The last race/competition/knock-myself-out-for-a- cause was a Team-In-Training marathon I ran about 8 years ago. I raised $3000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and ran the Mardi Gras Marathon in pre-Katrina New Orleans – the course was below sea level, totally flat, full of free strands of beads and beer-filled aid stations; all-in-all, my kind of race.
A life-long asthmatic, my goal for any aerobic athletic endeavor is simply to finish; breathing is my main objective and the competitive spirit is far from my personal finish line.
Dare I admit this in print? It took me over 5 hours to run 26.2 miles and nearly three days before I could once again walk with bent knees; some kind volunteer told me that I actually ran a harder race than, you know, the people who won because I was on the course much longer than, say, 90% of the runners. Nice fellow, that man sweeping up the last of the Mardi Gras beads around my ankles as I crossed the finish line.
Since 2003, there’s been much exercise, many athletic endeavors and even some volunteer work; but racing for a cause hasn’t come back across my radar. Until this weekend.
I read about Komen Aspen’s Ski for the Cure, slotted for Saturday, March 12. My sister had a bout of breast cancer, but early detection had paid off. My co-worker is a survivor, my friend a dedicated Komen volunteer; there were umpteen reasons to care, and skiing down Aspen Mountain for something greater than goggle tan sealed the deal. For my $40 entry fee, I’d receive a goody bag, and lunch (how I love lunch). There’d be an apres-party and an awards ceremony, with two grand prizes for team and individual: Most Vertical Feet Skied and Most Pink.
For the first time in my rarely competitive life, I saw an opening. A Likelihood. A distinct possibility of winning. I figured there would be some high-octane teams going for the most vertical feet skied so upon first consideration, I didn’t give much thought to how many high speed groomers we could charge down in 6 hours; but that other category? So, you’re sayin’ there’s a chance…
Remember that Barbara Mandrell song, “I Was Country, When Country Wasn’t Cool?” Well, there was a time –around the Alanis Morrisette years and before the singer Pink made it kind of hard-core– when pink was Misundaztood. Pink was the annoying kid sister who came over and asked you for lunch money when you were hanging with the in-crowd; pink was that prom photo you wish your mom would take off the mantel, 20 years later. There was a time when pink wasn’t cool.
But not in my book. I am pink’s best friend. I loved pink, when pi-iink wasn’t cool.
This competition was going down.
I sent an email blast to likely candidates. My friend Holly is a pink enthusiast, as well, never faltering in the wake of other, cooler colors. And apparently, my friend Heidi had but to turn the closet doorknob to find pink accessories from head to toe. I think Holly even caught Pretty in Pink on late-night TBS, the night before, surely a good omen of fashion statements to come.
We showed up race day, about three hours earlier than I ever like to hit the hill. 8:17 a.m. It amazes me that I live less than a mile from Aspen Mountain but it still takes me about as long to get to the gondola as it used to take to drive from Sacramento to Tahoe, in time for the first chair.
Registration booth at the Komen Aspen tent. A bevy of volunteers greeted us, excessively and inspirationally clad in pink; they thanked us for our participation and explained the race layout: 35 points for every gondola lap; 25 points for Ruthie’s; 15 points for Ajax Express and 10 points for every education station stop. We’d get our passports stamped at the base of each lift and at each education station.
To combat my pre-mature awakening, I’d had a press-pot of coffee at home and another delicious cup of complimentary Aspen Mountain Joe while waiting for my friends and, suffice it to say, I was a tad amped i.e. over-caffeinated. I became very official about our regulation pink, instructing Heidi to put on my pink neck gator and my pink ski hat; the whole black vest just wasn’t cutting it for me. And get your boots on. Come on, let’s go!
Silver Queen Gondola. 9:07 a.m. Still no neck gator on Heidi! Are you in, or are you out? Heidi shot me a look and dangled the neck gator in front of me, while Holly chuckled, remarking that she’d never seen this competitive side of me. “Do I have enough pink on?” she inquired, with a smirk.
Blinded by her neon pink jacket, I started to laugh. I apologized for my overzealous caffeine consumption as we decided I had about half a press pot to burn before I’d mellow out, or be thrown from the gondola; whichever came first.
But mellow was not to be.
