In no way was it a steep, Olympic caliber downhill course. Or was it? When I stood at the top of the run that afternoon and stared down at Ketchum, seemingly far below … whoa … it seemed to me like the real thing. No turning back. I was committed.
The handlers counted down the start of my run. I tensed for the shove off. Five … four .., three … two … one… bang. Away I went, careening down the mountain with a double-diamond dose of adrenaline surging through my veins. I thought I was going too fast. I felt on the edge, out of control. And I knew a wipeout could be disastrous. I went into a tuck. I tried to let the skis follow the course down the bowl. “Bend zee knees … bend zee knees.” I took a wide turn, swinging down into the River Run. Maybe too wide, I thought. But I stayed on course, down through the trees. My legs pumped like pistons over the washboards of the River Run. I came bursting out of the trees into the final turn. Split seconds down to the finish. Wide open. I crossed the line. A final Christie stop. And it was over. I’d made it down the mountain course without crashing. My heart pounded. My legs wobbled. I felt dizzy. But I was elated just to have made it down.
Then came the shock. Fritz Uhrl came running over to inform me that I was holding second place. An even greater shock followed later on, as the other skiers ended their runs. My second place finish held up. I had won the silver medal. I was overwhelmed.
We partied that night, our last night, at the Sawtooth Club in Ketchum.
For decades, the silver ski pin with its Sun Valley medallion which the officials presented to me on that final day in Idaho lay nestled in a dresser drawer, half forgotten. When I came across it a few years ago, I presented it to our grandson, Gabe, on his twelfth birthday. In the mountains of New Mexico, he is a far better skier than I ever was at any age.
Sometime that spring, before boarding a train for California and the Navy’s pre-flight school, I received in the mail a surprise gift package from Mac Stone. It was a biography of John Paul Jones, the swashbuckling skipper of the BonHomme Richard, who helped to establish the fledgling U.S. Navy during the American Revolution.