Growing up I was always afraid I wasn’t the son my father wanted.
An avid sports fanatic, my father was a three-sport star athlete in high school who went on to play Division I football. As an adult he got into running and, eventually, Ironman triathlons.
Sports ruled my father’s social life, too. You name the team and my father could talk about them. Football, baseball, basketball — hell, even hockey — my father was obsessed. Besides participating in sports and watching sports, it seemed my father had little interests.
I can’t even imagine my father’s excitement at the thought of raising an athlete. He hoped I, his first born, might excel at athletics as he once did.
So I did what other children of the ’80s did: soccer, t-ball, swimming, even the occasional fun run before my father’s marathons or road races. As I got older, he tried to push me to higher levels of sport and my schedule quickly filled with practices and games.
I’m not exactly sure at what age my father realized I would not become a sports prodigy. Still, he pushed me anyway and taught me invaluable lessons about hard work, practice and teamwork.
By the time I reached high school, there was only one sport left my father thought I might be good at: cross country. I had never run before, but my father gave me a pair of his old running shorts and a singlet anyway (which I begrudgingly wore to that first practice) and I gave it one last shot. It turns out I wasn’t half-bad. My father seized on this and pushed me to train harder and run faster. I did as he told me to, managing to make the high school varsity team and eventually the Colorado College cross-country team. But my heart would never be in it the way he hoped it would.
I may not have become a professional athlete (or even an amateur one) but my father did teach me the value of sports and teamwork.
It’s his drive that helped me fall in love with the mountains. Here was adventure that required gumption and determination without the competition I had always resisted. I hiked to the top of 14,000-foot peaks. I rode my mountain bike along the rims of canyons. I skied down double black diamonds. I strapped on crampons and traversed up glaciers. Here was sport that fit my disposition. And, in many cases, I wasn’t too bad. (At least for a Coaster.)
Recently, my father’s aging body could no longer keep up with his aggressive athletic lifestyle. Running has been tough and races have become out of the question. It was around this time he suggested we climb Mount Rainier together. It came as a bit of a shock to me. We had never done anything like it before and I never knew my father to have an interest in hiking.
Still, we went for it. We took weekend trips to train on Bear Mountain. I helped him purchase the right equipment. And then, with the help of a Colorado-based guide, we attempted to summit the burly mountain just outside of Seattle.
This adventure marked a turning point in our relationship. We had always been close, even if I was never the star athlete. But now we had a sport to share, too. Like he always wanted. But this time I was the expert.
For the past week, my father has joined me in Vail on my America’s Best Summer Job adventures. We’ve hiked and fly-fished together. We even played tennis and a round of golf. My love of the mountains has become our love of the mountains.
And I couldn’t think of a more beautiful place to share that with him.
Benjamin Solomon is the winner of America’s Best Summer Job, a 10-week, all-expenses paid summer job exploring what summer in the Vail Valley has to offer. A freelance writer based in New York, Solomon has contributed to publications such as Vanity Fair, New York, Travel + Leisure and is the former editor of Next Magazine. Follow his journey on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #VailBen.