!

One day in Leysin, it was +17 Celsius, the other day bombing down snow. The weather in the mountains can be so unpredictable, it's like they are breathing in and exhaling their own high-altitude air. Somewhat surprisingly, both days I raced on the same pair of skis, a new pair of Rossignol X-iums with the white bases and a warm factory grind. When its high humidity, I am now definitely a believer in giving the harder base material a go. Now in addition to classic and skate, flex patterns, stone grinding, wax testing, testing the difference between base material will be a growing factor for racers going forward. The quiver of race skis just grew bigger.   My shoulder hurts just a little now, thinking of having to lug all those skis through train stations and airports in the future!


After the sprint, I raced the three-person relay for the Swiss Academic Ski Club  International team with Finland's Antti Peltonen (guess which ski company he uses...) and Russia's Evgeny Bogdanov. I was the anchor and had my best distance race of the year, bringing us from 11th to 4th, and put up 3rd fastest time of the day (or about 25 seconds back of Toni Livers) . It was a good feeling to have the motor running well again after a long and tiring illness caught at the Olympics. 







Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Engadin: In One Photo


I must say, a big congratulations to Tindli on the weekend at the largest skate race in the world, the Engadin Ski Marathon. Win the sprint on Friday night, then one step away from winning the Steinbock and putting your name in the record books.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Sochi 2014: In Pictures and Words



A photo with a little perspective: the flame is bigger than one man by himself.


It's a new day. But not like any new day. Now the Olympic Park in Sochi is probably much quieter, empty almost before the Para Olympians arrive in two weeks' time. The courses in the mountains no longer find themselves lined by cheering spectators.  Stadiums are no longer packed with fans. Days circled on the calendars from many of the best athletes on earth - certain days people have thought about and dreamt upon for probably the 1461 days since Vancouver - have came into the moment, and have now receded into our past.  I am sure I feel certain emotions that are hard to put into words. But I am very proud and humbled to have my fourth and final opportunity to represent Team USA in the Olympic arena as an athlete.

Lara Ski Complex in the Caucasus Mountains of Russia: my latest Mississippi River ride


In the end, I think we are all a bit like Huckleberry Finn. It just so happens that cross country skiing has been my raft and my friend Jim: the instigator of opportunity and adventure. Over these years, I have put what I believe is the whole of myself into this endeavor, full of emotion, sweat, and optimism. I've danced - literally - jigs of joy. I've also had a couple rough rides, as a cyclist friend of mine might say.

A man in the arena: T.J. Oshie on the 8th and deciding overtime penalty shootout try against Team Russia. 

It's kind of funny to look back from time-to-time with the perspective of time. One of very first Olympians I met was a biathlete who competed for the USA in Innsbruck in 1976. He gave me a book he penned. I don't remember much about the book, but I absolutely remember the Teddy Roosevelt quote that ran on the book's back cover. I loved that quote. I loved it so much I wrote it on the backside of my Trapper Keeper that next fall in school. The working title of the words by Mr. Roosevelt are In The Arena, same as the name of the orginazation that I write this blog for. I'm pretty sure this is more than mere coincidence.


Noelle, now that's what I call a jig of joy
In Sochi, I got to see my old track and field teammate at the University of Utah Noelle Pikus-Pace celebrate her silver medal for skeleton in Sochi's medals plaza.

Any color of medal is worth celebrating.

In Sochi, Bettina's best friend Selina Gasparin (right) also won silver that same night. Bettina got to be Selina's guest that night, all the way until Selina walked out on the stage to receive her medal. Bettina said its a memory she'll never forget. Two days later, Bettina would finish seventh. It didn't hurt her, I believe, to take in this night before stepping into the arena herself.


Every second counts: the first 15-hundredths of the women's 500M short track final.

Come and see, and I saw: Meeting people like Siim Sellis and Peeter Kummel of Estonia, spending some hours on the ski trails and rollerskis, chasing efficiency and efficacy are parts of the process of chasing the Olympic dream through four Olympiads is what I will remember most. The trial of miles, the miles of trials, and the friends that are with you along the way.


I guess today, the first day back from Sochi, might be a day of sadness. My third grade teacher wrote me on Martin Luther King Junior's birthday. She said I told the class that same day 25 years earlier that I had a dream, one that involved skiing and the Olympics and following in the footsteps of a man named Bill Koch. But instead of leaning back and looking through the rearview mirror, I'm going to take the words of my two favorite musicians, John Lee Hooker and Van Morrison to heart. Today is not a day to look back to the days of yesteryear. The day has come and gone. 

