It was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and we jumped at the chance to buy grandstand seats to watch the Cross-Country Ski World Cup Sprint Final races. All winter long we looked forward to seeing these world class skiers on Minnesota snow. It was a coup for Minneapolis and the Loppet Foundation, and a treat for those of us occupying the grandstand.
The mild winter and advancing spring posed threats to the snow and trail conditions. Communications from the Loppet Foundation assured us they were prepared for the warmest spring ever. Just in case. They had surplus “whales” of snow – stockpiles that looked like their namesake. Five PistenBully groomers stood by to move snow onto the trail. And plan C? Scrape up all remaining snow on the unneeded trails and move them to the race course. They were ready.
But it wasn’t enough. Nothing could compete with the advancing threat of the coronavirus. First Norway pulled its skiers, a brutal blow. Then the rapid advancement of travel restrictions and social distancing. What spring couldn’t kill, disease could. Among all the cancellation announcements, that was the one that hurt the most. Not because of what I would miss, but because of the lost opportunity for Minnesota to host the first competition in two decades for the world’s finest skiers on American snow.
In lieu of our trip to the Cities for the race, we went down for the weekend to visit family. By Sunday, son Erik and his wife Katie – fellow disappointed ticket holders – and I decided to check out the wanna-be race course. The mild and sunny temperature had lured numerous skiers to the venue, and despite all a sense of festivity lingered.
Walking through the starting gate area, I couldn’t help but feel the excitement it generated. Skiers posed and shot out of the gates in private competitions. They skated up and over the bridge past the chalet, and I wished for my own skis to join them in the warm sunshine. We took our turns posing on the podium platform. If we couldn’t be there to see world class skiers, we could pretend to be rubbing shoulders with them.
Gazing at the empty grandstands, I tried to imagine the event as it was meant to be. Sandwiched into the bleacher seats, peering into the distance, watching for each skier who rounded the curve to cross the finish line. I could feel the excitement. Hear the roar of the crowds. Feel the home town pride of a place that could host this elite event. Almost.
It felt selfish to wish for what couldn’t be. To allow myself to feel the sense of loss. To think about what might have been.
Instead, I soaked up the sun. Took in the magnificence of the preparations. Envied the skiers of all ages and abilities gliding across the warming snow. And relished being among family.
In a world full of uncertainty, fraught with fears, and the impossible task of navigating between hysteria and safe decisions, it felt good to just enjoy the outdoors. Walk in the sunshine. Smile at strangers. Throw the ball for the dog. Enjoy life as it is. Even if for the moment.