I had a really good time at St. Lawrence University. I met some phenomenal people, I shared some amazing experiences, and I laughed harder and more often than I can ever remember. I’m reminded of my years there today because for some reason I picked up and thumbed through my two photos albums from that era, this morning, while I was getting ready for work. I even brought it to work and had show-and -tell time with the my sales girls, just so they could get a Friday morning chuckle about how ridiculous I used to look strutting around in leather pants, a Carhartt Jacket, dirty Jack Daniels bandanas, all while sporting the meanest, worst looking uni-brow you’ve ever seen. I couldn’t help but chuckle at how care free of a life that I, and the rest of my SLU friends, had during those years.
College life for me was defined and divided into two parts: X-C Skiing Spence until 2001, then frat boy Spence until I graduated in 2002. Let me tell you, each part of SLU was a blast.
In 1997 I was recruited by Mike Knightengale, out of high school, to join the SLU XC Ski team upon my freshmen year in 1998. During that time I still had the ambition to ski as fast as I could, even with hopes to get to the point where I could crack the NCAA ranks. At that point I was honored to be noticed by a college coach, mostly because the ski crowd I hung around with before college all got recruited by the bigger names XC Ski schools, Middlebury, Dartmouth, UVM, UNH, etc. I was not at this level, and SLU happened to be a good fit because their XC ski programming was a 2nd tier team at the time. What was important about that distinction is that for the first time in my ski career I felt as though I was wanted. With that attention came a shift in my confidence, knowing that I was among one of the faster freshmen to step on campus in 98. It was a good feeling, a unfamilar feeling, and I liked it. The ski team quickly became my family, and as a young freshmen I immediately felt comfortable around the rest of the skiers. I was in my element for those first couple of years, handing out nicknames across the team, trying to be funny around the ski girls so they’d like me, everything seemed to be fitting except for one thing: my speed as a skier. Ironically the fastest I ever was in my ski career was at the first SLU team selection time trial in Lake Placid during the winter of 1999. I think I won that time trial, or was close to it, beating out most of my fellow freshmen, as well as the upper classmen. From that moment on I got slower, heavier, more apathetic, and overall under-enthused with ski racing due to one major factor: Partying. I found, and quickly became addicted to, the consequence free atmosphere of excessive alcohol, drugs, and good times.
Heading into sophomore and junior year I still tried my hand at making the ski team, it was the reason that I came to SLU, and I wanted to respect the sport that had given me so much as a teenager. But as time went on it became more and more clear that the other interests I had, girls, booze, and being social, didn’t lend itself to being fast on skis. So, at the end of Xmas training camp in the winter of 2001, I tearfully announced to the ski team that I was going to quit. It was time to move on. When the van pulled back into SLU after that camp I had alerted all of my boys in my house, Phi Kap, that the days of me trying to be a skier were over, and I was ready to fucking rage. Game on for part 2 of SLU.
What occurred from that point until I graduated in June of 2002 was an alcohol and speed induced blur. My boys and I went out, 6 nights a week for basically a year and a half. We would strut into the Hoot Owl on Tuesday nights in our Carhartt tuxedo’s and stuff as many Labatt Blue’s into our body as humanly possible. Then, on Wednesday’s, it was game on for flip night down at the Tic Tock for 25 cent shitty draft beer, one of those nights was Glass Onion night for 9.0% Ubu’s, then Friday and Saturday went something like this. Drink from Friday afternoon straight to Sunday evening, then repeat the week-long process over and over again. Honestly, it was a blast. The bonding and relationships that I forged in those years were, and still are, priceless, in fact I still stay in touch with many of those guys and gals today, even though many of the connections were fueled by alcohol in my case. See, I was introverted in high school, and it took a lot of courage to come out of my shell to meet people and be social. But in college I had liquid courage to help suppress the introvert in me. Looking back, regardless if I had to be hammered or not to have a conversation, I still managed to create friendships that mean the world to me. You may not see me at a SLU reunion anytime soon, unless they include a 50k race in the festivities, but that doesn’t mean that I still do not look back at those years with such emotion, gratitude, and love, for the friends I had, and that have stayed in touch with me during my recent struggles as a recovering alcoholic.
I could look at back at SLU and have a resentment about how it was the place that I learned to party and drink like a fish, which ultimately led to my behavior as a closet alcoholic. And to be honest, for the first few months of sobriety that is exactly how I viewed SLU. But as time in recovery has past, and clarity of thinking has increased, I now, more than ever have nothing but fond memories of my time in rural upstate New York. I haven’t been back to Canton to visit SLU since the fall of 2002. My hope is that someday I can have the confidence to maintain my sobriety and make a visit back with some of my boys to remember the fun that was had along with the bonds and friendships that were created. It’ll happen 🙂