Tuesday, February 15, 2011

50 Years Ago Today.....

50 years ago today, Sabena Flight 548 crashed in Brussels, Belgium. On board the plane were all the members of the 1961 US Skating Team. The team was on its way to the 1961 World Championships in Prague, Czechoslovakia.

The crash killed all 18 members of the team, 16 friends, family and coaches and 38 others on that flight. It’s hard to understand the void the crash caused on the families left behind. Wives were left without a husband. Husbands were left without wives. Children were left without fathers or mothers. Entire families were destroyed.

As a result of the crash, some families left the world of skating, never to look back. For the majority of those left behind, it’s taken them 50 years to heal.

This past January at the 2011 US Figure Skating Championships in Greensboro, NC, the 1961 team was honored by being the only inductees into the 2011 US Figure Skating Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame presented each family with a bowl honoring their loved ones. The ceremony brought together as many family members left as possible. For some, there was no family that could be found.

It was a time for remembrance. A time to look at old photos and bring friends together that had not seen each other in nearly 50 years.

But most importantly, it was a time of healing.

Susan Richards Abbe meets with family friend Fred Heller after not seeing each other in 48 years. Abbe is the brother of Dudley Richards who was in the crash that killed the 1961 US Figure Skating Team. Heller is the college roommate of Dudley Richards.
Diane Yeomans Robins holds a picture of her cousin Sharon "Sherri" Westerfeld. Westerfeld and her sister Stephanie "Steffi" were members of the 1961 US Figure Skating Team that perished in a plane crash in Brussels, Belgium on February 15, 1961.
Diana Le Maire Squibb holds a picture of her brother Richard "Dickie" Le Maire taken the night the 1961 US Figure Skating Team left for Prague. Squibb lost her father National Judge Edward "Eddie" Le Maire and brother Richard "Dickie" Le Maire in the crash that killed the 1961 US Figure Skating Team.
Fred Heller is the college roommate of Dudley Richards, 1961 US Pairs Skating Champion.
Susan Richards Abbe wears a bracelet of the medals awarded to her brother Dudley Richards who was in the crash that killed the 1961 US Figure Skating Team.
Sheryl Nolan holds a medal awarded to her father Daniel Ryan after winning a bronze medal at the 1952 World Championships in Paris, France.
Ruth Scholdan Harle holds a picture of her, her father Edi Scholdan and brother Jimmy taken outside the historic Broadmoor Skating Club in Colorado Springs, CO. Edi Scholdan, along with son Jimmy Scholdan and the 1961 US Figure Skating Team, perished in a plane crash in Brussels, Belgium on February 15, 1961.
Terri Sullivan holds a picture of her and her siblings: (front row left-right) Terri Sullivan, Michael Ryan and Sheryl Nolan, (back row left-right) Patrick Ryan and Kevin Ryan. Their father coach Daniel Ryan and the 1961 US Figure Skating Team perished in a plane crash in Brussels, Belgium on February 15, 1961.
Bowls honoring the 2011 US Figure Skating Hall of Fame inductees line a table at the induction ceremony for the 1961 US Figure Skating Team.
Siblings (seated from left-right) Terri Sullivan and Sheryl Nolan, (back from left-right), Kevin Ryan, Patrick Ryan and Michael Ryan pose for a picture after receiving a bowl honoring their father coach Daniel Ryan at the 2011 US Figure Skating Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

These photos were shot for ESPN's Outside the Lines

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Give Me Some Sugar


When you think of snow skiing, North Carolina is not the state that usually comes to mind. For most it’s Colorado or Utah or some place really cold and mountainous with snow so deep one could easily get lost until a spring thaw.

Having grown up in North Carolina, my only memories of snow skiing in this state were with my church youth group. Usually it involved waking up at o-dark-thirty in the morning, going to the church in the freezing cold, cramming 20 people into a 15 passenger van and making the long trek up winding mountain roads to the ski slopes. Once there, you wait in line for what seems like forever-and-a-day to rent your skis, only to hit the slopes and find that they are frozen sheets of ice. Then you spend the entire day careening down the mountain like kamikaze on skis with your butt so close to the ground that it hits every bump or downed skier in your way. Or, if your like me, you look like Vinko Bogataj, the “Agony of Defeat” skier made famous by ABC’s Wide World of Sports for his epic cartwheeling crash coming off a jump at the Ski-Flying World Championships in 1970.

Fast forward twenty-plus-years and snow skiing in North Carolina is a whole new story.

A couple of weeks ago I got sent to Sugar Mountain in Banner Elk, NC, to shoot a little snow skiing stock photos.

Arriving there I realized this wasn’t like the ski slopes of my youth. There was actual snow on the mountain, not the man made stuff, but the stuff that falls naturally out of the sky.

The resort hooked me up with one of members of the ski patrol, Gene Self, a twenty-plus-year veteran member of the patrol that volunteers on the weekend. He was going to show me around the slopes.

More than 20 years after I last attempted to ski and not wanting to risk life, limb and camera (not necessarily in that order), it was quickly decided that I would not attempt to ski and take pictures.

Luckily, they had a solution. Gene would sled me down the slopes. Not what I had in mind but definitely better than sitting at the bottom of the slope and catching people as they came tumbling toward the lodge.

Being with the ski patrol has its benefits. With a long line for the ski lift, Gene and I casually walked up to the operator, Gene gave him a few instructions and we were in the next chairs up the mountain. Just like skipping that long line at Disney World for Space Mountain.

Membership has its privileges.

I shot a few pictures on the way up. And as my chair approached the getting off point that most people would ski down, the lift slowed and I was able to walk off without busting my butt. I probably did a lot better without skis than I would have done with.

At the top of the mountain is where we picked up my ride, an old ski patrol sled used to carry the injured down the slope. Call it the ride of shame.

As Gene gets me situated in the sled he points out a note written at the front, “It says trash sled but don’t take it personal. It’s just one we don’t use for transporting people anymore,” as he tightens a strap over my legs. “Use this for an ‘Oh Shit’ handle,” he says as he leaves me a little slack.

And we’re off.

It was like a sleigh ride over the river and through the woods but with a little more excitement. More like taking the sleigh down a black diamond with a sharp turn to the left, coming to a perfect stop at the base of one of the runs.

I’d snap a few pictures and then it was back into the sled, skipping along the slope to the next photo op.

I was great watching people as we made our way down the slope. Imagine the look you get from people as you pass them on the sled taking pictures. It’s like they were mesmerized by the sight of a train wreck and then they’d come close to having one.

Gene and I made a couple of runs down the mountain that day. It was a blast. I really couldn’t have gotten the pictures I did without his help.

Of course, that day has me wanting to make another trip to Sugar Mountain. This time to ski. I’ll just plan to leave the camera at home. And if I happen to pull an “Agony of Defeat,” at least I know the ride down the mountain in the ski patrol sled will be just as fun.