The phone rang as we sat down to a late dinner. From the answering machine radiated easy tones. “Hey, Teddy and Roy, this is Peter Olenick. … Just thought I’d see if you were coming to up the X Games.”
Which was rhetorical, and just a kindness.
Teddy, 10, grabbed the phone while Roy, 7, who tells people earnestly, if erroneously, “Peter and Michael Olenick are our best friends!” jumped up and down, gasping.
Teddy assured Peter of our attendance, and passed the phone to Roy, who paled.
“Oh, having dinner,” he answered in a tiny flat voice. Pause.
Urged by our whispers, he wished Peter luck, and hung up, then reported: Peter had said, “That sounds good. I had brownies for my dinner.”
On Saturday, the X Games ski slopestyle event, the boys awoke in pitch dark. “It’s today!”
Peter, 19, from our town of Carbondale, had qualified two weeks beforehand, in Breckenridge, among 140 youths vying for the last four X Games slots. He smoked to second, and his brother, Michael, 17, nearly qualified with a strong sixth. In the official X Games program, printed earlier, the Breck entrants were four asterisks.
Peter and Michael grew up skiing here, and to this day “ski together every single minute they get,” says their mother, Molly Garland. Peter doesn’t smoke or drink. He hangs out a lot of Friday nights with his brother and his sister, Megan, 15, herself about to start competing. His hair was blue when he won Kick Aspen two years ago, and is scarlet now.
I used the X Games to my own ends.
“Roy, on Saturday your ski class might change. Your friends might not be in it this time. You need to accept that and not cry.”
“I won’t. I will cry.”
“Then you’re not going to the X Games to see Peter.”
“I won’t cry!”
On Saturday, while a stomping, yelling, poster-waving Carbondale contingent flocked the bleachers, my sons and two 9-year old friends remained at the finishing corral for five hours, leaving only when blowing snow delayed the event. They know the name of every aerial. They waved a poster that Teddy had made ” “Go Peter O!” ” all day. Roy had labored so many hours on his poster that when we got there, he refused to pull it from his backpack.
They were groupies, very short groupies. Every time Peter came down, or even neared their vicinity, they shouted his name as if for the first time. Though many people wanted his attention, he kept it up for all the kids, with yet another handshake, or a sweep of their raised hands.
With two assured runs, he made the finals field ” the top 10 ” in sixth.
Then, first run, he fell. His score was 17 out of a hundred. Yet mercifully ” and cannily, because then they go for it ” contestants start anew each run, with best-of-two scoring.
Next run, Peter stomped. He greased. Aerials smooth and easy, landings gentle. He skied the best run of his life.
You need confidence and momentum to go all out, and it’s hard to regain them after a fall; he credited a talk with his brother. Peter’s score was 93.33, the second-highest of the day, and his silver medal was the surprise of the day.
On the podium, on the Buttermilk slopes where he’d learned to ski at 20 months, he told the home crowd, “I’m here because of you.” Their cacophonous shouts had risen to the top of the course “perfectly” clearly.
He left the ceremony, thronged. The four boys swarmed him yet again.
“Guys, stop pestering him!” I said. My own two were soon to dissolve, into tired, pitched battle over who would get to tell Dad exactly which words of the news.
But in that moment, Peter looked down, smiled, dropped to his knees, and put his arms around them all.
” Alison Osius lives in Carbondale and can be reached at email@example.com (write GSPI as subject heading).
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