John F. Russell: Middle Park skier inspires |

John F. Russell: Middle Park skier inspires

John F. Russell

— He wasn't one of the favorites to win at this year's Colorado State High School Skiing Championships, but that didn't stop the crowd from cheering for Middle Park skier Sam Parker as he made his way down the steep-pitched face of Howelsen Hill last Friday.

It was the freshman ski racer's first taste of championships skiing, and though the 15-year-old didn't win a title in his two races, he did manage to capture more than a few hearts.

Not because he was the fastest skier on the hill, the most talented or the most flamboyant. He was popular because he defines what athletics should be about — especially in high school.

You see it didn't seem to matter that he finished several minutes behind the winner in the slalom race with a time of 7 minutes, 24.76 seconds, or that he placed well back in the field. Nobody who was cheering cared that he had no shot at bringing home a state title, they simply were inspired by his finish.

The only thing that mattered to Sam, who has Down Syndrome, and all those who watched him, was that he was part of a team. The only thing that mattered was that Sam, who could have sat at home, chose to come out and ski race on this day.

"I just love to get my skis on," Sam said after wrapping up the slalom event Friday afternoon in Steamboat Springs.

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He was greeted by teammates, friends and family just outside the finish area.

"Sam has been great on the team. He just brings a whole bunch of energy, and we all love seeing him succeed," said Sarah Bausano, Sam's teammate on the Middle Park ski team. "We love cheering him on because he just absolutely loves it. You see him in the starting gate, and he has the biggest smile on his face, and it's awesome to see."

Teammate Abby Wollan said it's hard to explain what Parker brings to the team, but she said it wouldn't be the same without him.

"He's so much fun, and he's just happy all the time and that makes everyone else happy," Wollan said. "Whenever you are down or have a bad run, he's there. He's just so happy that it makes it hard to get down. It makes you feel happy."

Sam's mom Stacey said her son has skied his whole life, but this is the first time he's done it competitively. This winter she told him that there was a high school ski team, and she asked Sam if he wanted to be a part of it.

"He thought he might want to come out and be a part of the team." Stacey said. "He came out and gave it a try, and it's been great."

Stacey admits that watching Sam make his way down the All Out ski run at Steamboat Ski Area Thursday and the face of Howelsen Hill Friday made for some nervous moments, but Sam never faltered as he made his way through every gate and finished both races for his team.

"I like the soft, easy, smooth snow," Sam said after finishing the slalom race. "I think I did a good job. It was kind of slippery up there."

There was no question that the conditions were challenging for every racer on Friday. Sam proved not only that he could handle it, but that he could put a smile on everyone else’s face in the process.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966