Saturday, February 20, 2010

Dear Shaun White

shaun white takes bronze in slopestyle

Hey Shaun:

I've been thinking about how hard it is for me to picture you on skis. Don't get me wrong, I love watching you on the board, but your temperament is too sunny, too fun loving, too boyish (in a good way) for the straight life. You're better suited for flips and somersaults on the half-pipe than the high-level tension of Men's Downhill or the Super G. The guys in those events are classic Type A personalities, tied tighter than sutures on a heart transplant. For you, all that stress would simply interfere with having a good time.

But it's not just you -- it's your buddies, too. Take Louie Vito, standing up there on the rim of the pipe, preparing to take his run. He's got his tunes on, digging the music, and he's cool. Sure, he's focused, but his head's in a different place. As much as he'd like a medal, he doesn't consider it worth the price of an ulcer. Then there's Kelly Clarke -- she's into her music and dancing before sliding down the slope. When she received her score, even though it wasn't high enough for a place on the podium, her smile said, "Oh, well, there's always next time."

All of you seem more committed to being yourselves than winning at any cost. I admire that, I really do. I know you spend hours working like a dog in the off season up in Vail and I'm sure the others do likewise. You've got your own brand of intensity but it doesn't make you crazy (I know, you're thinking, with that big grin of yours, We were already that way). Nor does it make you so myopically competitive that you act like snow-mobsters, each one trying to take out the other for good. You remind me of what I like to call real rock climbers, those who are more interested in climbing for its own sake than using it as an opportunity to show off their spandex.

You see, here's the thing. I'm a medical student, as are most of my friends, and we live in an environment known for being competitive. I think we could learn a few things from you. Achieving a personal best is a goal in itself. No walking away from the half-pipe after falling and then making a face like you've just had a spoonful of Robitussin PE cough syrup or worse. Sometimes you get a medal and sometimes not, but each run has its own value. If you keep on trying, eventually you'll get it right. You guys are balanced, you've got perspective: it keeps you healthy and sane.

You're all right, Shaun, you and your pals. You'd make good medical students if we could get you away from the board long enough. On second thought, forget medical school. You're too good at what you do.


(Creative Commons image of Shaun White by Hometown Invasion Tour via Flickr)
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