The following “Masters Minds” submission comes from Charlie Dee of Central Cross Country (CXC) and the American Birkebeiner Board of Directors. Dee wrote this tribute about CXC’s late coach Igor Badamshin in January.
Sitting inside for the the negative wind chills in the upper Midwest, instead of skiing, I’m ruminating on last year … the incredible contrast of two days I had on snow, as well as the anniversary of the coach’s death who made the good day possible.
Early January a year ago, I was warming up before the Sisu Marathon on the ABR Trails in Ironwood, Mich., when I noticed the course reversed the usual direction of “Pit Point Loop.” That got rid of a very steep downhill with a nice run-out, replacing it with a more gradual downhill ending in a 90-degree turn at the bottom.
Tucking confidently and stepping through the turn at full speed, I thought to myself, “This is going to give some people problems.” By the time I went through it a few k’s into the race, I became “some people.” There was a huge berm on the outside, with an ice rut on the inside. I did a full-tilt-boogie, 9.9 out of 10, yard-sale fall.
I couldn’t even remember the last time I had fallen in a race. Twenty minutes later in the “Hautanen Highlands” section, a series of short but quite steep down-hills with sharp turns at the bottom offered the same scenario, conditions I’ve handled flawlessly many times in the past. But the previous fall was in my head; I was so worried about falling that I slipped on every damn one of them: five falls in less than 5 k, six overall.
In response to the first few I let out the usual self-loathing curses, including asking the universe to do to me what I always want to do with my wife or Susan Sarandon. By the fourth one, I was just laughing. A very deliberate classic skier came by me several times when I was on the ground, only to be passed by me before the next tragedy. On the first fall he asked, “You OK?” On the second, “You again? Too bad.” On the third, “Again??!!!”
A Gu pack tore off my bib, and my energy drink bottle took so many nose dives into berms that the insulated opening that had never failed me before, even in single digits, froze up at 28 degrees Fahrenheit. The only good news was no broken bones or equipment.
The next day I wanted to get part of my drive home to Milwaukee out of the way early, before precipitation set in, so I skied at Minocqua Winter Park. The conditions looked perfect for anything; I decided on classic skis and headed out to the “Lake Marie” loops.
Until last year I only classic skied when skating was impractical, such as after a big snow dump. But following a couple Central XC Skiing Masters clinics with Igor Badamshin, the former Russian Olympian and World Cup skier, I started writing a series of technique articles with him for Silent Sports Magazine, an upper-Midwest publication.
Igor was the best coach I ever had in any sport: high school, college, post-college. I learned quickly from Igor the basics of classic skiing that had eluded me in the decades I had been primarily skating: how to kick by rolling off my toes with a supple foot, transfer weight and move my unweighted-ski forward quickly, resulting in actual glide rather than a bouncing thrash.
It all came together on the Lake Marie trail. There was excellent, deep snow, mid-20’s, the tracks were firm with no debris, and instead of the predicted freezing rain, the sun popped through and set off a bluebird sky.
The hills in this section are not intense, but I stayed in the tracks, skiing up all of them in places where in the past my pathetic technique would force me to move out of the tracks and herringbone.
The stiffness in my back and soreness in my glutes and hips from all the falls the day before simply dissipated in my euphoria. I was classic skiing, and unlike my previous classic outings, my ankles didn’t bark nor my lower back ache.
Two-and-a-quarter hours later, sheathing my skis, I thought, “Old clumsy dog, new tricks — thanks, Igor.”
Just a week later, driving home from a movie with my wife, I got the shocking call: “Igor had a heart attack and died on the Birkie trail today.”
He was 47 and, from all outward appearances, in good health. What a loss to the skiing community.
Every time I’ve been on rollerskis or real boards since then, I think of Igor, check my technique and smile.
About the Author: (adapted from the ABSF Board of Directors webpage)
In 1972, Charlie Dee started skiing, but his ski-passion took a quantum leap when he taught a year in Denmark and travelled repeatedly to Norway to ski. A decade later as Fulbright Roving Scholar of American Studies in Norway, he lectured – and skied – throughout the country.
Charlie taught in the English and History Departments for 33 years at Milwaukee Area Technical College, was a faculty union leader, published articles on both politics and sports, had his own radio talk show in Milwaukee followed by a TV gig as a talking head on a weekly news commentary show, was a monthly op-ed columnist for the old Milwaukee Journal and has served on several non-profit boards.
Always an activist, Charlie co-founded the Wisconsin Nordic Network in 1997, the organization that raises money for high school athletes to participate in the Korteloppet. He’s a member of six different ski clubs, writes about skiing for Silent Sports magazine and has a burning desire to stay free enough from injuries to become a Birch-Legger eventually.
In addition to skiing, Charlie enjoys vegetable gardening, cooking, canoeing, kayaking, biking and playing with his twin grandsons. He is married with two adult sons.
Masters Minds series: Are you a masters skier who loves your club? Submit camp or training recaps or announcements to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: “Masters Minds”. Articles can be first-person accounts or written from an observatory standpoint with comments from others.