One segment of the racing crowd that has always impressed and intrigued me are the old dogs. You probably know the type. They are not members of the US or Canadian Ski teams, though they might have been at some time. They are not usually the people who win the races, but once in a while they are close. They are not the people that should beat you if you think you are training ‘full-time’, but sometimes they do.
While the term old dog definitely suggests athletes who are advanced in years, you do not qualify as one simply by virtue of being old. You have to be fast and you have to be cunning. You would qualify as an old dog, for instance, if you are 35 and over, have a full-time job, and finish in the top 10 at the Canadian Championships in the open category. There is by no means a strict old dog qualification standard, but it would be fair to say that old dogs have to be at least occasionally competitive with the ‘full time young bucks’ as we will call them.
I think that the old dogs sometimes deserve more credit than they receive. Their existence is beneficial to racing in general in a number of ways. At a broad level, they provide a good example of what years of training and discipline can create for all those younger people to look up to. They also tend to make races more interesting and colourful. Most of us know the feeling of being pursued in a race by an old dog. To make a long story short, you hate it, but you know it is good for you. You might, for instance feel like cruising to the finish of a 50k race after having been dropped by the leaders, but if an old dog is coming, you have not much choice but to soldier on in the hopes of preserving your dignity.
If you are fortunate enough to have one or several old dogs on your team, you will know that they are terrific people to learn things from. In this case, we have a case of ‘old dogs teaching new tricks’. Someone who has raced for twenty some odd years inevitably has no short supply of that thing we call ‘experience’. If you are lucky and persistant, you might get them to share some of it with you. Actually, in my experience, most old dogs are pretty willing to share their knowledge. Of course, according to the Dalai Lama, sharing your knowledge allows you to achieve immortality.
Finally, they are excellent examples of people who are deeply passionate about our sport and many of the things that really matter about it: They love to ski, they love to challenge themselves and they love to challenge others.
To all the old dogs out there, I say ‘Go fetch!’