The People Builder

Charles MartinCharles MartinCharles Martin Our former pastor at our church used to say that there were two kinds of people in this world. Drainers- those who would absolutely suck the life out of you with their needy attitude and desperate conversations. You would try to help, but the drainers in life won’t listen and seem to wallow in their misfortunes and pass on the misery in heaps to anyone with a sympathetic ear. They drain the life out of you to the point where you are exhausted in trying to help. Then there are the people builders- those folks who always have a smile on their face, volunteer to help you, listen to you, be a friend, encourage you, and in general, build you up in the modern day troubled world. Charlie Martin was a people builder.

I first met Charlie through the Ski School at Seven Springs Resort. Charlie was always involved in a lot of outdoor activities but he really sunk his teeth into skiing and wanted to be the best teacher he could be. His people building attitude was apparent in his thirst to share his enthsiasm and knowledge to his students. Charlie taught people to do a lot of things but ski instruction was how I first came across this really bright and enthusiastic man. The process to be a ski instructor is not an easy one,especially if you take the time and effort to become certified under the PSIA( Professional Ski Instructors of America). A lot of guys who teach skiing don’t make the effort to get educated and simply are a warm body in a ski school jacket. Not Charlie. He and Art Bonavoglia worked hard to get their Level II pins and then had the vision and the quest to pursue the highest certification- that of being a Level III instructor. Charlie and Art would go to the Castkills and take private tutoring from Mermer Blakeslee who was a PSIA Examiner. They not only attended the regular update clinics and specialty clinics offered by the organization, but were so enthused that they pursued this private instruction from one of the best in the business. This was not unusual behavior for Charlie. Once he made up his mind to do something, he did it and pursued it with a passion.

I saw Charlie a few years ago at our church with a guitar in his hand and discovered that one of his many volunteer activities was to be a part of the student ministry at the church. His infectious smile and really great sense of humor not only showed through in his singing and playing, but his attention to students and people in general at the church was exemplary. It could be a horrible weather day coming into church, but Charlie was always there greeting people with that big bearded smile and making them feel that they were the most special person attending the service that day.

I was not as close to Charlie as Art and some of the other guys in church and in the ski school, but I thought enough of him that when he had a stroke a little while ago, I made it my business to dash into Allegheny General Hospital to see him. Not out of any obligated reason but because a guy like Charlie who gave so much of his life to others, would perhaps appreciate someone coming into see him and building him up like he did for so many. When I came into his room, his twinkling eyes lit up and even though he had some paralysis and some speech issues, you could tell that he was locked into you with his attention. We conversed as if nothing was wrong and I told him that a guy like him would make a full recovery and his wife Colleen concurred in her strong positive way. Charlie walked me to the door and even though he could not talk, our eyes met and I knew he was on his way to recovery. What a shock when I found out that he had died a couple of days later.

Looking at Charlie that day and all through his life, it was apparent that he knew where he was going in life and in the life beyond. When you smile like that and give yourself unconditionally to people, you know the source of your salvation and you spread that good news to all that come into your path. Charlie was a kidder. Tim Sweeney told me the other day that he came to the church for Charlie’s funeral but the receptionist at the church said he was a week early. Tim said he laughed on the way out because Charlie had got him again with one of his pranks. You could just see him up there laughing down at Tim saying………….gotcha!!! Big bearded smile!!!

People like Charlie Martin are a rare breed. Not many folks would pursue a passion like Charlie. He loved life and all that it had to offer. He loved people and encouraged them to take up new sports and activities and volunteered enthusiastically to get them involved. He always looked for advice and with me, he asked all the time about his skiing. It was disarming because when I would start to discuss the subject with him, his smile made me laugh and say,” No I am serious Charlie.” He knew I was but was anxious for my opinion and wanted me to know that he was having a lot of fun too.

Hopefully, you have come into contact with some people builders in your life. They make wonderful friends, confidants, they are fun to be with in outdoor pursuits, and most of all, you feel envigorated and encouraged and a better person for being with them and being their friend. Avoid the drainers. Look for guys like Charlie. He will always be remembered and will always be with us in many ways. Thanks for reading and think snow.

Its a Young Person’s World isn’t it? Sometimes!

