What Paul taught us
February 26, 2008
The subject line of the email was "Ski racing loses good friend" and I assumed one of the area’s venerable skiing pioneers had passed on to the snowy beyond. But a quick scan of the first line made my heart skip a beat. My friend and confidante about all things skiing, Paul Robbins, had died at his home in Vermont.
Not possible! Paul’s byline and zesty account of Friday’s downhill race in Whistler and the wonderful relationship between downhill champs Picabo Street and Lindsey Vonn was still hot off the press. His "Hey lady, I’ll have it to you in time for your Saddy edition," was still reverberating in my head.
Paul’s coverage of last weekend’s World Cup race in Whistler was not the first time he had saved my bacon.
In 2006, when Ted Ligety pulled off a completely unexpected gold medal performance in the Olympic alpine combined, a breathless Paul grabbed a cell phone in Torino, Italy and called The Park Record. The news was just coming over the wire and Paul knew we were probably buttoning up the front page to send to the press oblivious to the fact that a hometown kid had just won a gold medal.
He was calling from a little Italian bistro and was with his kids who were also covering the Olympics for various news outlets. Paul was rapturous about Ted’s win and about being with his family. He raved about Ted’s modesty and hard work and about how he loved to see a good kid win.
Paul was also there for us when one of our sports writers quit right before a World Cup race at Park City Mountain Resort, when we covered our first Nordic races at Soldier Hollow and when we attended our very first ski jumping events. If he wasn’t covering the event for us, he was tutoring our novice sportswriters.
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Paul was the beloved Grandpa of the pressroom. He had friends and admirers on every continent, always freely sharing his expertise and his Gummy Bears.
I am not sure that some of the young athletes Paul wrote about will ever understand how much he nurtured their careers. Ski racing is not exactly a mainstream sport in America and without Paul their accomplishments might have gone unnoticed.
For Paul, a ski race was more than an athletic event and a medal was much more than hardware. In Paul’s eyes, and hence our own, a crash was catastrophic and a comeback was pure heroics.
Paul’s stories may have been about skiing, but they also taught us about families scraping up money to support their kids’ dreams, about courage, battling personal demons, falling in love, rivalry, patriotism, underdogs and champions.
Paul will be greatly missed around the world, but especially in our newsroom where he reminded us that our job is not just to say who won, but how they played the game.