In Pursuit of a Far-fetched Dream
by Amanda Houpt
grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Louisville, Kentucky where no one played any kind of winter sport. Although we’d get a regular dusting of snow in winter, that’s all it was—a dusting, lingering only a day or so before melting away. We knew nothing of the many dimensions of snow that those of you reading this from the Northeast or Western US know. We never saw powder. We had no idea what it meant to shred gnar.
Despite attending undergrad in New England, I didn’t pick up my first winter sport until relatively late in life. And to this day, I have no recollection of what it was that made me buy my first cross-country ski kit at a bargain basement in Vermont the year that I turned thirty. I’ve never been good at any sport but dancing, and even that I’ve seldom done competitively. Cross-country skiing was no exception. I was and still am slightly hesitant on my skis. I seldom achieve the desired glide. And I am disaster on even the smallest hill. And yet, I love the sport as much or more than anything I’ve ever done.
Part of it is the many memories I have of ski adventures with the fierce women in my life. A late-night ski with Christina, in which we packed a thermos of hot cocoa and peppermint schnapps in hopes of staying warm and jolly while stargazing. Or my first back-country ski with a very pregnant Kate, in which I threw myself down hills with no sense of self preservation, as she passed me in a state of gliding calm composure. An afternoon with Annika in which we forged small streams in the foothills of our town. Or the many women’s ski weekends, where another beloved Kate would steal away from her growing family to join me for two days of ski clinics and hours of conversation, uninterrupted by boarding calls or baby feedings. The way we stopped en route to ski the Robert Frost Trail, pausing to read lines of his poems, feeling indescribably lucky for the day and the years of friendship that bound us.
Perhaps my favorite memory is the time that Kate and I decided to hike a steep trail in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. We met a group of intrepid dudes wearing back country skis at the trailhead who were packing up sleds full of camping provisions and chainsaws. They looked at us dubiously as we started. The doubt remained evident on their faces when, hours later, we flew past them down the trail, sliding down the mountain on our bottoms, our giggles reverberating off of the rocks and pines. We paused only to catch a glimpse of Mount Washington as its infamous clouds parted briefly to reveal its brilliant summit.
Given all of this, you can understand how pumped I was to watch the Women’s Cross-Country Team Sprint during the Olympics. Excited past the point of sitting, I chose instead to pace in front of my TV as Kikkan Randall took the first leg, keeping time with the field of competitors. I held my breath as Jessie Diggins took the last leg, exhaling only when she began to slip ahead of the Swede in the final second of the event. The sportscasters shouted: “They are all completely gassed! They’ve given it everything!” And there in my living room, I jumped up and down yelling.
When the sportscaster announced that the Swede was leading the final turn and asked, “Can Diggins answer?!” I jumped with both hands over my head and screamed “YESSSSSS!” As Diggins crossed the finish line to win the first ever US gold in the event, I fell to my knees and cried. I cried even harder as her teammate rushed the line to tackle her in an embrace.
Time magazine referred to the win as “one of America’s most far-fetched Olympic dreams.” And yet win we did. Of her part in history, Diggins said: “I gave it everything that I had, because when you have a teammate that you really, really love and care about waiting for you at the finish, you’re never going to give up.”
I adored this moment as much as the race itself, for it made me think about all of the amazing moments of teamwork I’ve experienced in my career. Watching Kikkan Randall, who is from Alaska, I couldn’t help but think of my colleague Melissa Emmal (another amazing Alaskan) who I get the pleasure of working with each day. I thought about my favorite parts of my job as a Senor Trainer—going on the road to co-facilitate trainings, working as a team to empower audiences to act to make their workplaces and communities safer.
Like cross-country skiing, I am not a natural public speaker. It’s been my life’s work to continually improve my skills in this area. Watching the American women win the gold, I couldn’t help but reflect on how beautiful a thing it is to work in a pair. I thought of all of the moments that I have watched one of my Alteristic colleagues speak their truth and move a room. The times I have watched them push past the exhaustion of travel and channel urgency to achieve another seemingly far-fetched dream, preventing people from experiencing harassment and violence. How watching my teammates succeed drives me to do better. I couldn’t help but think of how grateful I am to have experienced such collaboration, to have been made better because of it.
With these reflections in mind, I plan to return to the world of research in my next blog, in which I will explore the science of teamwork and collaboration. Until then, sweet friends, please continue to collaborate, working in tandem with others to pursue your own farfetched dreams.