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Kadner: No medalists in these Winter Games

Families bundled up get store New Lenox Monday Feb. 17 2014. | ErGallagher~For Sun-Times Media

Families bundled up to get to the store in New Lenox on Monday, Feb. 17, 2014. | Erin Gallagher~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 19, 2014 6:24AM



The Olympic Games don’t compare to the winter events visible in any Chicago suburb.

I’m talking, for example, about the wonderfully inspiring Downhead Walk I saw through a restaurant window Monday afternoon.

Men and women, with their eyes glued to their feet to avoid a blinding snowstorm, were making their way through a parking lot with complete disregard for their safety. You won’t see any of those Olympic athletes dodging cars as they make their way through a slalom course.

Uh-oh, two of our competitors, heading in opposite directions, just collided. But both remained on their feet, laughed and continued on their way.

They’ve been training for this all their lives, with no promises of gold medals or dreams of standing on a podium as the national anthem plays.

An event comparable to Olympic curling is the Human Shuffle, where contestants must traverse slippery terrain while never lifting their feet off the ground.

Nicknamed the Old Man Walking Event by some, the goal is to travel the length of a Wal-Mart parking lot without breaking a hip. The course record of 3 hours, 35 minutes was set by Old Man Beasley in 1996.

One of the most popular events of these Winter Games is Driveway Clearing, made more exciting with technological improvements such as the snowblower.

While the introduction of the snowblower dramatically has increased the speed of the competition, it requires enhanced skills and a level of mental preparation previously not seen in traditional snow shoveling.

And here’s a great example of what we mean: One of our athletes is attempting to blow snow directly into the wind. He’s being engulfed now in a cyclone of swirling snow, virtually disappearing from view.

But there he is! There he is. He came out the other side covered head to foot in snow but still pushing on.

One of the keys here is to avoid pushing the snowblower directly into a bank of ice-packed snow that has been sitting around for weeks.

With his vision obscured, a competitor often will veer off course, creeping over the edges of the driveway and causing the machine to come to a complete halt as it stalls in a snowbank.

Later today, we will bring you the traditional Hand Shoveling event, featuring competitors trying to toss shovels of snow on top of snow piles nearly six feet high.

Sadly, through the years we’ve had terrible casualties in this event. But despite protests that the sport is simply too violent, this year, as in previous competitions, we have 60-, 70- and even 80-year-old men tossing snow.

You just don’t see that kind of personal commitment in Olympic athletes.

Speaking of great athletes, we have several women getting ready for the Freestyle Dog Walking event.

Elderly women seem to prefer the retractable leash, allowing their dogs to work up a nice head of steam before pulling their owners into a snowbank or across an especially icy patch of ground. The key here is to maintain your grasp on the leash after a fall or you will be disqualified.

I doubt any viewer of the Winter Games will ever forget young Bobby Wiggins, in 1979, holding on to his Norwegian Elkhound, Elsa, for dear life as she raced the length of a city block in pursuit of a rabbit that wandered onto the course.

When he hit that fire hydrant, I know we all thought there might be permanent injury, but I’m pleased to report that Bobby went on to have seven beautiful children.

Of course, no Winter Games would be complete without the various motorized vehicle events.

We begin with the Blind Backup, where drivers of up to seven SUVs at one time attempt to back out of parking spaces without removing ice and snow from their rear windows.

Always one of the more exciting events, its popularity increased dramatically with the addition of elderly people and children walking behind the vehicles. Many traditionalists object to the use of back-up cameras, which they claim take the human element out of the competition.

Fortunately, the requirement that all drivers be texting as they back up has increased the level of difficulty, despite the presence of rear-view cameras on the vehicles.

Combining the excitement of auto racing with the athleticism of long-distance running is the newest X-Game addition to the winter competition — the Suburban Street Jogger event, featuring men and women who insist on running in the street during the cruelest months of the year.

With streets narrowed to one lane during snowstorms, with visibility less than 10 feet, with cars coming from two directions at the same time, these self-motivated competitors refuse to allow Mother Nature to dictate the terms of their workouts.

While other individuals have trouble shuffling over the ice in boots, these rugged individualists make their trek in running shoes, seemingly oblivious to the vehicles skidding past them. It takes amazing mental toughness to remain focused on personal goals while motorists honk their horns and shake their fists in your direction.

With all due respect to the Olympic athletes, who claim the vents in their uniforms slowed them down, try running over a suburban street covered in a mix of slush, ice, road salt and newly fallen snow just for the fun of it.

No Winter Games would be complete, of course, without the Mass Transit Mad Dash. This is an event involving hundreds of people over a period of up to 12 hours, beginning early in the morning and ending in the dark of night.

After walking for blocks through ice and snow, braving wind-chill factors near zero, they are penned up on trains for up to an hour or more and then released at once onto suburban streets.

There may be no gold medals at the end of this race, but those who arrive home safely have competed at the highest level.



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