Now the burly people of Wisconsin were very happy and they lifted their cheeses toward Heaven to praise God and thank Him. Then they placed their cheeses upon their heads so that God could see His congregation from on High. And God called his congregation 'cheeseheads' which means 'people of Wisconsin who wear cheese upon their heads.' And God saw that it was good. from The Cheesehead Bible
Endless Winter by Luke Bodensteiner, Momentum: Chasing the Olypmic Dream by Pete Vordenberg , Long Distance by Bill McKibben, and A Medal of Honor by John Morton are sort of cut from the same cloth. These books offer a behind the scenes glimpse at the journey of Olympic CC skiers, capturing the spirit of the sport so few understand. These books are about testing limits, conquering the lonely pursuit, and toiling often in isolation to overcome personal challenges and doubt. I'm fairly partial to Bodensteiner and read his book years ago, probably because he's from West Bend, Wisconsin (where I currently live) and his dad was a great family doctor that made sure I healthily declined into middle age! Luke is currently the Executive Vice President of Athletics for the US Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA). And in case you haven't been paying attention, are primed to do some big things in the coming years.
Wild Shot by Andy Liebner One winter while watching the Olympics, my son said to me, "Dad, I don't get how anyone came up with the idea of skiing on trails with a gun and stopping to shoot at things."
Good question, son. Wild Shot is about the physical demands of CC skiing and the rather odd biathlon. The book is an solid discussion about the usual rigors of competition and takes you through Liebner's life, which actually has some interesting twists and turns.
Beyond Birkie Fever by Walter Rhein covers America's greatest cross-country ski race in the American Birkebeiner.( or "Birkie" for short) Every year, thousands of people journey from all over the globe to Hayward, Wisconsin, for a world-class celebration of life, winter, and the competitive spirit. Elite international competitors and future American Olympians meet in a wild race through the great Wisconsin Northwoods wilderness. It is a treasure of an event and one that's on every skiing midwesterner's bucket list!
These books definitely belong in a public or school library that serves a snowy population. I can't tell you how important it is to have sports like cc skiing represented in a library collection. It's our job to provide a spark and open doors to experiences readers don't know exist. Books provide inspiration.
With the excitement of the holidays in the rearview mirror and hopes for the Packers on life support, this is the part of winter that drives the stake of seasonal affective disorder deep into us.
While fair-weather snowbirds(like my parents) flock to the south for warmer temps, the rest of us are left to fend off waves of polar vortexes. Winter sports, however, serve as a breath of life in an otherwise isolating landscape. Skiiing, hockey, skating, snowshoeing are all some of the hobbies that us northerners take up to pass time and keep our sunshine induced vitamin D levels at acceptable numbers.
There are a bunch of great books about these winter sports that should be read and should have a place in all libraries. Much like the winter sports themselves, many of these books are quietly hidden gems looking to get discovered. I'm going to spend some time this month highlighting winter sports books that not only give you a window seat to the action of these winter sports, but also will get to the heart of what drives these athletes.
My first suggestions relate to speed skating. Wisconsin is lucky to have a rich history with speed skating that has much to do with housing the Pettit National Ice Center, a U.S. Olympic speed skating training facility that has been home to the likes of Dan Jansen and Bonnie Blair. Even here, sadly, these greats remain fairly anonymous despite their success. Let's hope that these titles rekindle some feeling for the athletes, their accomplishments, and the obstacles they overcame to achieve greatness.
No Stone Unturned by Jesse Garcia is the story of Casey FitzRandolph, who won an Olympic gold medal in speedskating in 2002 and his sister, Jessi, who was diagnosed eight years later with stage Iv breast cancer. The FitzRandolphs brought glory to the United States in the form of gold, yet left their home country in search of alternative medical treatments. The story is heart-wrenching and thought-provoking, following the family through their journey. Told from the perspective of all involved, it offers insight into the heart of a modern American household dealing with two extreme emotions-elation and despair. I've watched Jesse Garcia for years in television news and she has a fantastic knack for mining things that truly matter in a sports story. This book is a must for any fan of life. As with Dan Jansen's story, it's a book about when sport and life collide, and how tragedy can be fought with courage. This would be a great family read.