IMG00251-20100811-2242earth-full-view_6125_990x742 So, I am out running the trails tonight and I see an old dog ahead of me plodding his way behind his master who is running ahead of me. All of a sudden, the old dog cuts up into the woods and cuts a corner and the next thing you know, he is ahead of his master. I made a remark to the owner how smart the old dog is and he said that he did that the very first day that they ran. Age and treachery can sometimes beat youth and skill. The old dog validated something for the 59 year old kid. You can take a short cut or cut the corner and there is no law against it.

Toby Keith says,” I ain’t as good as I once was, but I’m as good once as I ever was.” I love that line because sometimes you can shock some young people. Maybe you make that mountain bike climb in pretty good time and even perhaps still put some of your younger riding friends in the hurt locker. Not all the time and youth is served in athletics. But every once in a while, you feel good, you had a good night’s sleep, you ate well, you had your coffee strategically in the morning, and brother, you climbed that hill better than the average Joe. Maybe you are skiing and the conditions are perfect, the sun is shining, and you rip off a couple of high speed arcs and raise a few eyebrows. Some young guns come up to you in the lift lines and maybe say,” You old dudes can still rip em.” Not all the time, not in all conditions, but just once, you might be as good as you ever were.

I used to love my father in law’s line to his two sons when I was first married to their sister. My father in law was a semi-pro baseball player and played in the Army. He was a pretty good high school athlete and challenged the two lumps to a race between the telephone poles. He used to say,” Let’s go pole to pole.” They laughed and abused him, but you know what, they never took him up on it. The point is barring something catastrophic, if you keep yourself in reasonable shape, eat well, sleep well and take your exercise seriously, there is no reason that age should get in the way. You don’t quit playing because you get old, you get old because you quit playing. I saw my pal Lon Sonick out in the woods the other day with a big smile on his face riding his mountain bike with studded tires on the snow covered trails. Lon is ten years older than me and he looks like he is still in his 40’s. A bunch of guys out at Mt. Rose in Tahoe have been riding motocross and skiing since they were 16 years old. They are all in their 60s now and ski like banshees down the chutes of Mt. Rose. They just keep on doing it.

Mindset is everything. I look around my office and see all younger people. They call us the “legacy” people and I sit with the IT group and it sounds like a foreign language to me. The key is to stay current and don’t let technology pass you by. I killed my I-Phone the other day and had to get a replacement. I frantically was calling our IT guy Bill East to help me get it set up but with Bill’s instructions and a little patience, I was able to transfer all the information and redo my apps that I use. My friend JR gave me a portable cell phone charger the other day as a Christmas gift and I was amazed at how convenient that is. I never liked Super Mario or Pac Man and my son’s X-Box Live mystifies me especially the time he spends on it. But he probably thinks the time I spend skiing in the rain or riding a mountain bike is equally ludicrous. It is a young person’s world alright but if you keep up, you can still learn a lot. And…………if they listen a little bit, they can benefit from your experience. Its all good.

I am headed towards the fourth quarter of life. I don’t dwell on that but games are usually won or lost in the fourth quarter. Guts, determination, cunning, and character are what win races in the end, and win games in the fourth quarter. I will have a great quiver of skis, a new mountain bike, a tuned up road bike,and all the clothes needed to enjoy that fourth quarter to the fullest. Positive attitude will never waver, but also, I will focus on what really is important in that fourth quarter. Experience has led me to some conclusions which concentrate on what really wins the game or wins the prize. Kindness to people, a caring serving spirit, a focus on my faith, a love for my family, are really what matter and win the prize in the end. And you can never lose your sense of humor. I lost some good friends this year. Two guys to a heart attack and one guy to cancer. But as I ride the chairlift, run or ride, I laugh thinking about them because I can see Charlie skiing the Heavenly powder, Larry telling him that he needs to work on his turns, and Chip telling them both to take up bowling. That thunder I will hear this summer will tell me that Chip won out on that discussion. So, if you are like the 59 year old kid, get into the game and enjoy that fourth quarter. The game will be won or lost on your efforts. Thanks for reading.

