NORTH FORK OUTDOORS/Martin Garrell: A sports mentor can truly make a difference

A couple of weeks ago we were standing atop Titus Mountain, one of the smaller mountains in the Northern Adirondacks, on a gorgeous late winter afternoon. Then, just before I launched myself onto the trail, the memories of my very first ski trip, right there in the Adirondacks exactly 50 years ago, came back to me.

If it hadn’t been for my grad school roommate, a friend from college who had gone west with me to the University of Illinois in Urbana, I would never have made that first ski trip with the U of I outdoor club. Tom told me in no uncertain terms that skiing was something that I simply had to learn.

Tom himself had skied for years with his family, mostly on trips west to places like Squaw Valley or Alta, so I bought my first Bogner pants and shell, signed up, and traveled 900 miles in the opposite direction to Wilmington, N.Y., where winter at the end of January was winter with a capital “W.”

Tom was prescient. I would indeed come to love the wintry mountains, especially when winds dropped and the snow sparkled in the sunshine. At the shop on Whiteface, I rented new wooden skis with cable bindings plus leather boots that laced up for walking up slopes or trails and dutifully followed club members out of the lodge to ride on my first T-bar (maybe it was a J-bar!) to the top of what seemed like a wondrous, lumpy white hill.

It quickly became apparent that the next four days in a ski school would be absolutely necessary, but neither frequent falls nor the plunging nighttime temperatures (minus 25 or lower) would discourage me. Tom would chide me the rest of the semester about the black and blue marks and the sunburn, but he knew I was hooked. In the years that followed, I would follow Tom’s example and make sure that all my “girlfriends” took a ski trip and lessons on the slopes. When Janet, now my wife, arrived on the scene, I realized quickly how special she was because she agreed to accompany a group of us out to Denver for her first ski trip. Skiing Loveland, Arapahoe, and finally Breckenridge (a few weeks after it opened), she absolutely fell in love with the sport, too. Years later when we bought our home in northern New York, she would pull me back onto the slopes where I had begun. Whiteface, where we ski often, is now only about 50 miles away.

The gift of teaching someone how to fish or hunt can be especially rewarding, too. When Janet and I were working in Hamburg, Germany, in the late 1960s, one of the graduate students in my research group made sure we attended all his parties and met all his friends; it was a great way to meet Germans in the post-war generation and also helped immensely in understanding Germany’s tragic history during the first half of the 20th century.

Hartmut came to us one day with a proposition: he knew of our travels on fishing trips to the coast and through Schleswig-Holstein and he wanted to learn to fish. Thus it happened that he and a girlfriend, Margaret, came aboard on our next cod trip on the Baltic, then on a three-day jaunt, fishing the North Sea off Helgoland. What a trip that was! Hartmut pressed us to use the lightest tackle so he could “feel” the fish better. He dropped down through the line classes, starting with 12 pounds, and finally finished up by catching a couple of six-pound cod in 90 feet of water (on diamond jigs) on four-pound test mono. There was really no hook set; you bent the rod and held on while the line stretched like a rubber band! Hartmut wound up buying gear and accompanying us on many trips before we returned to the states.

Some years later when he had gotten a position as an MIT post-doctoral student, then as a professor at Santa Clara, we linked up again, fishing in the United States. By this time, Hartmut was married with children and chasing trout and salmon in California. Then, while we were living in Mattituck, he came to a conference at Brookhaven one September, bringing his 8-year-old son with him so we could fish out of Mattituck Inlet. One memorable afternoon, we caught a mess of scup and bluefish, and then took them out with us on one of Bob Ceglowski’s night trips for stripers. By the end of the weekend, you could see the light go on in Ashok’s eyes. Years later we are still in touch. Ashok now is a fisheries biologist, working on California steelhead, and they recently were off on a fishing trip to New Zealand!

Mentoring in sports is incredibly gratifying!