PORTLAND – How old are you?

Seth Wescott didn’t flinch. After all, when the youngest of students at East End Community School were encouraged to ask questions Wednesday, a thicket of 5-, 6- and 7-year-old arms went up.

“I’m 35,” said Wescott, the Maine snowboarder who is a two-time Olympic gold medalist. “I’m the oldest man on my team. I’ll be 37 when the next Winter Olympics are held. I really hope I make it.”

Here and there in the school gymnasium, children’s eyes widened. Thirty-five? For some, this guy who races down mountains on a snowboard was older than their parents.

Wescott was brought to the school by WinterKids, a Portland-based organization that promotes winter sports and activities for Maine youth. He spoke first to a group of third-, fourth- and fifth-graders about dreams and goals, and the thousands of steps needed to get where they want to go.

After the first 10 minutes or so, he lost some of them, attention spans being what they are. They were told Wescott was a celebrity and he is. But Sugarloaf Mountain is so far away when you’re 10 years old and Munjoy Hill has been your world.

Then Wescott took his two gold medals from their pouch, held them up and recaptured his audience. Audible oohs and aahs filled the gym. The medals, a bit larger than compact discs, gleamed. Never discount the value of gold.

Do you get hurt?

Three major surgeries, and more bumps and bruises than he can count. He has a reconstructed knee. Screws hold together a wrist that was shattered. This winter he tore the pectoral muscle from his humerus, that long arm bone that forms the shoulder joint.

“There was nothing funny about it,” said Wescott, playing off the word. Kevlar was used in the surgery to reattach muscle. His listeners probably didn’t know that Kevlar is a synthetic fabric first used in the construction of tires, but they got the gist. Whatever he was saying translated into hurt.

“I healed quicker than expected. I’m ahead of schedule,” said Wescott after the last students left. He’s gotten the green light to return to the weight room. He’s already paddled on a lake, resumed his running, gone mountain biking and played golf. He’ll be on top of Mt. Hood in Oregon with his snowboard on June 13, good to go.

One goal is a third gold medal in 2014 in Sochi, site of the next Winter Olympics in Russia. Winning the World Cup snowboardcross championship in 2015 is another. Then Wescott’s plan is to turn from competing to coaching. Old man? Some of the younger skiers on the U.S. team like fellow Mainer Alex Tuttle are around 21.

Wescott doesn’t feel the 14-year age difference but understands why more of the kids come to him for advice. It’s called mentoring and he’s happy to share what he knows.

“I want to pass the torch to someone and I think Alex could be the one.”

He thought back to the questions asked by school kids who know how to get to the point.

Is this your job? It could feel like work, said Wescott when he’s asked by sponsors to make appearances. But the loneliness of training and the injuries have not quashed his passion. The excitement of taming a mountain faster than the snowboarders around him has not gotten old. It’s not a job. It’s his life.

Would he ever ski down Mt. Everest? Someone from the older group was thinking out of the box and Wescott liked that. He would like to do Everest but he’d have a lot to learn about mountain climbing first.

Off to the side, school principal Marcia Gendron shook her head in wonder at the give and take between the very approachable Olympian and her culturally diverse student body.

“We talk about people who do great things and reach goals because they’ve worked hard. Now the students can see what we’re talking about. He’s real.”

 

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

ssolloway@pressherald.com

Twitter: SteveSollowayPPH