Todd Ek at Theodore Wirth Park in the 70’s… where mom knew best!
Minneapolis Ski Club
Being 4’ – 4” tall, short legged and 7 years old made reaching the next very well rounded 2×4 nailed into the ice caked in-run of the 30m ski jump at Theodore Wirth Park almost impossible to navigate. Hoisting my well-worn Elan rental ski jumping skis on my right shoulder made the 66 steps to the top of the scaffolding impossible. I had already been up there many times before, after, and during practice. I was certainly in the way. I had been up there so many times it never dawned on me that I couldn’t carry my skis to the top solo. I had been learning and practicing all season under the tutelage of the Nordic guru, Selmer Swanson.
Selmer was a prodigious character and awe-inspiring instructor of children. He was slight in frame but powerfully influential. He had a bit of an accent and looked like he had just skied down the mountain side to arrive un-winded to each practice. He was perfect for molding the young minds of this team of aspiring Olympians. There were 20-30 fervid young men of all ages in training to be the next champion. I am pretty sure I was the youngest recruit of the bunch. I was in awe at how the senior cadets would fly across the locker room carried above Selmer’s shoulders then drop to the tiled floor one foot in front of the other in a perfect telemark landing. It was only a couple of weeks before I was standing on the built-in bench flying across the row of lockers. First one then 2 and finally three lockers in distance. I am not sure if flying three lockers was a test. But soon after I could hold the flight position for 3 lockers I was ready for the 30m hill. At least in Selmer’s mind.
I went on soaring off the small bump in the rear of the Wirth Park Ski hill winning medal after medal and growing in confidence until one day I heard coach Selmer telling my dad he thought I was ready for the big hill but only after it was declared my idea. IN the car on the way home that evening I said I was ready.
The next week I made the 5 steps up to the small landing before the 2×4’s started to ascend the in-run of the 30m hill. When I got there I spun and looked down the length of my snow covered skis off the end of the rickety old jump. I was confident I would shoot right through the middle of two little pine boughs that were sticking in the snow signaling the end of the two newly iced tracks that traverse in the middle of the chute. As I turned to head up 3 things occurred to me. How high take-off was, the blur of the jumper that whizzed passed me, and the look of terror on my mom’s face as she looked watched my deploy. That was when the trouble started. I was just too small to get up the 2×4 steps!
That was not exactly a true statement but I was going to use it to get me out of the senseless predicament I had put myself in. I was scared to death. The fear came so sudden it made me dizzy. I tried and tried to get up those first few steps. I even threw in a fake slip for good measure that made be drop my skies, accidentally. There was no way I was going to make it to the top. Tears started to well in my eyes and by the time I gathered my Elans, which now resembled an X in my feeble arms making it nearly impossible to navigate the steps back to the bottom, the tears were streaming down my face. I may have even been blubbering a little but I have wiped that memory from my mind years ago.
At the bottom of the stairs, I handed my skies to my concerned and attending mother. I am not exactly sure how things transpired in my mom’s mind at that exact moment but in hind sight, I think she tried a reverse psychology play, so not to scar my young but growing male ego and self-esteem. Like an Olympic champion she closed up those scissoring ski’s with a “whack” and before all the clinging snow had jumped to the ground she said in the sweetest voice I have ever heard, “Honey, I know how much this means to you, so I will carry your ski’s up for you this one time”.
Over the years, I have been able put together what Mom was thinking on the way up to the top of the 30m. In order of course:
1. Why did I go on that ski trip to Colorado?
2. Why did I let that sweet man go up the chairlift with me?
3. Why when I found out that nice man was a ski jumping instructor from Minnesota did I introduce him to Chuck (my dad).
4. Why was hockey so expensive?
5. Why didn’t I realized my young son was just as stubborn as me!
On the walk up the scaffold, I had had a lot of time to figure out my next move to get me off the top of that jump. This did not include putting on my skis and flying of the end. I cried and I cried and begged my mom to carry my skies back down so we could go home. My one mistake, my best mistake, was to have not yet understood the definition of stubborn. My caring, sensitive and attending mom attended to me all right. She dropped my skis into the ruts in the starting gate, picked me up and dropped me into my bindings and under threat of never being able to ski jump again forced me to cinch the bindings.
That wasn’t quite enough to get me to shove off but it didn’t take much longer for me to realize that if I didn’t begin this little journey she was going to start it for me. So, down I went. I don’t really remember much about the actual jump because it was one of the most out of body experiences I have ever had. I have had dreams of flying off a ski jump and never landing again for years after that day. I do know that I landed just over the knoll and slid down the hill on my butt until I came to a an exhilarating stop.
Somewhere along the way back up the hill I passed my mom with a big smile on my face only to hear her shout, “Just one more time, I have to get home and cook dinner!”
After that greatest day, I jumped and competed for the next 15 years and again for a couple of years in my late 20s for fun. Ski jumping made me different, confident and interesting. I didn’t make it to the Olympics. Heck, I was never really that good but I was a ski jumper and that will always make me “special”.
EDITOR’S NOTE- Check out Mooseknuckle Bros., Todd’s band these days.
Story Project 2013