I grew up in the foothills of North Carolina, and learned to snow ski when I was in 7th grade. Appalachian Ski Mnt looked far more scary that first day. After the obligatory ski school experience we headed up the hill, and then held on to whatever we could find on the side of the intermediate slope to make it safely down.
Fast forward 8 years later. I have finished college at Mars Hill College in the NC mountains, finishing in December of 82 (there was no December graduation then, so I didn’t walk with a degree until May of 83).
It was getting to ski 2 hours each day for free. I improved…a lot.
One day I knew my skills had gotten to a whole other level when one of the instructors said something to me I’ll never forget.
Well, before I tell you what he said, I should give you some background.
This guy was, at that time, the best skier I had ever personally seen. He wasn’t very tall, but he skied on some of the longest skis I had ever seen (210 cms I think).
He could fly down the hill, carving turns, taking moguls as if they were nothing, launch in to a 360 degree spin, and never seem to catch an edge or look out of control. Ever.
I don’t think I ever saw him fall that year.
He was easily the best in the ski area, having grown up somewhere in the Rockies (and probably bemoaning the fact he was having to ski at so small a resort).
So one morning after the rush of the start of the day had passed, I was out on the slopes. The snow was good. The temperature cold, but bright and sunny.
I went to the top of the hill, adjusted my goggles, and headed down. I remember that run to this day as if the experience was indelibly printed in to my memory.
I can remember the speed, the sound of my breath (behind a bandana pulled up over my nose and under my goggles it is easy to hear yourself breath).
I remember the carve of the turns, the sound of the snow, and the slapping of my skis. It is like I can feel the experience even now.
As I came to the bottom, I finished up with a long sweeping turning stop. It was awesome. I felt great.
And as I pulled down my bandana and caught my breath, there he was. I had been watched down the entire slope.
He looked over and said, “Man, Thad, you can really ski great”. As far as I recall, he never addressed me directly for any other thing (though he knew my name).
I was blown away by the encouraging word.
Words are easy to use and throw away. We all do too much of that. Words spoken in anger can wound. Words spoken quickly can cause problems.
But a word of encouragement can lift someone up in ways we don’t always know or even need to understand.
Since that day I have shared this story many times. I remember the sense of accomplishment that one sentence made me feel. And I have always wanted to be known as someone who encourages. I don’t always do it as well as I am capable. But I know deep in my inner being that it is something that should happen. I am a better man when I encourage others.
Who do you need to encourage today? Who is it that you can lift up simply by being an encourager.