Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com.
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Robert McMahon has a history of letting decades pass by between medal-winning ski races. So, it was particularly disappointing this winter when the 72-year-old Charlottesville, Va., man lost the prized silver NASTAR medal he won in Steamboat Springs in February.
"I was wearing it on my jacket with the bronze and gold medals I won in 1979," McMahon recalled. "I was getting on a gondola in Switzerland and lo and behold, the silver was gone."
Perhaps a hiker will find the medal when the snow melts high in the Alps this summer. But McMahon needn't worry. His medal will soon be replaced.
"Nothing would make me happier than to send him a new medal," Jamie Pentz said last week. "It's on its way."
Pentz is the president of Mountain Sports Media, publisher of several prominent ski publications and operator of the Nature Valley NASTAR citizen ski racing series that has held its national championships here several years in a row.
No one understands better than Pentz that citizen racers are never too young - nor too old - to appreciate recognition in the form of a shiny token.
McMahon is a natural athlete and one of those enthusiastic recreational skiers who was introduced to the sport early in life, only to have the demands of family and career postpone his pursuit of powder.
He grew up in Philadelphia, where his father, Henry, sold business forms. He'll never forget the time his father took him skiing at Split Rock Lodge in the Poconos.
"One I got into high school, we didn't do too much skiing," he said.
McMahon was a gifted track athlete and his coach forbade him from skiing.
"He said, 'You listen to me. You have a good chance at winning a scholarship!'"
Sure enough, upon graduating in 1954, he was offered a scholarship to run track at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia. Marriage, four children and a career soon followed.
"I never skied again until I turned 40," McMahon said.
With the encouragement of a new boss, McMahon began outfitting his own children with equipment from ski swaps, and the family took up skiing in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
At the insistence of his boss, McMahon entered back-to-back NASTAR races at a little ski area in Western New York called Peak'n Peek. He surprised himself by winning a bronze and a gold medal.
However, McMahon still had not become a lifelong skier. A new job with the U.S. State Department in Baltimore allowed him only occasional ski days.
It wasn't until McMahon retired that he really caught the fever.
"Six years ago, I got back into it," McMahon said.
He joined the Richmond (Virginia) Ski Club and made a trip to Vail, where he won a NASTAR bronze in 2006.
And, of course, McMahon picked up a silver medal when he visited Steamboat with dozens of clubs comprising the Blue Ridge Ski Council in February.
I meant to ask McMahon whether his handful of NASTAR medals marking the decades have symbolic meaning for him, but he had to excuse himself.
"I've got to get to practice," he said over the telephone. "I play third base on a traveling softball team, the Richmond Virginians."
We can all aspire to be as athletic as Robert McMahon in our 70s.