When was the last time you smiled? Not a polite smile given with a handshake or a head nod as you pass someone in the hall. And not a half-hearted smile that only partially forms in the corners of your lips with a passing thought. I mean a genuine smile that starts in your core, spreading through your body and lighting a spark in your eyes. The kind of smile that is for here and now and comes from bringing others along with you. When was the last time?
Sunday, February 11, marks almost three decades of Cheri Walsh Memorial races at Holderness School. It’s a festive event, and despite the cold temperatures and the wind that sometimes whips across the Upper Fields, the energy and happiness of this Nordic crowd is always palpable. Cowbells and cheering fill the air, the hot cocoa supply is limitless, and there’s always at least one person wearing a cow hat or a brightly colored tutu. From the Lollipoppers lapping the field to the master’s skiers striding through the miles, it’s a great day to test the limits and have fun doing it.
So who was Cheri Walsh? To me she was a friend, a classmate, and a teammate. She was one of the first people I got to know at Holderness, and as day students we learned to navigate the school together when the boy-to-girl ratio was 2:1 and the Butt Hut still existed behind Marshall Dorm. Both she and I came to Holderness as juniors, went on O’Hike together, and raced on the cross-country running and Nordic teams. She graduated with the class of 1988 and had plans to study at the University of Colorado Boulder. On our graduation day, she was killed in a car accident.
The thing that we all remember about Cheri is her smile. While her classmates thrived on cynicism and irony, she chose happiness—not a polite happiness or a selfish happiness but a genuine happiness. She was aware of the needs of others and celebrated the success of others. When I asked my classmates for their memories of her, Karen Woodbury ’88 wrote, “I just always remember her as such a fun, happy, go-getter kind of gal with one of those bright smiles that seemingly draws everyone in.”
Another classmate, Liz Ganem ’88 shared that she and Cheri were on Out Back together. “On a particularly challenging day,” she wrote, “I had a weak moment, where I was shoveling or trying to build the fire or something. I whined, mostly to myself, that I was exhausted, that I was done. Cheri was nearby and waved me over to her pack, where she slid me a few chunks of those magical seven-layer bars that the goddesses of the kitchen make every year…I was so grateful. I munched down the chocolaty, gooey, crunchy goodness and instantly perked up. She knew exactly what I needed, and I never looked at her the same way again…She was such a powerful, peaceful soul, and I was really lucky to have had her in my group.”
So, when was
the last time you smiled? My hope is that when you come to the race on Sunday, you will bring your from-the-core smile, whether you are a racer or a cheerleader or a volunteer. Smile for the success of others, smile because it’s race day, and smile with a genuine intention that is inclusive and welcoming. And if you can’t be there, smile anyway. Spread the spark.
Be sure to check out the Holderness Nordic Blog
moderated by Peter Durnan.