by Laura Clark
We are the world, we are the children
We are the ones who make a better day
— Michael Jackson
Like many international events, the 2017 World Snowshoe Federation Championships in Saranac Lake, New York adopted a theme song, one meant to inspire athletes and volunteers alike. But instead of the typical Rocky look alikes, the chosen song, Michael Jackson’s We are the World, focuses on the heady sense of community which should be the ultimate goal of such experiences.
While other past and future venues may boast major cities or giant ski areas, Saranac Lake was the perfect showcase for what is best about small town America. The Athletes’ Parade through a Mom & Pop Main Street would not have rivaled the Rose Bowl Parade, but it was an honest snapshot of a typical American town, one the foreign participants will always remember. Opening ceremonies in City Hall featured not name-brand performers but elementary and high school singers and musicians displaying the talent and poise that would be a credit any professional ensemble.
The warmest feel-good moment was the welcome for the two Indian athletes, Abid Khan and Tanveer Hussain, who were denied visas despite their paperwork being in order. For you or me, it would have been an easy fix to travel to New York City to rectify any passport problems, but for them it involved yet another lengthy train journey, days off from work and thousands of dollars they did not have. Thanks to a go-fund-me plea, a letter writing campaign to local representatives and the generosity of Saranac Lakers who opened their homes to the athletes, a nationally embarrassing situation was smoothed over, restoring our faith in our ability to work through a difficult governmental situation. It was a win-win outcome for everyone.
Because of the melting snow, the 10K Championship was shortened to 8K with the revised route two repeat 4K loops. Even as late as an hour before the race, families from 5 year-olds on up were diligently sledding snow onto the course. Throughout the weekend, it seemed as if the entire town was volunteering. In fact, one finish line staffer, having completed her duties, drove runners back to town in her van, with no qualms about melting snow or sticky mud trashing the interior.
The venue at Worlds was so much more than our typical draw-a-line in the snow local events. We were no longer just runners, but athletes. We were interviewed. We were here with 296 other snowshoers, some of whom were National and World Class athletes with resumes and sponsors. As the female contingent well knows, visiting the bathroom multiple times before the race is more than just a necessary experience, but a social occasion. I discussed clothing options with Brandy Erholtz (8th overall and 2nd Masters female) and we both advised another future age group winner on whether or not she should ingest an entire caffeine gel or go for half. They were just ordinary folks, until I learned at the Awards Ceremony that they definitely were not!
The excitement at the start was palatable and everyone was whipping out iPhones to capture the moment. Fellow snowshoer Peter Canzone was no exception and handed his to a petite, dark-haired girl to take our picture. I felt like yanking the phone out of Peter’s hand as she was obviously focusing on her upcoming Junior Championship. She stared at us blankly and then grabbed the camera. I thought it was just to get rid of us quickly, but I later learned she was one of the Italian winners and didn’t understand our language. Here we were in an international event, assuming that everyone knew English! Obviously, we need to get out more.
While the snow/ice combo held up pretty well for the first loop, my initial enjoyment hopscotching from ice mogul to ice mogul at the top of the loop turned serious by the second time around as I gave up and plodded through mud puddles worthy of any springtime trail race. Some folks took advantage of the warm weather to strip down to shorts and tank top and finished looking more like a Tough Mudder participant. I learned that spring melt mud was indeed colder that regular mud and was glad I had stuck with tights and long sleeves.
The celebratory banquet was a wonderful validation of all our hard work and showcased the contributions of athletes and volunteers alike. Many Dion Snowshoe athletes won awards and since our bright orange Dion vests and jackets were covered in mud, we all took turns playing musical chairs with Bob and Denise’s extra jackets, sometimes just making the exchange before it was time for the next person to climb the podium. A nice twist on the typical relay race!
Naturally, by the time the party wound down, we emerged to thickly falling wet snow and a slip ‘n slide parade of cars skittering up the hill. While mistimed and misplaced, I was grateful that the athletes from all across the country and all over the world could awaken the next morning to a typical Adirondack Winter Wonderland. Hopefully, they will be back!
As for me, I was thrilled at having finally turned 70 ahead of the strong 60 year-old crowd and being eligible for a new golden category. I am still enjoying my brief moment of fame, with Facebook posts—even one by our library director—and congratulations from fellow runners and library patrons. From fellow librarian and best friend Jen Ferriss: “If it was not for Laura, I would have never even been at the race. She is an inspiration for all ages.” Embarrassingly flattering, but I’ll take it. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I am so grateful to have had.
Next year in Spain!
– Laura Clark is an avid snowshoer, trail runner, XC skier, race director, and 2017 World Snowshoe Championship 70-99 Female Age Group winner.