After about three laps, we had a realization. It was a lovely, 35-degree day, with fresh corduroy on the slopes and high speed groomers (HSGs) on the agenda. We ski often and we ski pretty fast, when need be, and currently, we were going around Mach 9 (in control, of course) through Spar Gulch, down Copper, around Kleenex Corner, racking up passport stamps and not seeing much in the way of pink competition around us.
Could we possibly win Most Vertical Feet Skied?
We knew the Most Pink category was subjective, could turn into an ice-skating judge situation at any juncture – but most vertical feet? After an hour of HSGs, my caffeinated disposition had stabilized, but upon realizing we could win in a whole different category, Heidi’s competitive edge shifted into overdrive.
It was decided. We had to get more stamps.
We regrouped at Ajax Express, to gather a game plan. Heidi skidded to a halt with a frantic double pole plant; shoulders hunched forward, light pink neck gator twisted around hot pink Hawaiian shirt collar and a frenzied look on her face. “Why are we stopping?” she demanded. “Let’s go!”
“Nice gator Heids,” I said, raising my eyebrows. “Lookin’ good.”
We laughed; but for only 2 seconds. She pointed down the hill with her pole basket. “Let’s go!”
We tried to nail down the best approach. Gondola rides with education stations at the top and bottom? Heidi informed us that would give us 55 points each time. Maybe an Ajax Express, then Ruthie’s, since we were on the mountain already, said Holly? Ruthie’s laps for 25 points, over and over. I timed the chair ride. They were impressed. I suggested this might be the way to go.
But after our first lap down Ruthie’s, the ultimate HSG, we were a tad daunted. We weren’t wearing the right pair of boards for skiing the speed of sound. Our big shaped skis were chattering like crazy, and there was the added challenge of having to avoid other skiers. Maybe Ruthie’s, over and over, wasn’t the best bet; I observed that taking someone out might actually slow us down, what with the on-mountain incident report, having to apologize, yadda yadda yadda. I was starting to feel like Tanya Harding, frothing over Nancy Kerrigan’s kneecaps.
Ok. Maybe just a couple more.
Third run down Ruthie’s, there was a slew of other skiers carving down the slope, you know the kind: there to have a good time, ski at their own pace, smile, maybe make a turn or two along the way. Get your own slope! We need more stamps!
We didn’t have the nerves for Ruthie’s, over and over. Too much chatter, too many targets – I mean people – not enough slope. And someone had to go to the bathroom.
Sigh. Ok. Back to the Sundeck, group bathroom stop. But no primping and putting on more pink lip gloss.
Jumping back on the gondola, we slumped against the glass, relaxing into a much needed break from the manic little world we’d created. I stretched my legs and looked around, truly taking in the extent of our pinkness.
Holly’s neon jacket was borrowed from a co-worker and could not be topped, really. My pink ski pants had come out of retirement for the occasion, and I had pink sunglasses to go with my pink goggles. I told the girls I could put my head through my hot-pink scarf. Wanna see? Much to their horror, I disappeared from view for an uncomfortable second or two, only to re-emerge in a sea of pink, my neck swallowed by a chenille boa constrictor.
Over her silver ski jacket, Heidi wore a hand-knit light pink poncho. As she tore down the slopes, the poncho whirled around her and behind her and tugged in the wind; think Little Old Lady from Pasadena. At the moment, she looked decidedly geometric, the poncho splayed out across her body like a playing card. She called her boyfriend and told him to meet us at the top with the hot pink gloves…in seven minutes. Be there! No time to wait!
We did stop, however, at the education tent and tried to focus on the questions, vs. the gold stars we’d receive for stopping. A spin of the question wheel and we were off. Whole grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables – four food groups for healthy living. What are the two biggest risk factors? Being a woman, and getting older. Both factors seem rather unavoidable, so early detection is key; mammograms starting as early as 35, clinical exams at least every three years ages 20-39 and every year after age 40; self-exams all the while.
BBQ lunch was cooking at Buckhorn Cabin – to stop or not to stop? Maybe they could deliver it to us on the gondola? I hate to miss a meal, so we decided to stop; but not to chew. It was the best three bite burger I’ve ever eaten. Our chef looked dashing in a pink ski hat with furry pink ear flaps, flipping burgers and twirling dogs and detaining our fellow contestants while we wolfed our food down. I suggested Veggie Burger Clif Shots next year, for efficient time management.
