With love and ski wax, Blair family still racing
Steamboat Springs — Skiing is an escape, Alex Blair explained.
Maybe every 14-year old girl doesn’t need that window out, that break in their everyday lives. But Alex does, and she has for more than two years now, since she came home to terrible news in May 2013.
Her father, Scott Blair, had brain cancer.
“I love the feeling when I can put on my boots and just ski and not have to think about anything else that’s happening,” she said. “I’m glad I have skiing, because it helps me escape reality.”
The Blair family has learned plenty about cancer in the two-and-a-half years since, absorbing lessons about generosity, hardship and everything between.
Scott was originally given two weeks to live, then later, between 12 and 18 months. None of those prognoses proved true, and Thursday afternoon, he said the 10 percent of his tumor that surgery couldn’t remove is still a part of his every day life.
Doctors aren’t sure if it would grow again were he to stop taking his medication, so he sticks to it, going through a five-day chemo session once a month, even though the drugs tend to make him, in Alex’s words, “grouchy.”
Some much needed help
The cancer is still a part of Alex’s life, too, of course.
She was at a friend’s house when Scott had the seizure that eventually led to the brain tumor discovery. She didn’t even know what a seizure was at the time. She’s seen one since and said it was scary.
Her mother, Connie Blair, bought journals for Alex, in eighth grade this year, and younger sister Ellie Blair, in fifth grade, to document their emotions. There have been plenty, and they’ve not all been scary or bad.
The whole family was blown away, for instance, by the way Steamboat Springs reacted to Scott’s diagnosis. He had headed up the physical therapy department at SportsMed at Yampa Valley Medical Center, and everyone from Olympic athletes to everyday weekend warriors offered their support.
“It made me realize everyone out there is looking out for you,” Alex said, “and that they will help you if you need help.”
It’s been an ongoing battle, financially as well as physically, however.
Scott had to step down from his job and is unable to work now, and that has big ramifications as well as small. He said it’s painfully difficult not being able to engage with the community the way he used to, and finding money for ski racing, obviously, has been a challenge.
That’s what made some news this month so sweet: Alex was selected as a recipient of the Chris Anthony Scholarship — $1,000 that will go toward paying her way through competitions this season.
Anthony, a native Coloradan and professional skier, set up the fund to help young skiers, and in Alex Blair, he found one in need.
“It wasn’t just based on ability,” said Caroline Lalive Carmichael, Alpine director for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.
She’s helped keep an eye out for scholarships that could help.
“It was based on character and perseverance, too,” Carmichael said. “Alex, her story is quite amazing with her family and just her overall attitude and desire to want to work and improve. We’re impressed with her work ethic and how much she loves skiing.”
Enjoying every run
It’s set to be a big winter for Alex.
She takes a step up to the U16 division, where the stakes are considerably higher than they’ve been.
She’s tried to compensate by fully committing herself to the sport, reluctantly, but decisively quitting soccer to devote herself to year-round ski training. That means dryland workouts in the spring and summer and, more recently, 5 a.m. wakeup calls on weekends to road trip down to Loveland Ski Area to log practice runs on snow.
At this point, she’s best in speed events, specializing in super G and giant slalom.
As for slalom, well, “my coach said I’m getting there,” Alex said.
She has big plans, too, dreaming of the U.S. Ski Team, the World Cup calendar and, like any young, good Steamboater, the Olympics.
To improve, she said she needs to focus on keeping her confidence high, keeping her words to herself positive and carving those slalom gates.
She knows she may need to skip a few trips this season — hopefully just practices and no competitions — but she’s trying to make the most she can of the opportunity.
So is her father.
“This is our third year since the tumor, and we really had to do everything we could in terms of finding funding,” Scott said. “The Chris Anthony scholarship, it’s a great opportunity for Alex to be able to keep going. Whatever money we can get is helpful. It helps the whole family get along a little better.”
For Alex, racing is genetic. Both Scott and Connie raced in high school, and Scott said he tries as hard as he can to keep his inner coach from offering non-stop advice.
Sometimes, he’s more successful than others.
“He tries to bring back what he used to do, but no one does that anymore,” Alex said, earning a playfully pained grimace from Scott.
But, they’re still going.
Alex is still skiing — Ellie too — and Scott’s still there to watch with Connie, loving every moment as they all try to find a way to make it work.
Ski racing may rank low on the priority list in the midst of the bitter fight with cancer the Blairs have endured, but for their family, it’s proven a crucial escape.
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