Saturday, October 6, 2018

Writing Workout

US Ski & Snowboard High Performance Athletes... and the Professor
Click photo to enlarge
Back in September I conducted a workshop with the athletes at the US Ski & Snowboard High Performance Center at Carrabassett Valley Academy, Sugarloaf/USA. They have a fabulous workout facility. The academy's media person wrote a blog post about my visit that included my follow-up letter to the athletes and coaches. That blog post can be found here.

Several years earlier, I came to CVA to interview and then conduct a research project on Sam Morse, a skier who had kept notebooks on his skiing since early elementary school. Now a member of the US Ski Team, Sam explains how writing in his notebooks helps his ski racing:  
Silver Medal at World Championships 

"Writing for me is a way to process what is buzzing around in my head. When I put my thoughts on paper I begin to see things more clearly. Lately I have been writing a lot about ski technique and how I feel each day when I try new things in training. This process of writing down what I am experiencing has some times opened new doors in my mind of the way to do something. When I say 'something,' I am talking about the nit and gritty of ski racing technique and tactics. Recently over the past few months I have written a lot about the development of the top of the turn. I have been looking back at my writing and trying to use the things that work to try to make myself a faster ski racer."    Sam Morse, US Ski Team, CVA Alum 

New Book

My colleague and friend Ken Martin and I have been working on The Golfer's Workbook for the past year. It's based on years of golf research as well as the training logs, notebooks, and journals of world-class athletes. The Golfer's Workbook provides a variety of reflective writing activities that can optimize a golfer's performance. Writing in this workbook will develop a golfer's thinking, learning, and play. 
Ken and I received a lot of thoughtful feedback over the past year from Suzie Cary, Staci Creech, Rob Kent, Hilary Martin, Todd McKinley, Niles Parker, Kenneth P. Trevett, and Torrey Viger. Our thanks to each.

Talk about a blogging slacker... I've been spending all my time with social media such as Facebook and Insta. I neglect Blogger because it's cumbersome as compared to the other sites. Nevertheless, I'll try to commit more time to this platform.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Maggie's Room

Our Maggie
Here's the big news from Pam and Fred... A portion of Maggie's estate has been given to the camp to build a new bedroom on the back porch of the Edwards' camp and to put new pine wood in the other back bedroom. Ultimately, the two bedrooms will look like Aunt Barbie's room in the front of the camp; the rooms will also have new windows (that actually go up and down!) plus new mattresses. In addition, Pam and Fred are dedicating more of the estate funds for new windows on the front porch of the Edwards!

This summer, we'll raise a glass in celebration of our Maggie and her room in the Edwards' Camp. Thanks, Pam and Fred!

Talking room and wood and technical stuff. 

Gorgeous day in Weld. 

Here's the wood that will go on the walls. 

Here's the dogs keeping an eye on the work in progress. 

From inside Edwards' camp; note the door that will lead into Maggie's Room. 

Pam & Fred on a union contracted break. 

Maggie's Room Construction Site. 

Friday, October 20, 2017

Remembering Derek

That Championship Season: Remembering Derek

Derek led our high school team to the Maine Class A Cross-Country Ski Championship in 1989. Audacious as a racer, he lived for the tree-lined ski trails and the battles waged with teammates and friends. As a teenager, Derek wore large-framed aviator eyeglasses and the easiest smile on the planet Earth. No matter your tribe in school, he welcomed every-anyone into his.

 As his high school ski coach, I watched Derek devour lung-searing climbs and let loose on the squirrely down hills of our racecourse here in Rumford. Fearless, he craved speed and sought it out on every snowy corner of the trail. The son of a ski coach, Derek trained with a singular focus and on race day slipped with practiced ease into the racer’s zone. No matter the result, he remained balanced.

The last time I saw Derek, he waved and called out, “Hey, coach!” from behind a Plexiglas window in one of a dozen race officials’ cabins dotting our local cross-country trail. As a volunteer official for the Chisholm Ski Club, he monitored ski racers as they sped around the course. Just as I was about to poke my head through the cabin’s door to say hello, a pack of skiers crested the hill and flew toward Derek’s roost.

“Have a good one!” I shouted. He nodded and began checking off racers’ numbers as I trekked toward the notorious High School Hill.

I remember wax sessions the night before big ski races. Derek’s dad, Herbie, and a squad of other helpful dads came to my home to prepare skis. Waxing benches lined the basement; a cloud of blue-white smoke blanketed the rafters as the fathers painstakingly pressed cakes of speed wax onto warm irons while their kids talked about the race. Hot wax dripped in beads, then threads, along the bottom of the skis; laughter mixed with the tinny music from my beat-up boom box. It’s a ritual that ski racers like Derek savored and knew well.