We’d seen a few pink streamers tied to helmets and a group of pink boas and a couple of mauve fairy wings – but other than that, we hadn’t noticed many organized pink posses.
Holly suggested there might be some secret agent teams, not wearing pink, strictly there to rack up Vert and stay under the radar till the 3 o’clock closing bell. That really lit a fire under Heidi’s poncho.
We intercepted the pink gloves at the top of the gondi, and boyfriend Bob – not in pink – joined us. She told him he had to sit on his own chair.
The laughter continued. We met up with potential Tuscadero Sarah, donning a pink jacket and really, just there for morale at that point. She’d thought about jumping in half-way, around 12:30, but points were averaged from total team members and the whole day’s performance; we didn’t want a Blue from Old School situation on our hands, so we had to take her off the roster. She understood, of course, and served as pace setter and support crew, racing down ahead of us in a flash of magenta, just the shot of new pink blood we needed.
We were slap happy by 1:30; we don’t usually ski 9-3, without stopping, much less ever ski 9-3.
That’s a lot of HSGs in 6 hours.
Next gondola ride, my pink boa constrictor found its way onto my head and around my helmet, in a fuzzy, new-fandangled hot pink Burka sort of fashion. I tucked it into my pink goggle strap and tried to ski down with it wrapped around my neck and helmet, hoping the headdress effect would withstand the gusts of wind and spray of snow in the wake of my chattering twin tips.
Someone whistled from the chair. Catcalls chimed across the catwalk. A mother yanked her child off the slope. Maybe we could win for Most Alarming?
Seven hours of laughter later, counting boot buckling and barking about regulation pink neck gators, we skied to the edge our last HSG. “Well, that’s the most fun I’ve ever had for $40, I’ll tell ya that much,” said Heidi, laughing, rearranging her poncho for the final descent.
2:52 p.m. Scorecards collected at 3p.m. We sauntered over to the Sky Hotel to turn in our tallies, making sure that all three Pinky Tuscaderos were present and accounted for. We confirmed that Sarah has been booted from the roster – but not from our hearts – and headed to the balcony to soak up the last of the day’s sunshine, and bask in the residual warmth of our efforts.
Time for awards! I asked Heidi if she had a speech prepared: (“I’d like to thank Bob, for bringing the pink gloves; and Jamie, for keeping my pink game TIGHT; and…”)
“The prize for the Most Pink Individual, goes to…Holly…Borne..meier!”
Holly won! She won! Just when we thought she couldn’t get anymore fashionable, she won this amazingly hip, decidedly un-pink Jet Set jacket, something we’d ooh and ahh over for years to come. The neon pink jacket and hot pink pants had indeed made an imprint upon both the white snow, and the judges’ fashion-conscious sensibilities.
And now, for the next category; turns out, Most Vertical Feet Skied was actually Most Points Gathered, the right combination of lifts and runs to tally the winning total. We’d miscalculated. The Pinky Tuscaderos came in third, 5 points behind Team Number 2, and 40 points away from first place.
We’d skied as fast and furiously and consistently as we could, without killing anyone, chewing any food or losing any pink neck gators. Next year, no bathroom breaks. And no water stops. Or maybe we’d just have to brave Ruthie’s, over and over, race skis on and people – I mean targets – be damned.
I’ll admit it. I was disappointed. I tore up my acceptance speech mental notecards: (“I’d like to thank Barbie’s Dream House, and Frenchy from the Pink Ladies, and cotton candy and bubble gum ice cream, and Speed Racer, for the inspiration…”), and put my arm around Holly and her new jacket.
I promised her I’d do extra yoga the next day, just to be safe, and maybe have just half a Press Pot in the morning, if I was still grappling with our close brush with victory.
I’d enjoyed a ridiculously good time with some of my best friends in the world, found a perfect excuse to ski groomers all day, spent six hours in the beautiful springtime sunshine and applied my overall best self to a wholly worthy cause.
And I learned I have a competitive streak. Who knew? Next year, pink speed-suits. And go-go boots. And our own private HSG.