How I Got to Where I Am

The American Dream

A long time ago, my high school english teacher, Mr. Loomer, assigned my class to write a paper about the “American Dream.” I think I wrote some bullshit about being able to do what you want with your life or that America affords you the opportunity to follow your dreams or something. I don’t know. How the hell can a teenager know what it means? Most of them don’t even have to worry about feeding themselves.

A few years later when I dropped out of college and decided to try to be a Pro Skier, I unknowingly started on a quest to find my own “American Dream.” If I was in Mr. Loomer’s class right now, as a junior in high school, I would write something like this for his assignment:

Let me start off by saying I love America. I love the “American Dream.” There are probably a few Canadians rolling their eyes right now, if there are even any Canadians who read this, but I had to write it anyway. The thing about living the American Dream is that it can mean so many different things to so many kinds of people. To me, it’s about individualism and pursuing what you want, even if the goal seems ridiculously far away and impossible to reach. It’s sort of a stubborn way of thinking, but it’s liberating.

I remember wanting to be a Pro Skier so badly that it hurt

I would have done anything for it. I ended up quitting school and living in my car in Colorado, California, and Utah for close to two years, once in a while finding an open couch. One night I was sitting in my rusty 1988 Saab hatchback in Truckee, California. There was a contest the next morning at a place called Sugarbowl, which was a few miles drive up the famous Donner Pass. It was midnight and snowing heavily. I had seventy five dollars in my bank account, no cell phone, and a quarter tank of gas. I was parked in front of a sign at the local grocery store that said “NO OVERNIGHT PARKING.” Until then, I had been optimistic about my future in skiing and life in general. Then suddenly, I felt like I had nothing. No hope or chance of ever making it. I wanted to just be home with my parents and my warm little bed in my friendly little home town. I started to sniffle, trying to hold it back of course, but it was inevitable. I was defeated. And so I sat, face in my hands, covered with all the jackets and snow pants that I owned, wanting to be somebody else, in a place far away.

I survived the night by sleeping until I was too cold, starting the car, driving to a new parking lot and falling asleep again. I repeated the process three times before waking up for good at 5:30 AM when I decided I’d better just head up to Sugarbowl because it was no use trying to sleep any longer. There was at least a foot of snow on the unplowed roads and my little front wheel drive car was doing just fine. I got to the highway on ramp and there was a road block. Nobody was allowed up the pass without chains on their tires, which of course I didn’t have and couldn’t afford to buy, even if I’d had the time. I had no choice but to turn my car around. My heart sank in what was my second defeat of the last eight hours.

Where there's a will, there's a way

I frantically searched for another way up to the mountain and stumbled on a small winding road that paralleled the highway, but was unplowed and untracked. I took a chance and started to head up the hill with white knuckles wrapped around the steering wheel. I tried to hold my speed, which led to the back end of my car drifting around some of the corners. I kept willing my foot to stay on the gas, but my thoughts were haunted by a vision of the hatchback sliding a little too much and my car careening over the edge of some godawful precipice, only to be found when it became light out and the snow, which in my mind seemed interminable, stopped falling.

Then suddenly the road leveled out and I had made it. I was at the top of the pass, in the dark with snow still falling. I pulled the parking brake, leapt from my car and yelled as loud as I could in triumph. Then started laughing, dancing and shouting in a circle around my car, kicking at the pathetic snow that so feebly tried to stand in my way. I felt more joy, relief and strength than I ever thought possible.

I came in 11th place that day and ended up with one hundred dollars. Gas money. Food money. Life money. One step closer to my American Dream.

To me it was a major turning point. I realized then that if I kept pushing and kept at it, I could make it to the top of any hill. I have it pretty easy now, compared to those days, but I wouldn’t trade them for the world. I am who I am today because I toughed it out. I can barely believe that I was strong enough to get through, but I did and I am more confident that if I ever find myself down at the bottom again, I will find a way to get through it.

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