"Discovery consists of looking at the same thing as everyone else and thinking something different."
- Nobel-winning Physician Albert Szent-Gyorgyi
It's never easy being different. Especially when you're a kid. Although most adults tend to gloss over this fact, young people are ingenious at finding the cracks in their cohorts' facades. And their cruelty can be overwhelming. Fall prey to their teasing and you can forget about a normal childhood. Know what I mean? Human literature is rife with examples of tortured adolescents and unhappy upbringings.
So it goes...
In ski racer Bob Styan's case, life could have been Hell. Endowed with endomorphic genes in a sport dominated by tight-tummied jocks, Styan could have easily let the incessant teasing do him in as a kid. Instead he decided to challenge his peers where it mattered most - on the race course. "After all," says the ever-smiling real estate vet, "it's pretty hard to tease the 'fat kid' when he consistently beats you down the hill..."
Easy enough to say. But building the skill set to actually make it happen is a whole other story. "I worked pretty hard at it," admits Styan. And laughs. "I've never really thought about it before, but I guess I had to develop more discipline than other ski racers. By the time I made it onto the World Cup circuit, I was fit and strong and knew myself pretty well. I knew what worked and what didn't work." He takes a breath. Sighs. "Still... when I quit racing at 23 I didn't have a clue what I wanted to do with the rest of my life."
But Bob had been paying attention. "Jungle Jim [Hunter] told me something about retiring from skiing that I never forgot," he explains. "He said: 'When you come out of ski racing, you're going to be four or five years behind everybody else. So how are you going to catch up?'" A long pause. "At the end of the day," says Styan, "you just have to put your head down and perform. It's all about learning as you go."
And finding the right mentors to help you along the way. "I was blessed," he says. "After retiring from ski racing, I decided to go back to school - SFU to be precise. But a week before courses started, Terry Burns called me up. Turned out Labatt's Breweries was looking for a new ski coordinator for B.C. Was I interested in the job?"
He was. "It was the best job I could have ever gotten," explains Styan. "I made so many good contacts in my three years at Labatt's. I mean, there were a lot of people looking out for me - Burns, Sam Lenarduzzi and Bob McKeachie to name a few. They were really connected guys and immediately took me under their wing."
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