Full Circle by Dan Jansen. If you could turn your memory back to the 1994 Winter Olympics, few stories would resonate like that of Dan Jansen and his skate for gold. Jansen skated in Calgary in 1988 on the infamous day when his sister Jane died of leukemia--and we all cried as he fell in the 500-meter race. With a lot of hard work, and fortitude--he had a world-record-breaking skate in the 1,000 meters in Lillehammer and we all cried again--this time tears of joy. A classic story of triumph over adversity, I don't think you'll find a better story of love and redemption involving a sincere, all-American guy. Jansen was "one of us" in Wisconsin. When tragedy hit him, it was tough to believe something so bad could happen to such a nice guy. But he fought back and conquered, which makes it a sweet story!
Zero Regrets by Apolo Ohno. While most speed skaters are not household names, Apolo Ohno might just be the one ringing the most bells with people today. Probably the most decorated Winter Olympian, Ohno recounts his life, starting as a rebellious teen with a supportive single father. After a period of introspection Ohno decides to train seriously, and he goes on to have a brilliant Olympic career. The book covers competition, training, controversies, and even his experience on "Dancing With the Stars." Ohno brought "cool" to the sport when nobody thought it was "cool." It was funny watching high school kids roll into class after watching his Olympic triumphs talking like they had known short track skating forever! That's the power Ohno had, however, and aside from winning, his story and everything that went with it allowed the sport to step out into the limelight.
It's a story sure to become part of family lore--told at our gatherings over turkeys and hams, passed down through generations. The story of LeBron James. Not the story of "The King" himself, but the story of my wife's feedback after hearing his story.
On a snowy New Years Day, we sat down as a family to watch More Than A Game, a fantastic documentary about LeBron James and his fabulous high school career in Akron.
As the final clip rolled, the screen displayed that LeBron never attended college and had found "seasonal" work. Upon reading this, my wife said, "It's so sad that this LeBron guy didn't do anything after high school."
You've got to be kidding me.
No honey, LeBron does not have a summer landscaping gig, and I'm guessing he doesn't find winter hours salting and plowing driveways in the greater Akron area.
Needless to say, I thought this would be a good opportunity to introduce some "LeBron" books that I have in my library. I think you may be surprised how good(and valuable) his backstory is, and how a great man/coach like Dru Joyce II can push someone towards greatness.
More Than a Game This movie essentially traces LeBron's grade school and high school career. His St. V's prep team may be the best high school basketball team ever. From tough and humble beginnings, LeBron, along with his boyhood friends, embarked on a journey that would take them from local fame to national acclaim. With inspiring coach Dru Joyce's guidance, the great "Akron 5" rewrote Ohio basketball history and became national champs. The movie does a great job documenting the road to greatness, and all the trials and tribulations that go along with it. It's actually a quite remarkable story, and I'm guessing probably unknown to many people outside Ohio. Whether or not you like (or even know of!) LeBron, you will find this story worthy of attention. It's an entertaining and heartening tale.
Shooting Stars by leBron James and Buzz Bissinger is basically a book version of the movie and covers the same time period from LeBron's youth AAU team called the Shooting Stars to his championship high school squad.
Beyond Championships by Dru Joyce. Joyce is LeBron's basketball coach in his grade school AAU years, and also becomes his high school coach for the junior and senior years. I have to admit that when I first saw Joyce's book, I though it was another attempt by a person associated with LeBron to cash in on the association. I was wrong. If you watch More Than a Game or read Shooting Stars, you will see that Coach Joyce went through the grinder with these guys. After experiencing his story, I have a ton of respect for him as a person and coach. The fact that Joyce's son was one of the stars and all of the guys are like an adopted family creates a huge tension within role and authority. Joyce handles everything with grace, and his accomplishments have earned him a voice that should be respected. Also note that he has a teenage version of this book--kind of a players guide that highlights the need to develop young men not only as players, but as solid individuals.
Read a few of these books and you might have a greater appreciation for LeBron's story. These books should be in every high school and public library, and would make great reading for a teenage boy, father, male role model, or coach. Oh.....and my wife.