A challenge of Olympic proportions


Melissa Stagnaro

Yesterday was a day of new experiences, physical challenges, confronting fears and working as a team. When I think back, I can’t believe all we accomplished.

We started out the day at the Olympic training center in Lake Placid. We’d already been divided into three teams for our mini-Olympic competition, but we took a few minutes before we got started to choose team names. I am proud to say that I was a part of Team Pup ‘n’ Suds.

Our first event was the biathlon, which usually combines cross country skiing and shooting. (For our purposes, being there was no snow on the ground, we substituted a bit of running for the skiing.)

Shooting a bolt action 22 was something new for a lot of people, but after a few minutes of instruction by the facilities expert instructors, you would never have known it. The first student up (well down, since we were shooting from the prone position) got all 5 targets.

The actual competition was a relay, with each team member running a loop than taking 5 shots at the targets before tagging the next person in line. A 2 second penalty was given for each missed target.

Then it was onto the luge, where we competed on the same course the US Olympic team uses for summer training. I took one look at that wheeled sled (which kind of looked like those things mechanics use to slide under a car) and thought there was no way in h-e-double hockey sticks that I was going to go down the hill in that thing. But, buying into the “challenge by choice” motto, I tried it. Steering, which is done by applying pressure with your legs, was easier than I thought. It was the stopping that freaked me out a bit. But let me tell you, it was pretty cool. After a practice run, I we did it again, this time timed.

After two runs, I was ready to try it from the top (I think we only did a quarter or third of the full Olympic practice run.), but it was time for our next challenge: bobsledding!

Once again, we were on a practice run used by the US Olympic team. In fact it is one of only two locations where bobsledders can practice their push starts during the summer months. We learned how to push off and get into the sled (which is a lot harder to do smoothly than Olympic athletes make it look, believe me) and then did it for time. It was better than any amusement park ride I’ve ever been on.

Competing in three Olympic events would be a full day for most, but not for us. We did it all before lunch. Our next challenge, and believe me when I tell you it was a challenge, was hiking up Whiteface. The first two miles of the trail were intense. It felt like it was straight up and never ending, but around that two mile mark we reached a rock ledge that made it all worthwhile. We paused for some pictures and then hit the trail again with renewed energy.

I was so proud of my team during the hike. There were some that could have raced up that mountain, but they took the time to encourage those who struggled at times. It was tough going at times, but we persevered and reached the summit together. Even though the weather had taken a nasty turn and we were pretty socked in, nothing could damper the sense of accomplishment we all had from reaching the top.

But we weren’t done yet. First we had to descend a ¼ mile trail from the summit to the top of Memorial Highway. On a nice day, that probably would be a breeze. But thanks to the rain, the slip rock was, well, slippery. I’d rather hike up Whiteface than doing that again.

Waiting at the bottom was yet another challenge. You see, our 8 mile descent down Whiteface wasn’t going to be in the bus, but on bicycles. Now let me frame this by telling you that I haven’t been on a bike in about 12 years. And here I was expected to make an eight mile journey downhill on a twisty-turny scenic highway that if I was honest, I’d have been nervous driving down. I conquered my fear, though. Of course I white-knuckled it, riding my breaks the entire way. But I made it. That’s what counts.

It was on to Rock and River in Keene Valley after that, our accommodations for the rest of the trip. It is amazing. We grabbed a quick bite to eat, and then it was time to listen to Jeff Blatnick, an Olympic Gold Medalist. After a great talk, he handed out the medals from the day’s competition. (Was that really only one day?)

Team Pup ‘n’ Suds took the bronze. Even I got a medal, which come Wednesday will be hanging proudly back at my desk in the Evening Sun.