Final photo from my time in Sochi, following the Closing Ceremonies to the 2014 Games. 



To the best of times. And those that will be. -Torin

Monday, January 27, 2014

sometimes dreams unfold like this

If there was a soundtrack I'm trying to keep on repeat day after day, it's Ice Cube's It Was A Good Day. To re-hear those lyrics laid over or those silky smooth Isley Brothers inspired beats from Footsteps in the Dark press play.




After US Nationals in Soldier Hollow, Utah - the 2002 venue for cross-country, biathlon, and nordic combined non-jumping efforts - I headed back to Washington after a little send-off from my friends from the University of Utah back in Salt Lake City.

Salt Lake at sunset. Not enough snow in the mountains yet!


Getting back to Washington, even if it was for less than a week for the first time since August, felt good. Sometimes I really think back to the Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy clicks her heals three times and says, "There's no place like home." Because there really is no place like home.

One of the reasons to head to Washington was to visit my In The Arena class. I grew up with the teacher Carl Haberberger so it was especially cool to see how much of a command he had over the students. You could tell the kids respected him, and gave him as much attention as 6th graders could be expected to.

A much more digital classroom than I remember back in middle school!

The kids were pretty savvy with computers and technology. After I left, several of the kids sent me posters they made for a class assignment. Check them out. I particularly like the one that reads, "Torin Koos Olympics Beast." Hitting Beastmode on the trails of Sochi would be the culmination of a dream, for sure.





After a week filled with long but easy morning and evening training sessions, visits to Orchard Middle School, and mom's home cooking, I headed back to Switzerland. I cashed in the frequent flyer miles in a bit of blind faith that I would get the call to represent Team USA at the Sochi Olympics. And if I did get that call, I owed it to myself, to my supporters, and to those not chosen to the team to represent as best I can in Russia. For me, that meant getting back to a closer time zone as Russia, at a similar altitude, and with the opportunity to train with many of the athletes that I have all fall and winter, and that I will see in Sochi, now as part of the Swiss Olympic Team. 


Until the next time. 
                -Torin
















Sunday, January 12, 2014

Scenes and Stories from the Road: SoHo 2014 Edition

For the second year in a row, the USA cross country racing community descended upon the city of Midway, Utah and the SoHo 2002 Olympic trails for the US Championships. These four races were the last races to count for the selection of Team USA for the 2014 Sochi, the keenness and performance of the competitors was plenty high. Fortunately, it was a very big banner week for the athletes of In The Arena. Brian Gregg picked up (I believe) his first US Nationals podium. Sylvan Ellefson broke apart the 30km field and held on for his first US National title, Caitlin Gregg absolutely crushed the women's field (winning by 3:36) in the skate distance (in addition to two other podium finishes), and I picked up my eighth national title in the sprint discipline in winning the skate sprint. 

I'm sure there are plenty of stories from each of these performances, and I can't wait to read about what they all have to say about experiences.



Fortunately, in the skate sprint I was able to stay out of trouble, even with the tightly contested races on a very fast course. Here, I lead going into the final corner as Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess tries a risky slingshot from third position and trips himself up on the tails of my skis. My day started out with its own bit of misfortune, breaking a pole strap in the qualification round. I held on tight, and made sure I qualified. I knew after this that the rest of the day would go better.


The classic sprint day brought the convergence of two tropical storms to the west side of the Wasatch mountains. With fresh snow glazing throughout the day, I had a hard time making my skis work in the conditions and missed the A-final in a national classic sprint for the first time ever. It's a little dissapointing to end my racing days on the trails of Soldier Hollow this way -- though I know I put everything I had out on the race course, and the crew at Bridger Ski Foundation were working hard and pulling for Jennie Bender and myself to earn a trip to Sochi. I honestly think I have more kilometers racing on these trails than anyone, starting way back in 1999 with the University of Utah Utes, to the 2001 Pre-Olympics, the 2002 Olympics, a NCAA National Championship, and my four US National Championships here this week. As a skier, SoHo feels like the closest thing to my own Hayward Field of Fenway Park.


Now, I guess the Olympic waiting game begins. The USA cross-country contingent won't be named until January 22, 2014. If you want to read about how the team will be selected, you can find the official selection procedure here. It seems pretty complicated, so I won't even take a try at trying to explain it!




I am really looking forward to tomorrow, when I finally get to get back into the classroom with Mr. Haberberger's 5th graders on Monday. I'm interested to see what they have been up. I think I should have a few stories to tell them as well. I've been away from Washington for so long (almost four months) that getting back to the Evergreen state feels like, well, home.

Home. Almost.