Common Ground |

Common Ground

With few exceptions, when you return home from your vacation you may not remember their names. Todd was an exception.

Whether tourist or local you may come to expect the services they render as ordinary or expected. Todd’s service was anything but ordinary. He was an exceptional river guide and ski instructor.

Though their lifestyles may seem romantic, you wouldn’t consider making their often low-paying seasonal jobs a career path for yourself.

You won’t find their jobs in any college catalog, though many have degrees. Most are experts who love what they do.

They may serve as outfitters in the backcountry on a hunting trip or river guides through the whitewater rapids, and city slickers should never think of venturing onto public lands without their services. Some who have tried didn’t survive their adventure.

Their nicknames may seem cute or quaint but not something you would name your kid.

Toad? You heard right: Toad. It fit. OK? It sure as heck wouldn’t for anyone else.

Most of those people he served never knew his real name, Todd Olson.

If you think of yourself as a local legend you may not care or notice how others admire your competition. Toad’s antics were legendary and his admirers were legion.

But he didn’t do what he did to compete with anyone. No one else could come close to imitating his unique child-like personality. He was the real thing.

He was a kid at heart. That’s why he was successful as a kid’s ski instructor at Buttermilk resort. Kids loved him. But they weren’t the only ones.

The community responded in April with a benefit for Toad. At that time Buttermilk Ski School Kid’s Supervisor Andy Hanson said, “This is a guy who has given his life to children; let’s give something back.”

When Toad succumbed to leukemia I was out of town and didn’t find out until a couple of weeks later. It hit me hard. He was only 51.

I was told that Toad had Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML) way back in 1999. Thinking he was in remission, my mind didn’t fully grasp that the slowing progressing cancer might be winning.

Being a cancer patient since that time has made me more aware. Unfortunately, Toad’s chemotherapy treatments didn’t work, and he was unable to have a bone marrow transplant from his sister.

I’ll remember Toad from the raft trips my family has taken over the years with the company he worked for as a river guide.

Whenever relatives came to town we would go with them rafting. Though we usually requested another guide who is a close friend, I would have trusted our lives to Toad’s river skills.

The laughter from his jokes was an added benefit.

There is one thing you can do for folks like Toad when you are lucky enough to have them take care of you. Since you couldn’t afford to pay them what they’re really worth, leave a hefty tip to show your gratitude.

Think of Toad when you do.

Writing from 25 years of experience in federal land management agencies, Bill Kight, of Glenwood Springs, shares his stories with readers every other week.

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