Saturday, April 28, 2012

Greta's First Ski Race

All smiles before the race
Back in mid-March, on a sunny Saturday morning, my phone rang. It was a friend and mother to Greta's beste venn (best friend) at the barnehage. The little boy proudly told Greta he was going to do a ski race that day and would she like to do it too? With a personal invitation like that, how could she resist? She eagerly shouted "JA!" and we were off to the races. . . 

I was, myself, both skeptical and a bit worried about how the day might turn out. But the race was on our "home course", located on a farm a kilometer or so from our front door, and sponsored by the neighborhood ski club, so we felt compelled to get involved and perhaps meet some of our neighbors who had been hiding in their homes all winter long. Well, when they weren't out on the ski course, that is.

A little background before I continue. . . you may or may not know that Erik was, once up
A little chocolate and verbal encouragement
midway through from Pappa
on a time, a talented and competitive ski racer, training full time for over half a decade after his college career was over. And while I briefly competed in high school, I would never call myself a competitive nor talented cross country skier. That said, getting our 3 year old daughter on skis has never been with the intention or hope that she would someday be a superstar skier. Greta was a late crawler, a late walker, and even today struggles with tasks that demand leg strength, like climbing stairs. The fact that her barnehage focuses so much on outdoor play and activity in nature has been one of the things we appreciate most. Kids in other barnehages are outside a lot, too, but this particular barnehage takes the kids out hiking, skiing and biking nearly every day, in addition to regular outside play. And there is something about group mentality and being encouraged by a teacher (and not a parent) that encourages a 3-year old to ski/walk/hike/bike longer, farther, and more often than that 3-year old might be willing to do at home. 

At least the view was nice!
Greta had been skiing several times a week since the first snowfall in December, including an entire "ski week" at barnehage, where the kids learned how to get their boots into the bindings, how to stand up when they fall down, how to untwist their skis when they get crossed, how to go fiskebein (herringbone) up a hill and how to crouch and balance their weight down a hill. (Keep in mind that her barnehage is located next to the 1994 Olympic ski trails and continue to host elite level skiers from all over the world). However, the focus has all been about having FUN and the teachers emphasized that ski sessions with Greta should be short--10, 20 minutes max--and positive experiences. 

That's why I was worried about this ski "race" for our 3-year old. Would it be fun? And would it be short? 

Encouragement and company from a best friend
Thankfully, it was a short course: just 400 meters for the youngest kids. Unfortunately, it was not flat. After a brief flat start, the course gently sloped downhill--just enough to make Greta very uneasy, require physical support from her Pappa, and still manage to crash and burst into tears within the first 50 meters. The downhill continued for another 50 meters before it began to (gently) climb for the next 200 meters. Tears and complaints were met with encouragement and short goals rewarded with bites of chocolate. She was given the option to stop, telling her it should be fun. But she wouldn't quit. She knew if she didn't finish she couldn't "win" (her goal, not ours!!!). Her best friend, now finished with his 400 meter race, came to provide a little company and cheering half way through. After about 300 meters, the trail dropped quickly, twisting and turning back on itself before heading to the finish. By this point, the elementary and middle school kids were finishing their 1km and 3km races, sprinting past us (classic style). Even some adults, racing a 5km loop, were finishing. Greta finished in 35 minutes. (Or at least that's what the final results said. We actually think they stopped timing.)

Approaching the finish line with determination and a little help from Mamma
The organizers didn't hand out any prizes or even finishers ribbons that day, which I thought was really unfortunate. Greta was wiped out and brittle, and a medal or ribbon could have boosted her spirits immensely and really ended the whole experience on a high note. Instead, little shot-glass sized "trophies" were handed out at the annual awards night several weeks later, which we did not attend. A hug from her best friend and plenty of pølser (hot dogs--a staple at any event hosted by Norwegians) would have to suffice for her reward.

A job well-done pat on the back from a best friend
Despite the tears and complaints on her end, and that nagging feeling of did-we-push-too-much on my/our end, she was quite proud of herself afterwards. On Monday morning she proudly announced to her barnehage teachers that she had done a ski race, and being the professionals that they are, they responded with the appropriate level of surprise, praise and admiration.

If anything, it was a beautiful sunny spring day in Lillehammer. We met neighbors and folks who we'll likely be seeing in the school yard, at birthday parties and at the grocery store--not to mention the ski trails--in the years to come. And perhaps most interesting of all was participating in the most Norwegian of all possible activities--a ski race, this time on the local level where the indoctrination begins!