During that championship season, Derek was everything a senior leader should be. But it wasn’t a cakewalk. Eric Boucher, a sophomore highflier on our team, clipped Derek’s heels throughout the season. The 10th grader landed seconds behind Derek in an early-season race, but that result only served as motivation for the senior. In the state championship meet at Fryeburg Academy, Derek’s sound technique and racehorse engine kept his young teammate and most of the competition at bay. Our senior captain took the silver medal behind future Olympian, Marcus Nash.

I have a ski room that sits between my barn and rambling Victorian; it’s part mudroom, fireside lounge, and ski museum. Framed photographs, posters, and newspaper clippings from my teams hang on the white-pine walls. There’s also a cherished shot of the Kent brothers in April of 1981 at the summit of California’s Squaw Valley. In a shadowy corner of this room, hanging above an ageless stereo, a photo of the 1989 titleholders hangs along side their state championship plaque.

The team picture was taken at Capponi’s, a local photography studio. The six boys wore white turtlenecks beneath gray team parkas stitched with “Rumford Skiing” on the left front. I’m in the back row center wearing a favorite training top. To my left, Derek wears his trademark aviator glasses and that winning smile; Scott Marchildon is on my right sporting the 1950’s look: a crew cut and the etched jawline of an athlete, the son of a Marine. In the front row, seated left to right, include Kevin Charleston, Aric Beane, Eric Boucher, and Jon Sassi. Aric and Eric hold the state plaque.

On occasion, I’ll stop to look at the team photo as I walk through the ski room to grab a bag of pellets for my stove. I smirk at the boys’ happy faces, and my own, as I think of the picture’s backstory: two of the guys were late for our sitting and I was not happy. (My former athletes know the look.) But you could never tell by our smiles.

Looking at this photo, it’s easy for me to scroll back 28 sudden years. I have a clear memory of these boys warming up for a race at Black Mountain. They’re skiing as a team, in a long line near the snow pond. Derek leads the pack. They match strides, mirroring one another in a technique known as the V-2. Their skiing exudes confidence, built on endless kilometers of technique work, years of racing, and hour upon hour of road skiing up on Beliveau Road on sizzling summer days. As my team loops through the stadium, junior skiers stare at the Rumford boys admiring their precision and strength. 

These days, Kevin is a high school science teacher. He coaches skiing and golf at a small New Hampshire school surrounded by mountains. Derek’s archrival, Eric, recently opened a martial arts studio in Michigan. He’s the quintessential competitor, so I’m sure he inspires his young athletes. After years as a college administrator, Scott moved on to become chief development officer for our state’s public broadcasting network. He’s still fit from competing in triathlons and chasing his two girls.

A year after our championship, following several months in a coma, Jon died on a sweltering July day as the result of a car accident. Over a 10-year period following his death, we raised thousands of dollars by hosting Jon’s Tournament, a fun-filled community soccer festival. The proceeds still help River Valley graduates with college expenses. In 2006, soft-spoken Aric died in a plane crash on the edge of Denali National Park in his adopted state of Alaska. Father to Kaylea Rhae, who loves to fish like her dad, and husband to Crystal, his adventurous partner, Aric had been doing what he loved, hunting in the Alaskan wild with friends.

Now, when I look at this photo, I still see fresh-faced teenagers, teammates, and champions.

This spring, months after searching for Derek with his family and friends, I went up to Black Mountain to hike the cross-country trail and the alpine slopes. It’s a yearly ritual I’ve established. When I got to the course control building where I last saw Derek, I felt compelled to stop. I nudged open the door. On the wooden counter, a scratch of paper lay next to a pencil stub. Part of me hoped to find something more. From there, I jogged the sweeping right-hand turn to the bottom of High School Hill and an image of Derek, midrace, that has survived the past 28 ski seasons.

He glides through the transition of the hill. His mouth forms an O as he draws one steady breath and steps into the climb. Within 20 meters, the steepness of the trail is in his face and he’s established a rhythm. Shoulders square, eyes focusing up the trail. Great climbers stay within themselves on a cross-country trail; they reach for speed, maintain their composure, and stay balanced. That’s Derek. 

Halfway up High School Hill on the right-hand side, lines of bell-clanging spectators cheer him, this coach’s son who has spent his young life skiing these trails. Three-quarters of the way up, where the trail drifts gently to the left, a half dozen junior ski racers stand with their young coach. They’ve come to watch the “big kids” take on this legendary climb. It’s what I used to do with Derek and his teammates when our ski club hosted college races. I imagine this young coach’s words as Derek flies by: “Watch his hands. See how he steps up and seeks speed!”

