Tuesday, October 8, 2013

All-Star Weekend

The first time I met Tobias Schwoerer was mid-summer sometime in the late 90’s.  I was living next to Kincaid Park at the time; I’d just come back from a run and was getting ready to go to work.  My neighbor knocked on my door to ask if I wanted to go out for a run in Kincaid Park with him and a young German tourist, supposedly a good skier, who was headed for the wilderness of the Brooks Range in a few hours but wanted to get a little exercise before leaving for the North Slope. He introduced me to Toby, who didn’t seem too eager to stand around and chat – there was training and traveling that needed to be done.  For the few days that Toby was in Anchorage, he stayed at the home of Greg Cress, who was the UAA Ski Team coach at the time.  Toby had spent some time on the German National Team, so I can only imagine that Greg must have been salivating over this potential UAA ski talent, and was probably working him over pretty good, trying to get him to come to UAA and join the ski team.

(Luc Mehl photo)

I don’t remember when I ran into Toby next, but by that time he’d been roaming all over the Brooks Range, was falling in love with Alaska’s wilderness, and had decided to come back to Alaska as a member of the UAA Ski Team.  I don’t need to tell you about Toby’s accomplishments as a skier and runner at UAA.  You can read about those here:  GoSeawolves Article  But I can tell you that those statistics and accolades only scratch the surface of what Toby is all about.

Flying in to a climbing trip in the St. Elias Range. (Trond Bjørn Jensen photo)
Toby has pulled off some really impressive competitive feats outside of the NCAA realm.  Soon after he first came to Alaska, I remember calling Toby on the phone one sunny summer afternoon and telling him about the Bird Ridge race, an uphill-only hiking race which back in those days was held on a Tuesday evening.  Toby said he’d just come back from a rollerski workout and was kind of tired out, but since it was a nice sunny evening and he’d never been up Bird Ridge, maybe he’d go and participate in the race anyway.  He didn’t know how long the course was, so when he got to the top and they told him to stop after about 40 minutes of climbing, he had been under the impression there was a lot more climbing to go and had been pacing himself accordingly.  Nevertheless, he set a record in the race that evening - and never raced it again.  Mount Marathon a few years later – pretty much the same story.  Didn’t set a record, but came as close as anyone to a record that had been standing for 25+/- years.  He won the race (by a lot) and hasn’t been back since.

The Eastern Alaska Range.

I consider myself fortunate to have been able to join Toby for a bunch of adventures – into the mountains, over glacial ice, into the woods, on motorcycles, to rock concerts… but Toby’s adventures are often more ambitious than what I’m looking for. I’m usually satisfied just to be out in the wilderness somewhere, enjoying the sights and sounds of the natural world around me.  But Toby is an explorer. He is very curious about the world around him. He likes to discover the undiscovered.  He likes to attempt to go places where he’s not sure if it will be possible to go.  This doesn’t necessarily mean he’s risking death to try to achieve something that nobody has the guts to try.  But Toby loves maps, and when he looks at maps, he gets very curious about what lies there, on the surface of the land that those maps represent.  If you want to try something fun, go over to Toby’s house and mention an Alaska wilderness trip that you’d like to take – any trip – and see what happens. See how long it takes Toby to say, “Yes!  I’ve actually been thinking about something like that.  Let me show you what I want to try… I think it could be done…” In addition to Toby’s many Alaska packrafting adventures, mountaineering trips, and ski trips, Toby once hiked/ran the length of the western Alps, traveling light with just a small tarp to sleep under, from the northern side of the Alps all the way down to the Mediterranean Sea. (You can read about more - a lot more - at Toby's Blog of Wild Adventures)

Toby in the St. Elias Range. (Trond Bjørn Jensen photo)

Toby is now married with a young child, and works as an economist for the Institute for Social and Economic Research here in Anchorage.  It’s a job that suits him well because it allows him to satisfy his deep curiosity about the world around him.  He gets to use his analytical skills to research and investigate Alaska’s most pressing current economic questions.  And he’s exploring new personal experiences, too. He's on the executive board for Anchorage's orienteering club, and he is often asked to speak at ski clinics. The last time I spoke with Toby, he was in the middle of putting more insulation in the crawl space of his new home, and telling me that his son, Suvan, was learning to crawl.

In the St. Elias Mountains. (Trond Bjørn Jensen photo)
Toby was recently inducted into UAA’s Seawolf Hall of Fame, which is no surprise considering his accomplishments on the ski trails, running trails, and in the classroom.  The ski team (as well as the rest of the University’s athletic teams) always attend the induction ceremony.  But this year’s induction ceremony on Sunday, October 13, should be more interesting than usual for the UAA Ski Team.  And no matter what facts and figures we hear about Toby at the induction ceremony, I’m sure they will only scratch the surface of Toby’s character.

Congratulations to Toby Schwoerer for his induction into UAA's Seawolf Hall of Fame!  It's well deserved!