Tom Kelly: Here’s to Park City Nation
Two weeks ago Park City teens Nick Page and Cole McDonald stood on an aircraft stairway on the tarmac at LAX posing for a photo with their private Team USA Delta Airbus A350-900 behind them. They were just two kids heading off on an adventure. But, wow, what an adventure it was going to be.
Zhangjiakou is 10,000 miles from Park City, a few hours northwest of Beijing on a landscape of brown, frozen tundra. Rising from the earth are towering new structures and ridgelines with ribbons of man-made snow — and about the hardest, most solid moguls you’ll find that side of Champion.
Our culture of sport here in Park City emanates from the 2002 Olympic Winter Games held 20 years ago this week. While the fire barrels on Main Street are long gone, that spirit of sport remains as an integral part of our landscape. It’s manifested in the 54 athletes out of a half dozen nations from our community who are in Beijing. But it’s also core to lifetime skills being built in the thousands of young boys and girls who participate in sport to simply have fun.
“Growing up in Park City, every day on my way to school, I could see the Utah Olympic Park — not knowing that someday I’d be going to the Olympics for that sport. So who knows, maybe it’s been in me since I was a little kid,” said first-time Olympian Jared Shumate, a Nordic combined skier.
Page and McDonald met in Wasatch Freestyle’s Mogul Monsters program in childhood. When he was 8, Page would hike the hill at Deer Valley before the lifts were open to practice skiing down on one ski. In his Olympic debut this week, he was fifth — the top American.
Programs like Youth Sports Alliance’s Get Out & Play afford local kids opportunities to simply have fun with sport. “When I was in fifth grade, we found out about the Get Out & Play program, where every Friday, after school, you got on a bus and went to whatever sport club you chose,” Shumate said. “Going off the ski jumps at that point, I didn’t care about technique, didn’t care about anything, didn’t care about winning any competition. It was just all about having fun.”
“It’s just a really great place to be because everyone loves just to be outside and to do what they love to do like skiing, snowboarding, being outdoors,” said Zoe Atkin, who grew up in Park City and will be representing Great Britain in halfpipe skiing.
Rosie Brennan is a quintessential Park City story. As a young girl who moved from the valley up to Park City, she was an alpine skier, tried skeleton and myriad other sports. And she saw cross-country skiing at the 2002 Olympics at Soldier Hollow.
“Eventually, mom told me I had to pick one of the activities — anything I wanted but I had to find something to keep me busy,” she said. Brennan picked cross-country skiing. Today, she’s one of the top-ranked skiers in the world, and finished fourth in the Olympic sprint. “I jumped in the Park City Nordic Ski Club and never looked back. It’s been a great journey.”
Sport brings a lot of benefits at every level. It teaches you life skills, introduces you to lifelong friends and is a great way to have fun as a kid.
Athletes of the Park City Nation become de facto ambassadors for sport. “To everybody out there, especially in the Youth Sports Alliance programs, start now,” Shumate said. “Have fun. Enjoy skiing with your friends. If you’re passionate about it, keep doing it. And who knows? Maybe I’ll be on an Olympic team with you in the future.”
Here in Park City, we’re accustomed to rubbing elbows in coffee shops with Olympic legends. It’s a part of life here in our community. And that’s not lost on the next generation of stars like Nick Page.
“I can’t express enough gratitude to everyone in my corner,” he said from Beijing. “When you run into them on a chairlift or in the grocery store they tell you that they’re going to be cheering for you when they see you on TV. Every person like that just needs the biggest thank you.”
Wisconsin native Tom Kelly landed in Park City in 1988 (still working on becoming an official local). Inducted into the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame in 2019, he is most known for his role as lead spokesperson for Olympic skiing and snowboarding for over 30 years until his retirement in 2018. This is his 52nd season on skis.
This is that weekend. At least, I think it might be. The one perfect fall weekend where the aspen trees are orange and yellow against the evergreens and the maples are red, and the slant of the light tells us the days are getting shorter.
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