Cowbells clang.

Spectators chant: Hiya-Hiya, UpUpUp.

This hillside chorus provides rhythm for Derek’s strides as he crests the hilltop and turns toward the finish.

He’s out of sight now, heading home, but the memory of this graceful champion will stay with those young racers, and all of us. I have no doubt that those kids wanted to be Derek, or any member of the 1989 team. And why not. They could do no better as skiers or as people.

Godspeed, Derek.

1989 Maine State XC Champions

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Maine Writing Project 20th Anniversary

For ten years, I directed the Maine Writing Project, a site of the National Writing Project. Once I left as the longest serving director, I was awarded director emeritus status. I thought the title would be cool to use in bio's on books and thereby might bring some small notoriety to MWP.  This past June we held our 20th anniversary celebration.

My job for the anniversary was to arrange a slide show. The other directors gave 10-minute Ted Talks, but my anxiety level over such performances made the slideshow a perfect alternative to presenting. I just didn't know it'd take 30+ hours to put together the show. Holy flying cows that was a tedious assignment.

The bets time was seeing my friends Tanya Baker and Mary Moreau. Tanya worked with me at UMaine for a few years until she headed off to the main office of the National Writing Project where she now serves a national director of programs. Mary was one of my writing group members during our first summer institute in 1997.

Unknown to me, MWP published a journal in celebration of the 20th and dedicated it to me. That was very kind and the kind of quiet celebration of my work as director that I appreciate.

Friends Maureen and Anne

Janet and Tanya


Mary and Rich

Jeff and Tanya 

MWP journal 



Arranging a Life

The past few weeks the house has been busy with former exchange students and their families. We ate a lot, traveled here and there, climbed this mountain and that one, took time on the beach at Weld, spoke about times past and what's to come... just like families do. Funny how a life unfolds.

Alex Saurer from Germany spent his last week in America with Bailey and me. He and his host family had an issue, and--well--he ended up with me. At the same time, Jose's brother Miguel and his two fabulous kids spent a week at camp. They had the best time. Alex and Miguel enjoyed a kayak trip together while read to the kids in Barbara's Garden.
Rich reading to Miguel's children (click to enlarge) 

Next came the Szeps' brothers. Singer Alex (Sweden 2008-09) and twin brother, Dr. Jonathan, hiked and trained and ate and visited and trained some more. They ended their journey with Denny and Jen and Morgan in the Boston area. I think they had the best time.


Jonathan & Alex

Day is done at Weld

Alex and Jonathan 

Last but far from least, the Wagners visited with William (Denmark 2015-16) and his twin brother Freddy. These folks are the most laid back and fun people. Each morning, Kenneth and I would hold court in the kitchen over coffee. Then, the adventures of travel and hiking and beach time and dinners took over. I can't wait to visit them in Denmark just outside of Copenhagen (where they also have a small apartment that I have been invited to use).

Alex, Jonathan, William, and Fredrik
Kenneth christening the new porch
Bailey and Rich on Blueberry Mountain

 What a good time we all had. The day after everyone left, Simon (Denmark 2011-12) wrote and asked if he could visit in October during his university break. I'm guess he saw the pictures of Bailey and the other visitors and wanted a piece of the action. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Life with a 111-year-old house

It never ends. Life with a 111-year-old house. Dry rot. But then you get a guy like Billy Porter who knows how to work and two-and-a-half hours later, we're on our way to a new porch.

Billy Porter--the man, the legend
Getting there... 

The 4th... Firecrackers... Smell of smoke

Bailey's been freaked by the fireworks of the 4th and recently by the smoke that permeates our home from people's backyard fires. Last night, he sat next to my bed panting until 3:30 a.m. I pet him, took him out, and massaged him. Finally, I gave in and let him get up on my bed. He fell asleep. I spoke with brother Fred this morning, and he said fear of fireworks and the smell of smoke cam trigger anxiety. Who knew? I felt bad for the pup; I also felt bad for me this morning trying to get rolling at 6 a.m.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

And it's a wrap...

Finally, the writing center book is finished and the cover has been finalized. This book, like no other, has been a battle. I learned a lot of lessons from writing this piece, from organization to fighting the tedious back and forth with informants. While writing, I was reminded of the late Donald Murray's words at the beginning of his chapter in my book Teaching the Neglected R. Murray wrote, "One of the many gifts of the writing craft is that our apprenticeship never ends." True that.

Click on photos to enlarge