March 29, 2011
When Scotland resident Andy Campbell flew across the pond last fall to take a seasonal job at Canyons resort, he figured he was done crossing ponds for a while. And he was, at least using the metaphoric version of the expression.
But he quickly learned that at Canyons "crossing the pond" had a much more literal meaning. "From pretty much my first day on the job, I’d heard about the pond-skimming contest. People start looking forward to it on opening day."
Of course, pond skimming is the time-honored tradition in which Parkites welcome the first glimpses of spring by dressing in outrageous costumes, catapulting themselves off a ramp and desperately try not to drown after attempting to ski or board across a bitterly cold 100-foot pond. (It makes sense if you live here.) Making it all the way across the pond is an added bonus, but mostly it’s about the style, the splash and the crowd’s enthusiasm for your run.
By those standards, Andy was a strong contender for first place.
Andy, who won the resort’s Ultimate Mountain Gig contest last summer and spent the season blogging about Canyons, is best described as the resort’s unofficial mayor. Everyone seems to know and adore him. And while a resort employee having a go at pond skimming isn’t particularly noteworthy, knowing that he’s paralyzed from the waist down and that he made his pond-skimming debut in a sit ski, is.
Andy is a retired soldier from the British Army and a veteran of the Iraq war. He was paralyzed in 2004 after a climbing accident and since that time he has personified the motto emblazoned on the back of his bright orange sit ski: "Die Living."
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"Andy is an inspiration to everyone he meets," says the resort’s spokeswoman Caitlin Martz. "When he announced he was going to do the pond skimming, everyone was excited for him."
As you can likely imagine, a sit ski is not the most practical device to try and cross a body of water on. First, it weighs about 50 pounds. It’s not exactly aerodynamic. And it easily tips over, which is slightly concerning for the person strapped into it.
"It’s quite daunting. A sit ski is pretty much designed to sink. But I knew if I could just get beyond the deepest part of the pond, and if I could stay upright, I’d be OK."
Andy managed to do both. And in a testament to just how beloved he is, a number of adoring fans jumped into the ice-cold water and helped him to safety. "They certainly saved me from drowning," he joked.
In addition to the gaggle of volunteer fisherman, Andy no doubt had the support of the crowd. Thousands of spectators hollered when his name was announced as the next skimmer. And when he came barreling down the hill, the cheers were deafening. "Having the energy and excitement of the crowd watching me was very special."
Skimmers get judged on five categories: style, costume, distance, air, and crowd applause. Pond skimming isn’t exactly an official sport where there’s recorded documentation of a participant’s points, but according to Caitlin, "I’m pretty sure Andy got a solid 10 for the crowd applause."
There’s also no permanent record of contestants, but nobody at the resort could recall anyone in the event’s 15-year history ever having attempted the skimming in a sit ski. And nobody could recall anyone as inspirational as Andy ever having been a participant.
"When I came to Utah for this job, I vowed to experience everything I could. Pond skimming the most stoketastic moment of the season." (When pressed for its meaning, I learned this word is a hybrid of being stoked and fantastic that Andy reserves only for truly stoketastic experiences.)
In a few weeks, Andy’s work visa expires and he will once again find himself crossing the pond (this time the Atlantic) to resume his life in the UK. But he says Utah will always have a very special place in his heart. "This community has embraced me and I will always remember my time here very fondly."
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, public-relations guru and globe-trotting thrill seeker. In a former life she worked in TV news, both as a reporter and sports anchor. She has bagged peaks on six continents, kayaked the Zambezi and Nile rivers, swam with great white sharks in South Africa and tracked mountain gorillas in Rwanda. She was once very nearly sold for 2,000 camels while traveling through Morocco.