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									The second run

di Cosimo Bizzarri

There’s many ways you can fall in love with a girl. Undoubtedly the
one I chose - a free descent at 130 km per hour on a two-seater
bobsled - is not among the most common nor the most comfortable.
Especially if you consider the fact that she’s going in the exact
opposite direction as me - that is, up. The crossing of our two paths
- mine extremely rapid and smooth, hers tough and slow - lasts a
couple of fractions of a second, the bare minimum for my eyes,
focusing on the track, to catch a glimpse of her red cheeks, a pink
wool pompom, and four locks of dyed blond hair. I am lost.

Winter sports are not a common interest among those who are born
in my town: Metaponto is on the sea and the first snow runs are
900 km away, 14 hours by train. From their very childhood my
friends made the wise decision of dedicating themselves to
swimming, fishing and soccer. The younger ones, in spite of their
fathers’ grumbles, have taken surf boards underarm and delved into
surfing - a rather dull sport if you practice it on the unpretentious
waves of the Ionio Sea.
My love for bobsledding started in 1988, when for the first time,
while channel surfing, I ran into a colorful suppository darting down
an icy pipe. When my mom found me for the third consecutive
dawn entranced watching a bobsled race she only asked “Are you
normal?”, then went to work at the plant. The following winter my
teacher and I were dashing down the Cesana Torinese track.
Ever since those first timid descents, one of the most frequent
questions I was asked was “Why bobsledding?”. To this query I
never offered a response. I just smiled, considering it a rather
unintelligent question: choices, like the lives that are changed
through them, are not monoliths of concrete, they’re snowmen:
they look solid but in reality they only depend on the tiny crystals
they are made of. Those who kept insisting I sent to my grandpa
Michele. According to him the destines of the world are contained,
as germs, in the name of things. Thus, the fact that my name was
Roberto and that some of my dumbest friends - imitating American
TV shows - had started calling me Bob, was to him a clear sign of
my destiny: I was to become a great bobsled champion. Following
this line of thought, I reasoned, bobsledding should be filled with
such a large number of enthusiasts and champions to put every
other sport to rest. Unfortunately things don’t go exactly that way,
but this my grandpa should be left unaware of: he’s got ulcers and
lately he’s always losing at poker. Bobsledding, the Olympic
discipline, is a niche activity: a shy player on the chessboard of
winter sports, it is practiced by few and followed by few more. While
a future as talk show guest is not something I count among my
dreams, nonetheless I have to admit that more than once, walking
down the street, I regretted the fact that none of the cold passers
by has ever stopped me to say “Excuse me, aren’t you Roberto
Lucano, Italy’s bobsled national team member?”.

The frozen chute streaks against the runners as Alex brakes. We
had a good start: fifty meters running like madmen, then a quick
jump inside the bobsled and now what lies ahead of us is a long
game of brakes and trajectories, down to the finish line. Alex is the
brakeman. I am the one who finds trajectories. A good bobber
knows that the heart of each victory lies in the initial push. As far as
that’s concerned, I can easily adapt to its philosophy: it’s not that
I’m lazy, but I’ve always preferred concentrating my efforts.
I feel the wind rushing over my suit: it’s blue and tight, and this
morning as I put it on - Velcro over Velcro, zip over zip - I
immediately felt like a handsome, winning sort of fellow, as nothing
could defeat me dressed like this. Only now I am beginning to doubt
I follow each curve with slight movements of my head, as speed
enters through my flaming-red helmet. When you’re inside a
bobsled and darting at more than 100 km/h, then you can hear the
sound of speed, which is twofold: on the surface you only perceive a
loud roar, but if you section it you can find another sound,
imperceptible, furtive, a kind of metallic hissing. That’s the sound
you hear when you’re slicing the air, when you’re flying like a god.

Third, we placed third. Satisfactory timing. Not bad, considering
that the track was dirty with snow and that from the second straight
stretch on I kept glancing at my left, looking for a vision,
unconcerned about the track. Now I have a stiff neck. Ouch. Alex is
yelling at me - very softly, so that the other national teams won’t
hear us. But I don’t have time to listen to him. I’ve got bigger
problems: as tradition wants it, at the end of each competition the
bobsled is put away by two people: the massage therapist, Mario,
and the youngest in the team, myself. So my shoulder is burdened
by half a bobsled, not exactly a light weight. Mario is a massage
therapist now, but he used to be a student of moral philosophy and
there’s one thing he repeats all the time: he says that in life there
are passions so powerful we forget about their weight, considering it
an insignificant care on the way to happiness, but when we find
another passion, we feel the entire weight of the first, especially if
the two go on opposite directions; suddenly we realize the burden is
too heavy, we can’t carry it any longer, a few more steps and we’ll
get rid of it. Maybe if was because I was right next to Mario, but
these words resonated in my mind, step after step, until I finally did
it: I got rid of it. I slipped from under the bobsled and left Mario
swearing under his breath, trying to keep the balance. I hope he
didn’t fall, but quite honestly I don’t care: he asked for it. Now what
I really care about is going up. Going up towards her as fast as
possible, trying to walk on other people’s footprints, so as to not
sink in the snow. Going up, paying no attention to snowsuits, skis,
snow rackets, sunglasses, moonboots, and earmuffs. Going up,
without hearing Alex yelling at me, feeling no pain in my legs or
guilt for how the competition went. Going up, looking only for two
red cheeks, a pink wool pompom and four locks of dyed blond hair.
Going up, just going up, like a blind pilgrim.
The thought that I may not find her assails me for a split second,
halfway up the run. But it is only for a moment: Mario the massage
therapist would say that certain sequences in life are long
exceptions confirmed by the light-bolt incursion of a rule. Which
collapsed immediately, since she was right there, right where I left
her: two red cheeks, a pink wool pompom and four locks of dyed
blond hair. I am 15 meters away from her and I’m sweating, but it
isn’t my nerves: it’s the climb. I can see her profile, she’s looking at
the ice track, and she’s still beautiful, even from close up. I’m here,
walking the last steps, thinking of what to say, as she suddenly
turns around, looks at me, smiles and stands there, with a happy
look on her face, as if she’d been waiting for me for a while. It all
seems to me quite indecorous. We simultaneously fill the last few
meters dividing us and I must already look rather dumbfounded
when, with a low, pleasant voice, she simply utters “Excuse me,
aren’t you Roberto Lucano, Italy’s bobsled national team member?”.
With that kind of start, this one’s going to be a glorious descent.

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