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Take 2

A different spin on sports by The Seattle Times staff and readers.

August 25, 2014 at 3:32 PM

Torin Koos: An Olympian pursues a different sports dream

Cross-Country Skiing - Winter Olympics Day 4BY TORIN KOOS

I’m gouging at it hard, my fixed-gear Cinelli bike weaving through traffic and tourists in District of Columbia’s Georgetown neighborhood.

Venus Williams and Martina Hingis are playing tennis tonight. I’m soon to burn the midnight oil by pestering tennis stars of days past, then penning a few lines about it on deadline.

This rush-hour commute kind of sucks, but it connects me to my past life. Once I was a cross-country skier, making it from idyllic streets of Leavenworth to four Olympics for Team USA. But now the game has changed, and me with it. Like a junkie who has kicked a bad habit, it’s all behind me now. Pretty much.

After Sochi, I left competing in the athletic arena. I haven’t made it too far away, though, as I’m working as a journalist, covering sports for USA TODAY this summer and soon for the Deseret News in Salt Lake City.

From this transition, I’ve learned if I was an animal, I’d be a shark. Water must flow through a shark’s gills for it to breathe. If a shark stops swimming it dies.

While my athletic career can best be seen from a rearview mirror now, that doesn’t mean the search for high-performance stops. Without a challenge to keep me constantly pressing forward I may not perish like the shark, but I will flounder.

From time to time, I feel pangs of a life left behind. You know, it’s not so easy saying goodbye to your first love. But leaving it behind has opened a new chapter in my life.

Fortunately I’ve always had another itch I’ve always wanted to scratch. From Hunter S. Thompson falling through the elevator shaft of gonzo journalism to find a pool of mermaids, or Kenny Moore writing about other trackman’s best efforts while matching them stride for stride in some far-off land, I wanted to become a first-rate newsman. While newsrooms have shrunk — and with it, many a paycheck — I see journalism as a most honorable profession.

If years of cross-country skiing doesn’t do much for practicing how to best turn a phrase, it at least bludgeons the value of persistence and passion into participants.

When I run into my third-grade teacher from my Peshastin-Dryden Elementary days, she likes to remind me about a Martin Luther King Jr. Day from mid-1980s. I guess I interrupted class to say I, too, had a dream. I was on my way to become America’s first Olympic gold medalist in cross-country skiing. To 7-year-old me, the world held no finer oyster to achievement.

Torin Koos during the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.  Photo by Andrew Medichini / AP, 2006

Torin Koos during the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.
Photo by Andrew Medichini / AP, 2006

I never ended up winning that Olympic medal. And I can now tell you I never will. But I can also tell you I chased this dream hard. From that MLK Day on, I woke up every day and, before my feet hit the ground, I came up with a plan to answer a question: “What am I going to do today to become the world’s best skier?”

Every day.

Today, I seek answers to new questions, because that drive doesn’t die. What I’ve learned is the game remains the same — even when you trade in being the man in the arena to sideline reporter.

It’s all about me doing something better, harder, and with more love than anyone else out there.

As the Clash said, “You gotta give the people something good to read on a Sunday.” I’m perfecting my game. Now, instead of putting on skis, I’m grabbing a pen and laptop and pursuing the perfect story.

Torin Koos, 34, grew up in Central Washington, where he graduated from Cascade High School in Leavenworth. He grew up cross-country skiing and began competing at age 12, was an three-time All-American at the University of Utah and also attended Westminster College. Koos is a 10-time U.S. champion and four-time Olympian. He also enjoys writing and was a sports intern this summer at USA TODAY.  

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