Joel Reichenberger: Hugging it out

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Joel Reichenberger

Steamboat Pilot & Today sports reporter and photographer Joel Reichenberger can be reached at 871-4253 or jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Joel here.

— As anyone who read my column a few weeks ago about my feeling awkward cheering for athletes during races might guess, I’m not that into hugging sources.

I typically don’t — no hugs with grizzled football coaches or sweaty runners, extreme skiers or snowboard racers.

A weird thing happened last weekend at Cody’s Cha­llenge Randonee Race at Ste­­amboat Ski Area, however.

I had a long interview with Candy St. John, mother of Cody St. John, whom the event honored, and Corinne St. John, Cody’s sister.

I asked most of the usual questions: What they thought of the day, and what it meant to them. I asked some deeper stuff, too, about the good days and bad days since Cody died and about why they continue to return to Steamboat.

Cody St. John was a ski patroller at the ski area and died after a 2006 car accident. Since then, the St. John family has had no official ties to Steamboat.

No one cried during the interview, but there were emotional moments, and everyone — me included — got a little misty-eyed as mother and daughter talked about how much Cody loved the town of Steamboat Springs and the friends he met here. They said it was his home and, thanks in large part to the ski patrol community Cody was a part of, it feels like their home.

Then, afterward, Candy reached an arm out. Whether she was going for the pat on the back or the hug, I’ll never know. I went in for the hug, and then Corinne blew right past an outstretched hand for a hug of her own.

At first, I felt awkward about the whole exchange. Public displays of emotion aren’t always my thing, and there I was, jumping to hug two sources I barely know who were emotional about the loss of a man I never met.

The more I’ve thought about it, the less awkward the whole thing seems.

Many of the event’s competitors said they hadn’t known Cody but were inspired to race in his honor.

Michael Brown and Robert Page didn’t know Cody St. John, either, and they, too, were emotional during the day’s events. They were two of the three people at the event who received organ transplants after Cody died.

Brown, of Denver, was suffering from debilitating diabetes and had been for 27 years. He received the kidney and the pancreas and said his life has been entirely changed.

Page said he abused drugs and alcohol and was dying from the effects. He received the liver, changed his life and now counsels patients at hospitals near his home in Castle Rock and preaches at a local church.

Cody’s Challenge raises money for scholarships for ski patrollers seeking to further their medical education, and it seeks to raise awareness for organ donation.

I hope Cody’s memory continues to affect people who never knew him. I hope the Cody St. John Foundation continues to flourish. I hope the St. Johns didn’t spend their whole trip home talking about that creepy reporter, and I hope none of the sweaty athletes I usually interview are getting any ideas.

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