During the winter of 2010, I was lucky enough to call Park City, Utah home. It was the year America fielded its biggest Winter Olympic squad to date, and, after bringing home 37 medals from Vancouver, its most successful.
Park City, the host of the 2002 Winter Olympics, better known as the “Roots beret games”, is permanent home to many current and former athletes who found the more than 400 miles of trails, the towering peaks of the Wasatch and endless Aplenglow afternoons too irresistible to leave behind. The former mining town is also an incubator for today’s and future Olympians. Some are progeny of the stars of yesteryear, and some, quite simply, are blessed with being born at the right place with right drive.
Parkites can find comfort in knowing the rest of America is all in with wintersport as much as they are thus far. An estimated 33 million American households tuned to watch Friday’s opening ceremonies (a record) and caught a glimpse of reinvented Russia.
Over the next dozen days, we will learn again of obscure sports that fall off our collective radar but for four short weeks a decade: By the end of this Russian winter, everyone at work will have declared themselves eligible for a career in curling, become keen judges in tenth-of-a-point deductions for heavy landings in the pairs skate, analyze with an engineer’s precision the second-shaving last-minute adjustments to the bobsled and marvel at the otherworldly VO2 max of a Nordic skier. Don’t even bother stopping by the water cooler if you can’t talk double corks, triple salchows and quad sleds.
And then it goes away.
Well, everywhere but Park City.
As the studio lights dim and Bob Costas goes back into his hyperbolic chamber to restock his quiver of decades-old pop culture references for the length of another presidential term, the athletes return home and go back to work. A lucky few will have made enough Visa money to subsist for a few years. Most, however, will pack away their ugly opening ceremonies sweaters to find themselves mortal once more — staring at Excel cells, managing a retail store or scheduling appointments at a physical therapist’s office.
I recall about two weeks after the Vancouver Games were over, there was a lull in Park City. Maybe that collective sigh was the realization for some that it was over. Maybe it was the quiet of recovery.
One night around this time, as I was taking my dog for his evening cordial and last potty break before bed, a light snow began to fall. A rustle from the nearby woods spooked him out of my hands and into the night. A border collie, he had a good homing instinct, but that night as the stars disappeared behind an unforgiving blanket of gray and the snow grew heavier, he was nowhere to be found.
An all-nighter searching the roads and trails of Park City for any sign of the beloved Kip ensued. By daybreak there was three feet of new snow on the ground and no sign of the black an white pup’s paw prints in it. He surely met his fate. It could’ve been a coyote or a moose. It could’ve been that he tried to play chicken with the semis rumbling down nearby I-80 toward Salt Lake City, the most treacherous and steepest stretch of road in the US. Or maybe he just vanished in the storm as dogs sadly do in mountain towns.
Depleted, but not completely defeated, I headed mid-morning to the store to buy duct tape to post some missing dog signs. Missing dog signs in Park City the morning after the storm are as commonplace as Wanted signs in 1881 Tombstone. Sadly, many stay up till they wither and blow away.
The checker took one look at me and my stack of fliers and cast an empathetic glance.
“Lost this guy in the storm,” I said producing the picture. “So. You know. Fliers.”
I showed her Kip’s headshot, a particularly sympathetic look in his brown rescue-dog eyes. The checker nodded her head and a smile crept across her face.
“Hold on here for a second.”
She flicked her station’s light off and went into the back of the store. Presently, she returned with a dog whose matted coat resembled truck stop motel carpeting. There was a cut on his leg and his docked tail shook his whole body from his backside to his ears.
“Is this the same dog in your picture?”
It was. Kip the scavenger had found shelter from the storm in a doggie version of an all-night candy shop: the store’s Dumpster. It was there he spent the night and ate himself into what would become a week’s worth of indigestion.
I gave her a hug and involuntary tears streamed down my cheeks. She smiled and hugged me back. I asked her if there was anything I could do and offered her a reward. She refused.
“But,” she said. “Since you already have the tape, you can hang some of these for me.”
From beneath the register, she grabbed a stack of fliers for a women’s ski jumping fundraiser. By virtue of facilities, Park City is the epicenter for US Ski Jumping and because the IOC did what the IOC does, it did not allow women to jump in the Vancouver Games. Undaunted, the women were going to keep jumping and suing and shooting for the next games in Sochi, Russia — only three years, 11 months and 27 days away.
“My daughter is a ski jumper,” the checker said. “Her name’s Lindsey Van. Not Vonn. Van. Remember that name.”
I did. And I do.
Four years have come and gone and, in spite of the odds against her, Lindsey Van, not Vonn, was marching Friday in the Sochi Opening Ceremonies. She not only successfully lobbied to have her sport included, but then went ahead and made the team. As she soars this week into the collective imagination of her country, I will think of her mother: Grocery checker. Dog rescuer. Flier maker. And the one whose dreams will come true that first jump too.