Last week I spent the day ripping around the mountain with my high school ski coach. It was a cold sunny day, and the snow slowly softened up, and we took turns following each other down the steep groomed slopes of our local resort. On the chairlift the conversational tangents bounced between reminiscing, catching up on friends and family and breaking down the current state of the US Ski Team.
Off the chair hunched over on our ski poles at the top of the mountain, I lost myself in our time together and marveled at his enthusiasm for seizing the day mixed with his passion for the topic of the moment and our mutual ability to consume the banter we shared.
As we pushed off to arc down the slope for yet another run, I lost myself in yesterday and remembered back to his coaching style that inspired me over 35 years ago. It was his passion for the sport, his ability to provide positive feedback, pinpoint my mistakes and motivate me to harness my go for broke approach to ski racing. And as I chased him down the hill run after run, there was one characteristic that kept coming back to me. He was a humble patient man that saw potential in others way before we saw it in ourselves.
Peter Gately, in the classroom, was my science teacher, on the slopes, he was my coach, and slowly in life, he became my mentor. His is a soft, gentle guiding voice of encouragement periodically through the years after graduation and well into my work life. His patience's and ability to accept me for where I was at and nudge me to move forward is something I’ll never be able to repay.
Coach Gately has high standards and even higher expectations for those he cares about. I never found those expectations or standards a burden; instead, they inspired me to match his intentions on and off the slopes. As a young ski racer from southern Massachusetts, I was a bit of a misfit racing against the kids in the northern woods of Maine. He found a way to get through to me, worked with my rough style brought me to the edge and then backed off just enough so I could stand up for two runs in a row. And throughout it, all taught me the lessons young men need to learn about manners, preparation, follow through and punctuality.
As the afternoon wore on and we went for one more run after one more run, I never tired of his company, the stories I had heard before or tales of the people from our past. Skiing with friends is like that; there is time and space in the mountains for repetition, laughers, memories, and dreams. It's a sport that pulls out emotions, breaks apart disappointments and glues together kindred spirits.
We could have been at any ski area that day; the weather would not have mattered, it was the company we were seeking, the shared experience of our past which manifested in the moment of the day.
Standing in the lift coral for yet one more run, l looked over and said, “You’re skiing great coach, soft on the edges, round in the arc and fast in the fall line.”
He smiled enjoying the compliment and then replied, "Thanks, it just took you a little over 35 years to finally get the advice I was telling you when you were stepping into the starting gate as a kid." And we laughed the whole way up the lift for that one last run.