red line  THE AMPERSAND  red line

Bringing people together in a more personal, authentic way
than an ‘and’ could ever do.

Confessions of One Who Didn’t – The Ampersand February 2020

January 27, 2020

It takes three things to be the parent of a ski racer.  First, an acceptance of imminent financial ruin. Second, a willingness to drive more miles than Apollo 11.  Third, a degree in child psychology.


Though all parents of these young athletes are to be congratulated for their commitment to the sport, one species of parent has a particular advantage in this regard; those who themselves raced as kids, whom I shall call Those Who Did. They speak a language that non-racers — Those Who Didn’t — do not. Those Who Did carry themselves in a manner that Those Who Didn’t do not.  They wear their tuques differently; they carry their gear differently. And, they most assuredly ski differently (which is to say, much better) than Those Who Didn’t do.


Those Who Did are wonderful, engaged members of the FAST community. They are often alumnus. They do not consciously try to be different from, or better than, Those Who Didn’t. Yet, they bring a familiarity, a gait, and a racer’s confidence to each race, banquet, swap and social gathering that Those Who Didn’t do not.


It’s a curious dynamic being a One Who Didn’t, mid-life, somewhat successful (for one must have certain means to underwrite their child’s dreams) yet still longingly seeking the approval of Those Who Did. I’m sure it’s an equally challenging state of affairs for Those Who Did to demonstrate the necessary patience and gritting approval as they watch Those Who Didn’t try to slip a course or worse. No doubt this applies equally in minor hockey where Those Who Played share the arena with Those Who Did Not Play.


Alas, we are all parents and volunteers and it is that latter standing – the army of unpaid helpers — that unites Those Who Did and Those Who Didn’t; Those Who Played and Those Who Did Not Play. In my day job running an executive search firm we seek to build on behalf of our clients leadership teams who attain the highest common denominator of skill and ability. Volunteer roles seek quite the opposite, namely the confluence of willingness and time over ability and talent.


When skill and ability collide with willingness and time it can lead to a bit of a yard sale because most often, Those Who Didn’t have no clue. They are not thick. They were simply never told and know no better. So when a volunteer from the ranks of Those Who Didn’t mistakenly skis across the finish line of a course, between the timing posts (or whatever they’re called), as opposed to around them, it can be a rather humiliating experience for humiliation resides in the eyes, or the skis, of the beholder.


Or when One Who Didn’t tries futilely to carry a bundle of ski pants and jackets to the bottom of a course, but doesn’t know the proper technique (zip one jacket and stuff all the other gear into that jacket. You’re welcome.) leaving behind a trail of articles (and self-worth) they feel the stare of Those Who Did, whether it gazes upon them or not. Slipping a course in the wrong manner, not knowing a hairpin from a stivot or flat light from a false flat or a bibbo or a flip or a seed or a DSQ from a DNQ from a DFL! These can be stressful times for Those Who Didn’t. Mistakes not to be made twice but preferably, for all involved, never at all. But you should never look a gift horse – or a Volunteer Who Didn’t — in the mouth.


See, for Those Who Didn’t, you must understand that even the basic terminology of race day is confusing. To Those Who Didn’t, a Delay is what happens at an airport gate, rather than a ski gate. For Those Who Didn’t, Swingy is not a course set with lots of big turns but rather something residents of Discovery Ridge are rumoured to be when their garage doors are left slightly open.  For Those Who Didn’t, a Flush is when you hold 5 cards all of the same suit or something you do to a toilet not a vertical combination of gates designed to mix up the rhythm of a course.  And the backseat is where you made out with your first girlfriend and nothing more.


The trouble with this divide is that it matters not whether You Did or whether You Didn’t, for that classification is eclipsed by another more important moniker: You Volunteer.  For you see, in order for the races to occur, indeed for the very survival of FAST, volunteers must engage. And if Those Who Did become overly frustrated with Those Who Didn’t OR if Those Who Didn’t do not learn the basics of the trade opting to avoid the humiliation and ski the powder with everyone else, there will be, at best, two solitudes: one vying for the affection and approval of the other; the other wondering whether being in Junior High all over again is really worth the trouble; or at worst, a critical shortage of volunteers.


Keeping FAST thriving for many generations means creating a culture of inclusivity. To my untrained eye, traditional racing disciplines are in decline. Ski Cross, Freestyle and the like seem to be generally more popular than slalom, for example.  Just look at how the Winter X-Games have infiltrated the Olympic disciplines.


Undoubtedly, nostalgia feels good for Those Who Did but it doesn’t drive the bottom line and it doesn’t grow the club. Dilutive though it may be to the brand, if we want the FAST program to continue to expand and diversify, it needs to appeal more broadly to Those Who Did and Those Who Didn’t and, I dare say, Those Who Never Did (gasp, snowboarders!).  FAST has in its history produced exactly eight Canadian National Team members, out of the thousands of kids who have gone through the program. But among those thousands who didn’t reach the pinnacle of their sport, are thousands of amazing, safety-conscious, respectful skiers who are better for it because of FAST.  That, I submit, matters more than whether an 11-year old was in the backseat or a bit hooky in the flush.


At the end of the day, there’s actually more to it than an acceptance with going broke and a willingness to drive to the moon, and a degree in sports psychology.  The ties that bind all of us, Those Who Did and Those Who Didn’t and Those Who Never Did, is a love of skiing and a commitment to volunteering with each contributing in its own unique way, to the best of their ability, trying as hard as they can.  Just like the kids on course.


So next time you see One Who Didn’t inadvertently ski through the finish line or slip improperly or use the wrong end of the shovel, or next time you see One Who Did tuning their kid’s skis  between races or using words you don’t understand or getting to use a radio while you’re relegated to a rake, resist the urge to deride them for what They Are Not; rather, embrace them for what they are – a Volunteer.