Cummings: A Great Tradition

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(Host) From the European immigrants who brought Nordic skiing to this
country to Vermont legends like John Caldwell and Bill Koch, today’s
Vermont teens competing on the national and international level are part
of a long tradition. Writer and commentator Dede Cummings is a
volunteer instructor.

The Vermont State Junior Nordic Team won the New England Championships
last weekend in the J2 or younger skier category. Plus, the New England
Junior National Cross Country Ski Team – made up mostly of Vermonters –
is competing in Fairbanks, Alaska this weekend. And all this reminds me
of how one young competitor got his start one winter afternoon six years

The Brattleboro Outing Club was deserted, the summer golf
club shuttered, and the small pro shop cabin taken over by zealous cross
country ski members, who had signed me up to volunteer as a ski
instructor for elementary school children.

My newly relocated
niece and nephew were with me. The little girl stopped in her tracks,
exclaiming, "We didn’t have any snow in Florida!" – then promptly tilted
her head back to catch snow flakes in her mouth, now utterly distracted
from the lesson at hand.

I did manage to teach them some basics
like the kick and the glide. And I spoke enthusiastically about the way
you feel when everything synchs up; when your body achieves that
perfect moment of balance and control.

I also told them that if
they ever got lost in the Vermont woods they could find their way home
by following a stream, since it would most likely lead to a river, and
rivers in turn, usually lead to a village originally settled near the
river. "Follow the stream bed," I said, "and carry your skis."

nodded – and a few minutes later my nephew had taken off. At age eight,
his body was already long and lean, his legs fluid with the strength of
an athlete, his head steady and determined.

Now fast forward to
a recent afternoon at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, a time-honored
Nordic and rowing center, near Hardwick and Wolcott. I’d driven my
diesel Volkswagen on winding roads through farming country – every turn
yielding a new surprise – silos in silhouette, cows huddled around a
steaming bale of hay, and the outline of an antique tractor frame
looking for all the world like a spider in the snow.

My nephew
was competing that day so I parked and walked to where I could watch him
glide to the gate. I yelled his name and he gave me a quick nod – just a
flick of his head – and a look of pure intensity – one I recognized
from all those years ago. Then he powered out of the gate, leaving a
spray of snow in his wake.

I stood there, stunned with the
thought that only comes when you know that you’ve given someone a
priceless gift. Then another team member’s mother standing next to me
said, "Wow, you must be happy about that start!"

I was. And I
was also proud of this boy, who at age 14 could qualify for the Vermont
State team, compete with such fierce determination – and become part of a
great Vermont tradition.

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