by Roger S Nelson
"Oh no! The snow machine won't start."
I looked over to see one of the Canadians talking to a guy trying to start a tanker truck. I reached down and picked up a handful of snow to make a snowball. It wouldn't pack. Too cold. We needed "warm" snow or the event would have to be postponed. Didn't they have a backup machine?
This couldn't be happening, four years of training for this event flashed through my mind. I'd gone to Alaska in the mountains during the summer to find snow where I could train. I and four others who would represent the USA in the winter Olympics snowball fight worked hard. We practiced special formations where we'd all charge at an opponent at once to take him out, or we'd run around and surround him so we could nail him. We practiced hitting moving targets. Snowplows were a favorite, but way too easy. Tires swinging from a tree were harder. We got where we could take out a snowshoe rabbit while it was running and then roast it for dinner. Once I even drove off a wolf with a few good aims. We even invented special spikes on the bottom of our shoes so we'd have better traction when running through the snow and dodging snowballs. It was a thrill to play the game, and we knew every trick in the book plus a few more we developed ourselves.
I breathed a sigh of relief when the official said "No big deal, the battery is dead, we'll just bring another vehicle over here and use the jumper cables." They got the snow machine running, and I watched as they spread a layer of snow all over the playing field. Soon a layer six inches deep covered the basketball court sized field and they announced over the speakers that the USA was up against Canada for the first round. The five of us ran out on the field to face our opponents. Jim took the center position. Judy took guard, John played forward, and Justin and I played rover. The rules were simple. Each person had to take five hits on the torso to be called out. The team with the last man (or woman) standing would be the winner. Being hit on the head, arms, or legs didn't count. So if someone threw at you and you blocked it with an arm or hand, it didn't count. We each wore a special vest that would detect a hit and transmit it wirelessly to a scorekeeper. Since a high speed snowball coming at you could hurt, we all had on helmets and facemasks, and also guards on our legs and arms. With all the gear on, I sort of felt like the Michelin man. I probably looked twice as big as I actually was, and one might wonder how we could move, but it was all high tech carbon fiber lightweight stuff and didn't slow us down a bit.
The Canadians looked good in their red and white uniforms with the maple leaf on them. I thought we looked pretty good, too, with our red pants and blue jersey with a big white star. The whistle blew and before I could reach down and make my first snowball, I felt a hit on my chest. Damn, those Canadians were good. "Joe, duck!" I heard Judy yell, so I fell flat and saw a snowball go zooming by. Quickly I got up and fired off three of my own. One was a hit. One was blocked, and the other missed my target who made an amazing jump out of the way. Soon I was panting, I had to slow down and pace myself better. Snowballing is a high energy game, even more so than basketball. In basketball, there is only one ball, and one guy can control it for a while, or pass it around, and the game is very paced. In snowballing, there can be as many as five snowballs coming at you all at once or in a series and there is no slowing down, especially in the opening moments.
While I was dodging one snowball, Yorgi, the captain of the Canadian team, snuck up behind me and blasted me in the back. I had taken three hits in the first five minutes. I fired one back at him and missed. Then our team took out two of them and they took out John and Justin. I was glad Judy was still in, since she was smaller, she made a harder target and possibly our best hope to beat the Canadians.
Jim made a spectacular dash across the field, three snowballs came at him and he managed to duck or block them all. Now that he was behind them we could catch them in a crossfire. But we had to be careful that we didn't hit one of our own teammates, the vests couldn't tell who threw the snowball, a hit was a hit. Five hits and you were out.
I needed to get Yorgi out so I concentrated all my throws at him. I kept him occupied dodging my missiles and Jim knocked him out from the back. We were one up, but then Judy got hit again and was out. I groaned. We needed her. But it was just me and Jim now.
The two Canadians took aim on me and threw. Somehow I managed to dodge them both and Jim hit one of them. Then he hit the other, so they turned on him and threw, taking him out. It was just me against the two of them. I went into my rage mode, I just started picking up snow and throwing it as hard and as fast and as accurately as I could while dodging theirs. I knew I couldn't last more than a minute or two at this speed, but it was my only hope. I was desperate.
I hit one of them and the judge called him out. So it was one on one, the pace could slow down. I was catching my breath, and it looked like my opponent was doing the same. Snowballs in hand, we sort of circled one another. Then I reached back to throw and made a throwing motion but kept my ammo. He ducked and then I let him have it. But the judge didn't call him out. Darn. I didn't know how many times I'd have to hit him to win, but I knew I could take one more hit and still be in. I'd have to trick him again. But perhaps he'd try to trick me. I reached down for another snowball, one in each hand now and still we circled. I heard my teammates and countrymen yelling U-S-A. I heard the other side chanting Can-a-da. I didn't have time for this, not now, my eyes blearing up with pride of my country. Why do I have to be so damn emotional. As I fought back the tears I reached back to throw only this time my opponent didn't duck, he threw at me and even though I fell to the ground he still hit me. It was awkward throwing from the ground but I let mine fly anyway and he ducked and I missed. Then he charged at me while I was still down. My Olympic dreams disappeared in that moment and in desperation I threw the snowball out of my off hand, knowing that I'd been beaten. But it hit him and the judge called him out just before he plastered me. I couldn't believe it - we won. It was the biggest thrill (and surprise) of my life.
As my teammates carried me off the field, Jim said, "I didn't know you could throw left handed."
"Neither did I. I think we should buy our Canadian friends a beer tonight. They had us." And that's how I got my nickname, Lefty.