Wintering the Olympics

Snow swirls past my window as I write, and I strive to remember the world without all this whiteness. Was it October? May? We’re seemingly trapped in a virtual, perpetual snow globe, where the primary distraction from snow removal is watching highly toned and trained athletes compete at the Sochi Olympics.

Their feats test the limits of our imaginations, and I mostly gape at the T.V., sometimes shaking my head in sheer disbelief at their derring-do and utter poise under the weight of so much pressure and expectation.

How does a person work up the courage to take that first jump, hurtling down a mountainside at ┬áspeeds that would get one arrested on many highways, wearing little more than two skis and a helmet as you’re suspended in the air (like Wile E. Coyote chasing Road Runner off a cliff) for impossible lengths of time, all while executing full-body twists and flips?

Or, if you are a 90-pound (but sinewy) female pairs or ice dancing skater–at what point did you develop the confidence to let your partner hurl you over his head, mid-spin, toward the unyielding ice and manage to land–still smiling–without breaking eight bones?

Maybe the real reason the Olympics only occur quadrennially is because it takes that long to talk enough people worldwide into actually attempting these sports in full, fail-worthy view of millions of spectators from India to Jamaica.

Minnesotans know a few things about winter sports of a different kind, and this season, more of the nation is getting a taste of what it takes to thrive year-round in weather conditions like ours.

Curling: In which a driver coaxes his ill-suited front-wheel drive vehicle to climb an icy, slightly inclined road by ever-so-gently pressing the accelerator, even as the dashboard registers “low traction” (no kidding!) and the speedometer slowly, slowly progresses from 10 miles per hour upward–while an SUV impatiently approaches from the rear and your 13-year-old repeatedly warns a “tardy” slip is pending if you literally can’t get it in gear to arrive at the school before the first bell rings.

Nordic combined: When lutefisk, lefse, rice pudding and krumkake appear concurrently on a buffet table at a local Lutheran church fundraiser. Extra points are granted for eating pickled herring along with the lutefisk; heavy deductions await those who only consume the sweet stuff.

Skeleton: Best described as the event in which a 30- or 40-something mother of two (or more) children reenters the workforce, diving headfirst into her career while struggling to keep her kids from constantly and surreptitiously playing repetitive games on their school-issued iPads but still managing to dry their wet outerwear, ensure their homework is completed daily and stock the refrigerator, simultaneously keeping her “game face” on at the office and accomplishing enough there to maintain steady employment. Bonus if she keeps her eyes open all the way “down the hill” (and/or functions without hourly caffeine injections).

Snowboard/snow-bored: Possibly the most challenging event of the annual Minnesota Winter Olympics, involving fending off fatigue and outrage at the constant need to remove snow from one’s driveway, sidewalks, front steps and garage floor. Recommended equipment includes heavy-duty shovels, ice scrapers/snow brushes and ideally a snowblower (best if it comes complete with a reliable operator). Thick gloves required; knit cap entirely optional.

Cross country skiing: Otherwise known as slogging across the parking lot of any retail store or shopping mall from November through April. Not recommended for those with weak thighs or erratic heart rates. The true champions push their own carts ALL THE WAY to their vehicles AND to the cart corral (rarely seen).

Bobsled: A tag-team effort in which the first one out the door starts the car and backs it onto the polished trail of packed ice, closely followed by the second “athlete” who carries out the errand items, succeeded by the lackadaisical teen glued to a trail of phone texts and capped off by the last team member (who is required to pull shut the garage door because its automation feature ceased to function when the thermometer refused to budge above -10 for four consecutive days). If you avoid going off course en route to the finish line, everyone emerges a winner.

Sochi, here we come.

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