Saturday, November 15, 2014

Remembering Charlie

Earlier this week, I randomly decided I needed to hear a song that is on a CD player in my car.  It is a song given to me as background music for a DVD of me skiing.  I needed to email him a picture that showed me skiing the way he taught me.  I really needed to do that before ski season started again.  But just a few days later, I got an email that Charlie had died.

There are those people in our lives who help us do things we didn't believe we could do.  They have a unique ability to connect with us; to simplify things in order to make those things possible.  Charlie was one of those people.

Charlie was my ski instructor for many, many years, and Charlie taught me to handcycle.  Without him as a teacher, I would never have really understood handcycling.  Without him as a ski instructor, I would never have understood how skiing works.  Although what I do for a living involves a lot of thinking, I often tell people that outside of work, I need very simple explanations for things.  Charlie took skiing and handcycling down to the simplest level, and that is how I learned.  To this day I have Charlie's voice in my head when skiing and handcycling, telling me to "look downhill!" or sarcastically asking me, "Where you lookin?"

One summer Charlie convinced me to come to a handcycling camp up in Keystone. "I can't really handcycle," I said.  "I don't get it."  Charlie showed up at that camp and I asked him, "So, who are you going to teach?"  "Well," he said, "that would be you.  Someone has to do it."  I got on a handcycle that morning, determined that 2 previous attempts at handcycling had failed so this wasn't going to work either.  But then Charlie said, "it's just like skiing.  It's all about moving your hips to turn."  So I used my hips, which started to help a bit, and then he said, "it's just like skiing.  You can't just tilt your neck to the side and expect your body to follow."  A ha!  This really was like skiing.  Before the morning was done, Charlie had chased me around a small circle tons of times, yelling at me to use my hips and not my neck.  I got it.  That afternoon, Charlie and I rode together, me on a handcycle and Charlie on a recumbent bike.  I bought my own handcycle; I rode up Vail Pass on it; and Charlie was there to meet me.  Charlie was a definite father figure to me.

Handcycling started after skiing.  I had skied before Lori was born but not too much.  After she was born I really grew to love skiing.  Charlie was my first instructor in skiing, and for many years, I would request to have him as an instructor.  In fact, I didn't need to request him because everyone knew it was a good fit.  I never had thought I would ski on my own, off tethers, until Charlie said, "let's try this top part without the tether on."  Tethers keep sit-skis attached to instructors, so instructors can correct things that sit-skiers might do wrong.

But what?!!  Seriously?  And so I was coaxed down the hill.  Charlie was very good at skiing backward.  He would get in front of me and then ski backwards, telling me to follow his tracks.  Just like handcycling, hips are used to turn when sit skiing.  If you use your eyes and neck, it doesn't work.  In moments of panic, I would look in the direction I wanted to look and crane my neck in that way.  "Look down here!"  Charlie would yell.  It was often too late; I would find myself falling and looking at the sky.  He would ski back to me and proclaim, "Now, where were you looking?"

Charlie would also tell me when to turn and where.  I found this annoying and would sometimes do my own thing, which generally ended in disaster.  That would be followed by, "Why did you go that way?"

Once Charlie got me going down a green (easiest) slope on my own, he really tried to get me to ski blue slopes on my own, always emphasizing he wanted me to be independent.  And I did get through some of those blues.   When a photographer for USA Today came to take pictures, Charlie skied backward down a more difficult part of a green slope, telling me exactly where to turn.  I got my photo in the USA Today.  No one knew it was with Charlie, right there.

Besides instruction, Charlie was a great friend.  We would eat lunch together in the middle of the ski day.  He always had radishes, carrots, and soup.  I always found that to be a bit odd.

Charlie videotaped me skiing and then put a whole season of ski videos to music on a DVD.  Who does that?!!  Cutting and pasting a bunch of skiing to songs took time.  Once my daughter started skiing, she said she wanted him to videotape her skiing and put it to music.  And he did.  We still have those DVDs.

Charlie also made calendars every year for certain people.  I was one of the people.  He was a great photographer and the pictures in the calendar were stunning pictures of flowers or mountains.  One year he made the calendar of pictures of me skiing and handcycling.  I still have the calendars.  They are beautiful.

And so the story goes.  Charlie and I never discussed religion, strangely, because we discussed so much on the lift rides.  He would always joke that at work I was the boss but would never have that title.   I tried to get him to tell me about his family, but that seemed difficult for him.  As the years passed, it got easier.  No matter what, I could tell that he loved his daughters.  At one point he discovered he has grandchildren and he was very happy about that.  He had a few other jobs besides being a ski instructor, but he loved ski instructing the best, I think.  He had his own sit-ski because he had bad knees.  And he loved his motorcycle which he could ride in the off-season.  He couldn't wait to get it out in the spring.

And so Charlie is gone.  I didn't get to send him that photo.  I didn't get to tell him how much easier handcycling is with increased core muscle strength.  I didn't get to touch base.  And for some reason that is hard.

But I still have the DVD and the main song (even though I hate country music) that had the things below to say.  As I come out of the main (Eisenhower) tunnel, I always listen to this song to try to get ready, mentally, for skiing.  It tells me to make the most of what I have today, that today will not last forever, but that I have come so far to get to the unanticipated today (even though it doesn't seem like it).  And past today, I will get even further, even while I'm spending my time "like it's going out of style."

Thank you, Charlie, for the many gifts you gave me.  I will miss you but I know you will always be on the slopes and bike paths with me, telling me to look down the hills, and when I don't get it right, asking me where I was looking.  We had some great times.  We really did.  I can handcyle.  I really can. You, my friend, are remarkable.


How can we know how far,
The long way can be?
Looking from where we are,
It never seemed that long to me.
I've many miles behind me,
Maybe not so much ahead.
It seems I made good time,
With the directions I misread.

So I'm gonna spend my time,
Like it's going out of style.
I'm moving the bottom line,
Farther than a country mile.
I still have hills to climb,
Before I hit that wall.
No matter how much time I buy,
I can never spend it all.

Funny thing, that time:
We're always running out.
I'm always losing mine,
There's not enough of it about.
An' though it's always here,
It will always come and go.
The days become the years,
That'll be gone before you know.

So I'm gonna spend my time,
Like it's going out of style.
I'm moving the bottom line,
Better than a country mile.
I still have hills to climb,
Before I hit that wall.
I won't go quietly into that dark night.
There'll be no more burnin' daylight.
I'll be living in,
Every moment that I'm in.

Oh,I'm gonna spend my time,
Like it's going out of style.
I'll only use what's mine,
I've been savin' for a while.
I still have hills to climb,
Before I hit that wall.

No matter how much time I buy,
I can never spend it all.
No matter how much time we buy,
We can never spend it all.

I'm gonna spend my time.
I'm gonna spend my time.

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