What in the world is the “Polar Vortex”?

photophotophoto The country was gripped this week in sub zero temperatures and we all heard on the news about the “Polar Vortex”. I am amazed that now we have descriptions for phenomena like snow storms, and cold fronts that are named like Hurricanes. Polar Vortex? Hey folks- it’s January. Most of the country experiences winter and in January you get snow, ice, cold temperatures, darkness, and a general feeling of “woe is me.” Some of us have been spoiled with some milder winters as of late, but in International Falls,Minnesota, Fargo, North Dakota, Buffalo, New York, and all of New England, winter rules in January.

Now, you can either let yourself be gripped in fear and depression as the news media bombards you with tales of woe on a daily basis as you exit your home to school or work in the dark and return in the dark, and cold, and the feeling that you live in a Dickens novel. Or you can adhere to the wonderful description of attitude by Chuck Swindoll when he states that “life is 10 per cent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it.” Personally, I like winter as you have seen from my blog posts this winter and last. I am a skier. I like snow. I don’t even mind if I travel and am hampered with delays because I have the attitude that I will get through any inconveniences and get to my destination bound and determined to harvest some of the great skiing conditions that are available. Even when I go to my local area early in the morning, when it is dark, and cold, and the roads are covered with ice and snow, I know that soon I will be making turns.

People asked me this week whether I still run the trails at night when it is in the single digits or below zero temperature. I smiled and said “sure- why not.” I love the air, the snow on the trails and trees, and the general good feeling of health when you finish a run in the winter. Like my friend the Shark says,” there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing choices.” He corrected me on that this weekend by saying,” choices Paddy!” I ski and run in Gore Tex Pro clothing. You can layer and be dry as a bone and protected by the wind. Patagonia makes wonderful clothing like this as seen in the pictures above. My “go to” outfit it the Patagonia “Super Alpine.” As they advertise, it is indeed bomb proof and is great for all outdoor activities. I have the down sweaters that I wear under a shell when I ski and I also have polypropylene shirts that I can layer to use on a run or a mountain bike ride. Layering is the key and if you can keep the wind from penetrating your clothing, you can easily ski, ride, or run in sub zero conditions. Check out

The main point here though is attitude. My dad always had an expression that said,” Smile- the fresh air is good for your teeth.” Sure it’s dark, and cold, and snowing, but it is winter!! Embrace the winter and thank God you are alive and have the health to enjoy the trails, paths, roads, and slopes, where you live. I heard a lot of moaning this week about the Polar Vortex and the bad weather and I laughed as I left work to go to the trails to run utilizing my headlamp. I will probably ski in the rain this weekend because we will be on the ass end of the Polar Vortex with warm air being sucked up our way as the Vortex exits out over the ocean. Take it as it comes people. Enjoy life. Enjoy the winter. Get snowshoes, cross country skis, alpine skis, ice skates, Flexible Flyers, toboggans and get out there and put that smile on your face. You might cover that mug up with a scarf but get out there and enjoy the winter. Spring will be here soon enough and we all will enjoy the transition. But in the mean time, enjoy what we have and you will be amazed at how positive attitude will help you in your work place, your home, and in your relationships. Try it. My friend Nancy Leverett who is an active skier and is visually impaired, read my recommended book,” Younger Next Year” by Chris Crowley and told me she went right out and joined a gym. She not only enjoys winter sports like skiing and ice skating, she now is motivated to work out to stay in shape for those activities. Check out Great book that I always recommend to help with attitude adjustment.

Polar Vortex? Bring it on man!! Get that positive attitude, get the best equipment and clothes, and go do it!!! Embrace the winter. Thanks for reading.

How to torture your relatives.

