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Thursday, December 5, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Jim Kershner: Why, with regret, I’m retiring from cross-country skiing

Jim Kershner, a distinguished cross-country skier who, among many other notable achievements, once finished fifth from last Spokane's 10k Langlauf race, is retiring. (COURTESY / COURTESY)
Jim Kershner, a distinguished cross-country skier who, among many other notable achievements, once finished fifth from last Spokane's 10k Langlauf race, is retiring. (COURTESY / COURTESY)

It is with regret that I announce my retirement from cross-country skiing.

Yes, this has been a long and distinguished career. I have participated in Langlauf, the area’s premier cross-country ski race, 13 times as either a competitor or a marshal. One year, I had the distinction of finishing fifth from last, which is harder than you might think in a race with hundreds of competitors, some of whom are toddlers and cardiac patients. Many other years, I did much better, finishing second to last strictly in my age group.

Yet now these glories are behind me. I am selling my skis and my Air Force surplus knickers, because the last time I went cross-country skiing back in February, I somehow managed to commit what my medical chart refers to as a “a massive tear of the whole supraspinatus and the whole infraspinatus.” This translates as: I snapped two of the four tendons in my rotator cuff, causing my right arm to no longer actually work.

After numerous doctor visits, one MRI, one surgery and multiple physical therapy sessions, my arm is working again, although my fastball has lost 40 of its original 50 miles per hour. During this long, hard recovery, I had plenty of time to reevaluate my priorities, mainly because I was incapable of doing anything else, except to whimper while trying to put on a T-shirt.

I came to an irrevocable decision. I would never go skiing again. I simply cannot afford to gallivant around the mountains wearing two fiberglass boards on an icy, rut-filled surface and run the risk of falling down and re-ripping any sort of spinatus, either infra or supra.

Some of my friends have tried to talk me out of this, pointing out, correctly, that the risk of a crash in cross-country skiing is relatively slight, because it is cross-country skiing, for crying out loud, not the Olympic downhill at Hahnenkamm. A cross-country skier, even a mediocre one like myself, can go entire seasons without falling down once.

My friends are correct, but the risk is still not zero. Snow remains involved.

At this point, I should probably mention that my shoulder-ripping event took place without falling down at all. I was at Farragut State Park in Idaho, on perfectly level ground, skiing easily along at approximately 3 mph. A rutted patch caused me to lean to the right, so I planted a pole to keep from tipping over in an embarrassing manner. I immediately heard an ominous double-popping sound in my shoulder. On the positive side of the ledger, I had not tipped over in an embarrassing manner. On the negative side, I could no longer raise my arm above my waist.

The point is, I have proven that I don’t even need to fall down to incur a serious orthopedic injury. This only stiffens my resolve to never go skiing again, and probably never even go snowshoeing, ice-skating, mountain-biking, skateboarding or even Lime-scootering, as if I would be caught dead doing that.

I do not make this decision lightly, because cross-country skiing has long been a well-loved part of my life. I have been a skier since I was a kid, originally downhill, but I switched to cross country in midlife, mainly because – and it pains me to write the following words – I thought I would injure myself less often.

My distinguished cross-country career includes highlights even beyond my fifth-to-last Langlauf finish. One year, I placed in the prestigious Woolies and Woodies competition (stop it) for the most creative old-fashioned costumes. I was wearing my gigantic hand-me-down woolen sweater, emblazoned with an elk, and my Air Force surplus woolen knickers. I placed in this competition not because I had the best-looking costume, but because – thanks to my pal Dan Hansen – I had the best Costume Theme: “Wyoming Thrift Shop.”

I also own one other distinction that I challenge any cross-country skier, anywhere in the world, to match. A moose once collided with me.

Note my wording: I did not collide with the moose, something that probably happens every week to skiers in Nome or Finland. No, this moose collided with me, in the same way that a moving car might collide with a parked car.

I have written about this incident before, but for those of you who do not own my “Collected Works: Volumes I through VIII,” here’s a brief synopsis: Wildlife officials had tranquilized a moose on Mt. Spokane and were sliding it toward a truck. I was standing there on my skis, mesmerized by the whole process, when the moose slipped away from its handlers and slid down the slope, straight toward me. I have never mastered the art of shuffling backward on skis, so I collapsed in tangle of poles. The moose – smelling delightfully of wet ungulate fur – banged gently against me and came to a halt. The comatose moose was blissfully unaware of this encounter, while I had to endure the mirth of my so-called friends for the next 5 minutes, followed by the next 20 years.

Recently, cross-country skiing has been the favored wintertime activity of the Kershner-Bonino Hiking, Skiing and Brewpub Club. In summer, my pal Rick Bonino and I go on 6- to 8-mile hikes up to Bitterroot or Selkirk lakes, or somewhere else at altitude, followed by posthike visits to a brewpub. In winter, we go to Mount Spokane and ski 12-15 kilometers and hit a brewpub on the way home.

Last February, we switched it up and went skiing at Farragut State Park. Yes, it was on a Kershner-Bonino club outing that I blew out my shoulder. To answer the obvious question, yes, of course, we still hit a brewpub on the way home. There was no reason to overreact. I still had one entire arm that worked.

But now, alas, the skiing part of the club is finished, never to be revived. In winter, we’re going to have to think of an alternative activity, one that does not involve snow or ice.

All I can say is, thank goodness that downtown Spokane will soon have an indoor miniature golf facility. Putt-putt golf sounds like a winter activity even my orthopedic surgeon would heartily condone. I may be a prize klutz, but even I can’t fall down while putting.

Oh, wait. I suppose I can lean too hard on a putter. Let me rethink this.

Jim Kershner is a former Spokesman-Review reporter and a 66-year-old orthopedic surgery patient.

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