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Fracture Friday: My Maine chapter

How a humble fall and stupid injury were exactly what I needed

Happy to have finally gotten some pain meds before getting my shoulder put back into place.
Christie Sederquist/Courtesy photo

This tale pales in comparison to the gruesome injuries, arduous rehabs and heroic redemptions that have preceded it in other Fracture Friday stories, but my only on-snow injury — no matter how humble — is integral to one of the most important chapters in my life.

In August 2018, my wife and I packed our house and two puppies into a U-Haul and drove from Alamosa, Colorado — where we had just purchased a home, had great jobs, perfect friends and a bright future — to Presque Isle, Maine, a small community closer to Norway than our Minnesota-based extended family members. I had accepted — for half my teacher salary — a job at the University of Maine Presque Isle as their head Nordic ski coach. The once-proud program had eroded into a revolving door for coaches. In hindsight, I was the captain chosen to go down with the proverbial ship.

Of course, as we, 27-year-olds, drove through the Pennsylvania night in a crammed cab, our Border Collie mixes sprawled onto our laps, the exhilaration of “the dream” stoked a hot fire of anticipation. I envisioned sculpting my team’s culture like Coach K, incorporating workouts kids loved and creating training camp traditions that would grow to be 30 or 40 years old, like John Morton’s at Dartmouth. I pictured raising my own kids in a college town, where they could play basketball in the gym while I wrote recruiting letters, blessed to enjoy the perks of a small town and small university equipped with unique tools like a rollerski treadmill and research lab.



What would buy a 600-square foot apartment in Colorado could purchase a 74-acre Amish farm in Aroostook County. I imagined growing old in Maine.

My roster originally had 10-11 returning and new athletes, but when they discovered the school had hired an enthusiastic elementary music teacher who doubled as a sports science researcher and endurance athlete — and had raced his first Nordic ski race, ever, six months ago — many walked away before Coach Sederquist introduced himself. Speaking of that 2018 Alley Loop, my introduction to the sport, I remember two things: getting sworn at for stepping on someone’s poles going up a hill AND sending it into a drift at the bottom of said hill. Unable to step turn, I sat in the powder bank and watched 50-60 athletes (and I was already in the middle of the pack to begin with) go by me as I pondered my self-worth. I finished in under three hours that day … but not by much. To be honest, I probably could have run the course as fast as I skied it that day.



When my two senior team leaders announced their departure at our first September team meeting (you know, the one where I was going to explain my Coach K’ness), I was crestfallen. I was doing everything I could to support them, despite my obvious lack of coaching credibility. I had even signed on a two-time Olympic biathlete who lived in the area as my assistant coach. Those seniors ended up coming to one practice, only to quit again, jamming a second dagger right to the Bjorn Dahlie valve in my heart.

When snow finally arrived, our family’s Maine Experiment was headed south in other ways, too. Our two rescue puppies — basically our kids at that point — bit a police officer on the scene of my crashing and totaling a brand new car into a tree. We bought the vehicle with cash and had failed to properly insure it before driving home. Both pups had demonstrated an unpredictable aggressive streak, which had culminated in this moment.

Concerned it could lead to something even worse than this, we were advised to put the dog down, which we tearfully did. It was the first time I really cried — I mean really cried — in my life. To say that day was our lowest point — loss of athletes who distrusted you and a loss of pets who unquestionably trusted you (plus being out five grand for a car) — would be an understatement.

The injury

That week, we headed out to the Nordic Center for a ski. On one of the first turns I made, I slipped and fell on a small hill. The awkwardness of my fall ripped my left shoulder from its socket. In between panicky, hurried breaths and thoughts of inadequacy — (I really didn’t belong here, did I?) — I reached for my phone and called my wife. Luckily, the portion of the trail I had fallen on was by the road, and she parked our car (this one, a 2011 Equinox, literally fell apart when we moved back to Colorado … I guess Maine really hated me), scooped me off the trail, and drove me right to the hospital.

I left my skis in the snow. A few days later, one of the athletes who had quit told my wife he had seen them and kindly moved them to the side. Knowing that almost made me feel more embarrassed.

My skis at the site of the accident.
Christie Sederquist/Courtesy photo

The recovery

The hospital scene was a little comical, looking back. The receptionist obviously didn’t realize I was about to lose my life and forced me to sign papers and sit in the waiting room with the other 9-year-olds trying to get out of school the next day.

Eventually, I got in to see a doctor, and they put me under and slid my shoulder back in place. I was in a sling for the next several weeks. Our team would be headed to Quebec, where all the EISA powerhouses would be, for Thanksgiving training camp in a week. I had been looking forward to this since I walked away from normalcy in Colorado, and I wasn’t going to miss it.

My wife and I, and our now team of two athletes, loaded up into a van and headed north. If my developing technique and 10-year-old equipment setup didn’t give me away enough, my one-handed skate skiing and sling certainly did. “There was the new UMPI coach,” sighed the other coaches, equipped with Olympic resumes, as I plodded through the Canadian forest.

