Vail Valley Voices: A thank you to Sarah |

Vail Valley Voices: A thank you to Sarah

For as long as I can remember, Sarah Schleper has been a racer – not a skier, a racer.

In high school, when word spread that our classmate had been named to the U.S. Ski Team, it was not a surprise, it was natural. We were skiers, but she was a racer.

I recall a lunch when the chatter at the table settled on Sarah. Air Jordans were very new and very big. As teenagers, being much smarter than everyone, especially our parents, we decided that Sarah would eventually have her own sneaker named the AirSchlep.

While our details may have been off, we were right that her career would be distinguished.

While no sneaker appeared, Sarah did appear shortly thereafter in the 1998 Olympics. Her beaming smile and independent blond hair were impossible to miss during the athletes’ parade.

At some imprecise point, I stopped cheering Sarah because she was my buddy from kindergarten, but instead became a fan because she so proudly and boldly represented Vail.

Of course I was going to watch hours of Olympic coverage for a few seconds of seeing my favorite racer. She was Vail – friendly, beautiful, witty and battling for excellence. It made me so pleased to watch her ski and see her hometown listed as Vail.

We, as a community, could not have asked for a better ambassador then or now.

Sarah’s career continued with moments of greatness and of heartbreak. I can still perfectly see her at the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics, through the dumping snow, stepping out of her binding. I remember how the energy in the crowd drained instantly away. It was a universal feeling of fate being unfair at that moment. And then to hear she made it to another podium or stood atop it.

It was grand to try to keep track of “Vail’s Sarah Schleper.”

Throughout the ups and downs that demarcate a career in sports, Sarah stayed consistent in her love of ski racing. She often participated in races that most World Cup athletes thought they had outgrown. World Cup racing is a complicated game in which points determine where, if and when you race.

If a current World Cup racer signs up for a race, it gives everyone a better chance at advancing. Sarah consistently did this. She never had to. Sarah, by simply being there and being a racer, elevated everyone’s skiing and made that race into an important event, perhaps even a critical jumpstart for a younger skier.

I now realize that women’s World Cup and Sarah are, in practice, the same thing to me.

So, as this winter would be filled with World Cup skiing, it would of course also be filled with Sarah’s results. To hear that it will not is bittersweet. My weekend ritual of scanning the second run sheets for Sarah’s name will certainly be missed. For as long as I can remember, Sarah has been a racer and I have been a fan.

A few years ago, I was happy to catch up with Sarah for a screaming run down the spring snow of Cow’s Face.

At the top of the hill, with a mischievous smile, and profusion of hair battling her helmet, she said, “Kerry, you just gotta point ’em sometimes.”

Her “just pointing ’em” brought her to four Olympics. She climbed four World Cup podiums. She earned 15 seasons on the World Cup (that’s two more than Franz Klammer). “Just pointing ’em” resulted in 15 years of being one of the best skiers in the world.

So yes, Sarah is a racer. And a damn good one.

Thank you, Sarah, for being an inspiration to me and countless other “little girls.” I am proud of you. Vail is proud of you. Roaarrr!

Kerry Donovan is a Vail town councilwoman.

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