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Jeff Bear column: Life lessons learned through running cross-country

In a fraction of a second I went from a full sprint to skidding across the ground — pea-sized gravel gashing my knees and elbows, turning them into strawberry crisp.

It was just a few seconds into the high school cross-country race in Sterling, and I’d sprinted near the front of the pack of over 100 runners before being tripped from behind.

Lying on the ground, my immediate worry was not about the race, my team or my skinned knees and elbows; I worried about the hundred or so runners behind me with half-inch spikes trying to avoid stepping on me.

Luckily, they all avoided me, but when I finally stood up, I was in last place with the pack sprinting away from me. I chased after them, because it was all I could do, and ended up finishing well in the race, albeit with blood running down my shins and forearms.

I’ve been tripped, fallen down and left skin and blood on the ground many times since that day, both literally and figuratively, but I’ve always stood up and gotten back in the race. It was one of many life lessons I learned from running cross-country.

Most nonrunners think distance runners train exclusively by running long distances, but as every competitive runner knows, the best way to improve is with a series of sprints called intervals.

In high school we had a drill that we did on the track where the coach would divide our team into two groups. The first group sprinted around the track one time, and when they approached the finish, the second group started. When that group approached the finish, the first group went again, and so on, until coach thought we’d had enough.

Life is like that, too — a series of intense efforts broken up by recovery breaks.

From kindergarten through college, we strengthen our minds with a series of short, sustained efforts divided by summer recovery breaks.

Every working day feels like a sustained effort followed by down time with family, or some kind of recreation with friends.

Many large life events, like moving, getting married and even having a child, require bursts of intense effort to achieve, and the relief of completing the task always feels like a well-deserved break.

Cross-country courses, at least in my time, were generally pieced together on school grounds, in parks or on golf courses. We ran on grass, dirt, gravel, down sidewalks and even across parking lots. Courses were hilly or flat, and autumn weather in Colorado, as everyone knows, can be unpredictable.

Every course, every race, was different, so they required different approaches, different mindsets, different expectations.

What worked on a windy, Fort Morgan golf course wasn’t the same as what worked on a rainy day in a Fort Collins park.

Life is a series of chapters — school, marriage, new jobs, new homes — and like cross-country courses, each one has its own set of challenges that require different approaches.

Another problem with cross-country courses is they sometimes have rough transitions from one part of the course to another, including rough ground, long weeds and even the aforementioned parking lot.

The trick is to keep momentum through the rough transitions.

Life if full of transitions: from child to adult, single to married, becoming a parent, youth to old age. Transitions are hard, and some people get stuck in the weeds, but maintaining momentum through transitions requires less effort than slowing down or stopping.

Like any endurance sport — cycling, swimming, skinning — you’re going to suffer if you want to compete as a distance runner. Everyone’s tolerance for pain is different, but the ability to push through it is one factor in separating the good runners from the great ones.

Everyone experiences times of suffering in life, whether with a health issue, a loss of employment or grieving the loss of a loved one. Pushing through those times makes us stronger, wiser and better able to deal with the next challenge.

Not all runners on a cross-country team are fast, but even slower runners perform better when paced by faster runners. On my high school team, we always made a point of pairing slower runners with faster ones in our training. Because of the way cross-country meets are scored, it helps to have everyone perform their best.

Not everyone is equally gifted at everything in life, but using the gifts we have to help, encourage and lift up those who are struggling makes the entire team better.

Make no mistake, we are all on the same team, and running in the same race, no matter how we look, act or sound to each other.

My high school’s motto was “All for one, and one for all.” I learned a lot of life lessons running high school cross-country, but that may have been the most important one of all.

Jeff Bear is a copy editor and newspaper page designer for Colorado Mountain News Media, and a longtime journalist in Colorado.

Vidakovich column: Demons vs. Sailors, 1971; a hoops season to remember

I bumped into Jim Nadon a few weeks back, and even though we hadn’t seen each other in several years, he skipped completely the usual pleasantries that almost always go along with spotting a familiar face, and jokingly let me know that he continued to be in a state of disbelief that I had not written a column yet about the epic 1971 Glenwood Demon basketball season, and the four unforgettable games that year with the Steamboat Sailors.

Jim, who has been a successful businessman in Glenwood Springs for many years, was a senior on the ’71 installment of that Demon team that defeated the Sailors three out of the four times that they met. But with both teams advancing to the state tournament in Denver in the spring, the Demons were relegated to the consolation bracket after an opening night loss to Highland Ault, while Steamboat would string together three consecutive wins to capture the class AA state championship.