Traversing the trails at Thanksgiving camp as the University of Maine Presque Isle’s ski coach.
Christie Sederquist/Courtesy photo

As I went around the trails, I did my best sponge impersonation as I asked these coaches hundreds of basic questions. I also tried to coach my own athletes, who sometimes disappeared into the woods mid-interval, clearly questioning why they hadn’t quit, too. Finally, I tried to reassure my bride that things were going to be alright, as bleak as they looked.

In the end, I started the competitive season with just one athlete, a freshman. Because of some poor off-the-course decisions, she didn’t finish the carnival calendar. I spent all winter recruiting to the best of my ability, which as you can imagine, was fruitless. My athletic director, fellow coaches and the dean who had hired me and watched over Christie and me like family from the moment we arrived, were wonderful and supportive, but in the end, it was like we were all hiking a 14er in June: At some point, there is so much snow on the trail that you just have to turn around.

When we packed a smaller U-Haul and drove our dogless carriage back to Colorado that June — ⅓ of my salary now having been absorbed by truck rental and gas money — I surprisingly didn’t contemplate the meaning of everything as much as one might assume. I’ve always believed that God works things for my good and His glory, and this was no different.

A novel epiphany, however, was the introspective realization that I was not ready to be a coach. Primarily because I hadn’t finished being an athlete.

The redemption

When I returned to the greatest state of the union as Lake County’s band director, I started skiing again. I’d remembered how NCAA and World Cup coaches at clinics spoke of 1000 annual hours as if it were the benchmark for eliteness. I decided I’d see what that was like.

I didn’t train with anybody except occasionally Christie on afternoon shakeout sessions. I’d double-pole up egregiously steep mining roads near our rental house, almost an act of rebellion in itself against the closely-knit clique of the elitist Nordic ski community, an unfair stereotype my bitterness had attributed to the northeast quadrant of our country in general.

In 2020, I went back to the Alley Loop, on a pair of borrowed skis from Karl Remsen’s high school team’s clubhouse. I entered the classic race and won the overall 42-kilometer handily, the first real athletic thrill I’d had in a long time. The next year, I came back even stronger, having put in 1,100 training hours, and I raced to a 30-minute victory, winning the race in 2 hours, 19 minutes — almost 25 minutes faster than my very first pathetic circumnavigation of the Crested Butte system back in 2018, the one that started it all. An hour later, I skated in the 20-kilometer skate race, placing in the top five there, too, a sign of how far I’d come.

A few weeks ago, I was headed to the Snow Mountain Ranch for the 50-kilometer classic marathon, a race I had won the previous year. Riding a streak of three straight wins from other marathons in Colorado and Minnesota had me balancing feelings of confidence and apprehension. I almost didn’t want to make the long drive early that morning — it felt like something bad was bound to happen if I pressed my good fortune too much.

Cruising into Winter Park at 6:45 a.m., I pulled into a hole-in-the-wall gas station to use the restroom. It was one of those that was so small you’d flush the toilet, turn around, and the next guy would be in your grill. I opened the stall and the person in line was one of the two senior athletes who had left our team back in Maine. It was the one who had slid my skis off the trail when I dislocated my shoulder.

I knew instantly, and maybe he did, too, but he didn’t acknowledge it. I said casually, “Where you headed?”

He answered, “The Ranch.”

My stomach sort of flipped. I wondered if he would be in my race.

“You doing the race?” I inquired.

“Yes.”

I went back to my car, suddenly feeling as if my arms were worthless and my feet weighed 10,000 pounds.

The rest of the drive, I thought deep thoughts. Why did I even care? At this point, my enjoyment in skiing had thrived on the fact that I stopped worrying about what other people thought, the crippling characterization that probably undergirded most of my insecurities and issues in my short NCAA ski coach stint.

In the YMCA of the Rockies lodge, I prepped my skis and changed into my race suit, all the while ignoring the elephant in the tiny room — my former athlete sitting on a couch talking to his friend while his former coach, the one who essentially ruined his final year of college athletics by being a goon, bumbled around the room.

Finally, I walked up and shook his hand.

First, I apologized about the smell back at the rest stop. Then, I asked him where he’d been and where he was going. He smiled as he shared his life update. We talked about the course, and I told him there wasn’t “much New England to the downhills,” which made us both laugh. I wished him a good time and then I went out to warm up.

If I’ve been too coy in revealing the true redemption side of this story, I’ll be more direct now: Sports matter, but only because, well, people matter.

I ended up having the best race of my life that day, though in podunk citizens races, the beauty is mostly in the eye of the beholder, so to speak. It wasn’t the Vasaloppet or anything. But, it was my Vasaloppet.

What really mattered was that I had finally closed the Maine chapter. The most critical junctures often coincide with our most broken, battered and bruised selves. The turns along life’s trail where the skis come completely off.

That’s the beauty of a fracture. It doesn’t just reveal character.

It shapes it.


TELL US YOUR STORY

Injuries are a common topic in mountain communities. We tend to push ourselves to the point of having them. If you have an on-mountain or sports-related injury, we want you to share the story of your injury, recovery and redemption (and if you’re currently injured, we want to hear your plans for the last two).

To read more Fracture Friday stories and to share yours, visit VailDaily.com/FractureFridays. And be sure to check the paper every Friday for the latest Fracture Friday.


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