Saltlick-20130109-00082IMG00242-20100809-1556IMG00243-20100809-1600photo My father had a great saying whenever I returned from one of my adventures. I told him about the event, the adverse weather, the rain, the snow, the cold winds, whatever. My dad said, ” Kind of sounds to me like hitting yourself in the head with a hammer. It feels so good when you stop.” He was right in a way. For some strange reason, I like foul weather. I have all the Gore Tex gear. I was always fascinated with weather and for reasons that I can’t really put a finger on, I always did better in events when the weather and the conditions went to hell. Snowstorms in the Month of Mud Mountain Bike Races, torrential rains in NORBA events, wicked cold weather and snowstorms on ski trips. I liked it when the weather was a factor. Even today, I try not to let weather ruin my fun. I put on the foul weather gear and go for it. Around here, if you don’t ski or run or ride in the rain, you don’t get much activity. Even when you go away, you run the risk of bad weather in any season and I always try to prepare for it and enjoy it in a quirky way.
Now that attitude does not necessarily apply to my family. Take my sister for instance. She is game, but I have tortured her in many ways on many different trips. We stood at the top of the Cirque at Snowbird in a raging snowstorm and our friend Mike Smith took a header down the slope and didn’t stop till he hit the bottom of the run. I looked at Molly and said,” You’re next.” She also gave me the deer in the headlights look when she started to see the snow slide on High Rustler at Alta after a harrowing trip accross the High Traverse. I made her ski on bullet proof ice at Killington,VT, then drive 5 hours to Sugarloaf, Maine to ski on ice balls the size of baby heads. It’s not that I am a tough guy or anything like that. It is just that I like to ski and will do whatever it takes to slide on snow. My sister likes it too but not to that degree. But she was a trooper in all that adversity. One year I took Molly and her husband Ray on a charity bicycle event which seemed tame enough except when we were about 5 miles into the event, the heavens opened up. They were soaked and hadn’t ridden a bicycle very much. As they were sopping wet, they faced a daunting hill and Ray quipped,” Looks like a walker to me, Molly.” I felt badly as they pushed their bikes up the hill while I tried to lift their spirits telling them that the rest stop was not far away. Yes- I tortured Molly and then her husband had the good fortune of being tortured by the jagoff brother in law. Again, not that I am vindictive or tough, or anything like that. I just try to make the best of adverse situations. Sometimes my positive attitude gets me a “Go suck an egg, Pat.” But eventually after the day is over, the furor dies down to a few laughs and good memories of athletic and meteorological torture.

You have seen the picture before of my wife skiing in the freezing rain. I have also had her and my son out in raging snowstorms in places like Eldora, Colorado. They try to smile and embrace my zeal. But oftentimes it generally breaks down eventually and a trip to a fire and a hot drink is in order. I have taken my wife on 4 hour hikes here in the Laurel Highlands to see a scenic overlook between Rt. 653 and Seven Springs Resort. She also was subject to a 6 hour hike in Nevada with the master of athletic torture, Eric Durfee, only to be comforted by Eric’s wife Helen and the teenage comments of my son Jack who endured the hike as well. But the views of Lake Tahoe and Reno were spectacular. Those views were a little lost on them at the time, but the pictures that are on our coffee table remind them that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you strong. They laugh but they think, ” What a putz.” Unfortunately I put the icing on the cake two weeks ago when Janet and I went hiking on our local trails and she fell on a rock and broke her elbow. I am not mentioning that the leaves will be changing soon and the hiking will be spectacular when she heals. I also am not mentioning that it is not far from ski season around here. I might leave that one alone while the poor soul is still in a sling. You see with not much effort and a lot of positive energy, you can torture your family on outings to the point where they question whether they will ever go anywhere with you again.

Maybe I do hit myself in the head with a hammer? Maybe I torture my family. But even my cynical teenager says, ” Dad- I know your heart is in the right place.” He will be off to college next year and I will be limited with potential torturous outings with him. However, my lovely wife will always have the opportunity to participate in “fun outings” only if she wants to do it. Sometimes I have pushed her and she responds in a positive way and has a good time in the great outdoors. But I will be discerning in the future. But, then again, our good friend Debbie Sagan says,” Hey Pat, we are active people. Things happen.” She just got over some broken elbow issues herself and is back on the trails running with her pal Mary Jo Neff. Deb fell and got hurt on her bike a few years ago and now competes in and wins triathlons. Torture is a state of mind. You either embrace adversity and grab the experience for all it is worth or you punt. Nothing wrong with punting, but you might just miss a good time in the rain, snow, or heat. One thing I know, my sister, my son, and my wife will always have memories of the crazy outings that they have participated in with the 58 year old kid. They did real well. They just don’t want to know details of the amazing adventures I have had in really crummy weather. “Hey- my head feels good now?” Thanks for reading.