Glenwood left the big city that weekend with a championship also, but it was a fifth place finish as winners of the consolation bracket after wins over Center and Denver Christian following that first-round defeat. Even some 50 years later, Jim still shakes his head at the thought of Steamboat taking away the gold basketball trophy that he thought rightfully belonged to the Demons.

Jim pointed out to me that the Sailors’ only losses that entire season came at the hands of Glenwood.

Glenwood had a talented group in 1971 with the likes of Kjell Mitchell, Kirk Lyons, Steve Hageman, John Courier, Jon Swartzendruber, Paul Samuelson, David Deane and Nadon leading the way. But Steamboat was no slouch, either. The Sailors had a solid backcourt trio, and a couple of giants up front in 6-foot-7 Chris Kearns and 6-foot-5 David Combs.

I was only in fourth grade that year, but with my brother Dick Vidakovich being a key reserve for the Demons, my parents towed me along to most every game and I was at each of the four Demon/Sailor collisions.

Three of those games were played in Glenwood, including a Monday night playoff to determine the Northwestern League champion, after both teams had beaten each other on their home court. The Demons won, and went on to win the district tournament the following weekend.

One telling point of those great games that I failed to point out to Jim was the fact that the three games played on the Demons’ home court were all down-to-the-wire affairs, while the Sailors, by a convincing count of 71-57, throttled Glenwood in Steamboat Springs. If they had played all four games on a neutral court that year, who knows what may have happened.

The Sailors got the final laugh, but one thing is for sure, those two teams in ’71 were two of the best I have ever seen around these parts, and the four games between the two rest in Demon lore as memorable to those who have been in Glenwood long enough to remember. They were both state championship caliber teams.

Thursday nights at the Glenwood Bowl

Jim Roy and his wife Dorlene will be leaving Glenwood in the coming months to retire in Florida. Jim’s parents, Walt and Bonnie Roy, were the owners of the old Glenwood Bowl located just south of town for many years.

I spent much of my childhood at the bowling alley watching my mom and dad on various leagues, especially my father’s Thursday night team of Don Miller, Corky Lyons, Marvin Meyers and Bob Jones.

Jim helped his parents run the bowling alley until its closure in the 1990s. An avid golfer, Jim has also been an integral part of the pro shop team at the Glenwood Golf Course for as long as I can remember. He will be missed by many.

Best of luck to you and Dorlene in your retirement, Jim. Thanks for the memories.

There will be a going away party for Jim and Dorlene this coming Saturday, Oct. 23, at the Glenwood Golf Course from 2-6 p.m.

Glenwood Springs native Mike Vidakovich is a freelance sports writer, teacher and youth sports coach. His column appears on occasion in the Post Independent and at PostIndependent.com.

On the fly: The season is upon us

Kenzie Loyd getting it done on the Colorado River. Photo Courtesy Shannon Outing

Fishing guides up and down the valley are getting ready. Just recently the Roaring Fork and Colorado Rivers are getting into floatable shape, and the summer fishing season is now underway. Although it is still high in volume, it is significantly clearing and dropping. We may have a few twitchy days in the next week when it gets hot, but everyone is back in business. With the low water year we are having, everything is a bit ahead of schedule these days.

Before you know it, it will also be time to break out the head lamp, dry shake and big H and L Variants to get after twilight green drakes and caddis on the freestones.So much is changing and improving on our rivers, it is hard to sleep at night. As most of you know, the Roaring Fork drake hatch gets going just as the sun is setting as it rolls its way up the Roaring Fork through the month of June and July. This can be “Zen” fishing at its finest, because the trout just keep on rising, even in the dark.

The Crystal River is still running high, but we will see it drop and clear over the coming weeks as well. If you head up this river in elevation, there should be better fishing conditions above Avalanche Creek. Caddis are the name of the game currently on the Fork and Colorado, but green drakes, pale morning duns, stoneflies and yellow sallies (smaller stoneflies) are on the horizon.

The crown jewel of the Roaring Fork Valley, the Fryingpan, has a comfortable summer flow of 140 cubic feet per second. Blue winged olives, caddis and midges are the hatch right now, and pale morning duns will be on the scene in no time. Green drake nymphs are prolific in this tailwater, and the San Juan Worm seems to be the favorite morsel of these (usually finicky) trout this week. The time for screwing around is over, folks. Get those leaky waders fixed and give your favorite guide a call. It’s on.

This report is provided every week by Taylor Creek Fly Shops in Aspen and Basalt. Taylor Creek can be reached at 970-927-4374 or TaylorCreek.com.