What's in a name? Well, when it comes to public ski racing, if you can accept that the word NASTAR is meant to be an acronym for "national standard race," you can take the leap of faith about just how sweet thousands of participants consider a race that provides a level, nationwide playing field for all ages.
For the best of those racers who made it to this weekend's Super Bowl of average Joes, competition can mean more than the sole aim of a winning time and a shiny medal.
Take Ed Cummins. The guy had 18 inches of his lower intestine removed two years ago to stem his colon cancer. He's been fine since, but calls the cancer a "year to year thing" that's helped him revaluate his priorities: "I'm not quite sure how long I'll be around, so I wanted to do some things I've never done before," said Cummins, who started the races this year, got hooked and qualified for the nationals in Sun Valley, Idaho, for the 65-69 bronze division.
Then I saw Casey Smith grinning ear to ear, sitting above the Bashor race course Saturday. He asked me to take his picture with some kind of BlackBerry device, telling me that "mentally, racing was kind of a big accomplishment."
In 2005, Smith came down with Fibromyalgia, a rare chronic pain disease with no cure.
"There's one cure and it's death and I wasn't up to that, so I got back into snowboarding and NASTAR around Christmas," Smith said, getting ready for his second run in the 50-54 division. "It keeps me focused on speed and balance. The intense activity is a respite from the pain."
The affirmation of overcoming limitation also rings true for Chris Berns, who was hit by a semi in 2004, had much of his right leg amputated and, only after designing an effective prosthetic socket clamping system, discovered NASTAR two months ago. Not only has he returned to his active lifestyle, but he's the No. 2 ranked "2 Track" skier in the disabled division.
For every NASCAR cynic who argues racers are just making four left turns, a NASTAR detractor could simplify the experience to amateur stick-chasing.
Not for Kevin Pugh. The chance to compete at the championships signified a beleaguered Colorado community coming together behind a racer who otherwise wouldn't have been able to afford the trip.
As a neighbor on the quiet Lafayette street where the shocking Linda Damm murder recently took place, Pugh wasn't the only one who needed to focus on something positive. Pugh gathered instant hometown support through local sponsorship fundraisers and a benefit concert.
"I feel grateful," Pugh said after returning from disappointing Friday races to numerous messages from friends and even strangers he had just met at the local fundraisers. "It made me think differently, that people were behind me cheering me on, and I was representing Lafayette - it made me excited to race."