A man in a large headset beckons her into the starting gate and presses a button to begin the thirty-second count. Though the sky is clear, the blowing snow of the uphill draft makes her shiver. She slowly readjusts her goggles, boots, and shin guards: they always seem too loose. Stepping into her skis, she gets quieter as her coaches get louder.
The audience hears none of it. Sheltered by the valley and by heavy down jackets, the crowd at the foot of the race course is mostly local folk having a good time. I don’t notice them; it’s the silent ones I worry about. The scouts. The sponsors. The camera crews. The outsiders. Their expectations join the fierce wind and rush to meet the late morning sun appearing timidly over the peaks.
I hope she isn’t frostbitten. Her poly-blend race suit is little more than a paper bag dress in the piercing wind. She looks right into it, down at her pre-set dance routine, and then beyond, across Georgian Bay. We once stood and stared at those frozen waters, feeling comfortably insignificant against the giant sky.
Time starts and time stops. The nation’s hopes skid to a halt and the silent ones disappear with the life she so painstakingly built for herself. Yet, she looks not at the scoreboard but at the chairlift. I watch as my old friend ascends back into the mountain no longer ridden with uphill drafts, back into the huge sunny sky that is once again her home.