Last week I attended the Burton US Open Snowboarding Championship in Vail, Co. MINI is the presenting sponsor of this “rad” event. As the senior marketing exec representing MINI, I conducted interviews with journalists and worked with the team to ensure MINI was well positioned in the eyes of the attendees. I also took the opportunity to learn how to snowboard for the first time. I wanted to understand what the craze was all about and how to connect with the “dudes” and creative folks who like to have fun carving turns.
But the reason I’m sharing this experience on The Sherpa Path is because of a few special people I connected with, not as a marketer.
The first night in Vail was a charity event for the Chill Foundation – http://www.chill.org – which provides opportunities for at-risk youth to build self-esteem and life skills through board sports. We heard from one of the kids who has gained new confidence on the mountain and in life. Chill was started by Jake Burton Carpenter and Donna Carpenter, owners of Burton Snowboards. They were both kind, sincere and approachable.
Jake Burton first strapped a snowboard to his feet in the 1970s and for the next several years built and sold snowboards himself. Burton has grown to become the global leader in the snowboard industry. But, Jake hasn’t forgotten his challenging start and has not lost his passion for the sport. At 59 years of age, he still rides 100 days a year. I immediately felt comfortable talking and hanging with him. The key Sherpa-like quality I saw in Jake was humility.
The next night, at a sponsor and rider party in town, I like most people was looking to meet Shaun White. He was there but we didn’t meet. I did meet a rider named Kevin Pearce, whom I instantly connected with and will never forget. I didn’t know Kevin’s story but many people do and soon many more will. A film of his life-changing snowboarding crash and road to recovery was recently produced by HBO Films and premiered at Sundance – “The Crash Reel.” Kevin was an up-and-coming snowboarder who was expected to give Shaun White the biggest challenge at the Vancouver Olympic Games. Just 49 days before the Games, on December 31, 2009 during a training session in Park City Utah, Kevin missed a maneuver and slammed his head and face on the half pipe, leaving him in critical condition. He was in a coma for a month. He suffered severe memory loss, impaired vision and had to learn to walk again. The Kevin I met seemed like just another cool dude in his mid-twenties. I introduced myself and congratulated him on his perseverance. He said that the music inside the party was hurting his head and suggested that we go into the lobby to sit and chat. We talked about our lives and how sometimes “shit can happen out of nowhere and instantly change the path you are on.” One of the things that makes Kevin so special, and Sherpa-like in my view, is how he he has embraced his new path. He can no longer compete as a pro snowboarder. But he is happily hanging at the Burton US Open, is a commentator at the X-Games and is enjoying himself with his rider-friends. Several, including Danny Davis and Luke Mitrani who were at the party, started a group called “frends” (intentionally without an “i”). Kevin is starting to speak with groups of athletes, kids and war veterans about the dangers of concussions and about living a productive life with a severe head injury. It would have been easy and justifiable to turn away from his previous path with bitterness, anger, embarrassment or even shame. But that’s not the choice Kevin made. He is on a Path to thrive, not just survive.
After nearly an hour of talking on the comfy leather couch by a big fireplace, Danny and Luke joined us. Then Jake Burton came out of the party into the area where we were hanging and saw Kevin. Kevin jumped up and they gave each other a bear hug. I was fascinated to see how the next few minutes transpired. Jake and Kevin started play-fighting with some pretty forceful wrestling and pushing. Kevin pushed Jake onto a chair. Jake waited a few minutes and then yelled “sneak attack” and grabbed Kevin, pulled off his hat and threw it on the floor. Jake treated Kevin like any other dude, which seemed to be just what Kevin wanted. I picked up Kevin’s hat and tossed it back to him. A few feet away from the make-shift “ring” was the large stone fireplace. Folks were gathering around smiling, somewhat nervously. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Danny step between the action and danger, just to make sure nothing should happen to either one of his frends.
I indeed learned a lot about a few special “Sherpa-like dudes” and a bit more about myself.