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Cummings: A Great Tradition

(Host) From the European immigrants who brought Nordic skiing to this country to Vermont legends like John Caldwell and Bill Koch, today's Vermont teens competing on the national and international level are part of a long tradition. Writer and commentator Dede Cummings is a volunteer instructor.

(Cummings) The Vermont State Junior Nordic Team won the New England Championships last weekend in the J2 or younger skier category. Plus, the New England Junior National Cross Country Ski Team - made up mostly of Vermonters - is competing in Fairbanks, Alaska this weekend. And all this reminds me of how one young competitor got his start one winter afternoon six years ago.

The Brattleboro Outing Club was deserted, the summer golf club shuttered, and the small pro shop cabin taken over by zealous cross country ski members, who had signed me up to volunteer as a ski instructor for elementary school children.

My newly relocated niece and nephew were with me. The little girl stopped in her tracks, exclaiming, We didn't have any snow in Florida! - then promptly tilted her head back to catch snow flakes in her mouth, now utterly distracted from the lesson at hand.

I did manage to teach them some basics like the kick and the glide. And I spoke enthusiastically about the way you feel when everything synchs up; when your body achieves that perfect moment of balance and control.

I also told them that if they ever got lost in the Vermont woods they could find their way home by following a stream, since it would most likely lead to a river, and rivers in turn, usually lead to a village originally settled near the river. Follow the stream bed, I said, and carry your skis.

They nodded - and a few minutes later my nephew had taken off. At age eight,his body was already long and lean, his legs fluid with the strength of an athlete, his head steady and determined.

Now fast forward to a recent afternoon at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, a time-honored Nordic and rowing center, near Hardwick and Wolcott. I'd driven my diesel Volkswagen on winding roads through farming country - every turn yielding a new surprise - silos in silhouette, cows huddled around a steaming bale of hay, and the outline of an antique tractor frame looking for all the world like a spider in the snow.

My nephew was competing that day so I parked and walked to where I could watch himglide to the gate. I yelled his name and he gave me a quick nod - just a flick of his head - and a look of pure intensity - one I recognized from all those years ago. Then he powered out of the gate, leaving a spray of snow in his wake.

I stood there, stunned with the thought that only comes when you know that you've given someone a priceless gift. Then another team member's mother standing next to me said, Wow, you must be happy about that start!

I was. And I was also proud of this boy, who at age 14 could qualify for the Vermont State team, compete with such fierce determination - and become part of a great Vermont tradition.

Dede Cummings, a writer who attended Middlebury College, lives in Brattleboro where she makes books and represents other authors.
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