NOVEMBER 17, 2000, WERNER ENTERED A DIFFERENT RACE. The race did not begin on the white face of his beloved mountains. It began on the white sheets of a hospital bed when his doctor said, “You have advanced Esophageal Cancer.”
Silence hung between the diagnosis and Werner’s response, “Bummer.”
The doctor began to speak, but Werner wasn’t listening.
“Why me, why did this happen to me,” Werner said to no one in particular.
No one answered. Who could?
Werner spoke again to someone not to us. “Wait, I’m sorry. I take that back. I can’t believe I just said that.”
In that awful moment, when the dreaded words Esophageal Cancer crashed into his life, Werner faced and won the first gate in his race for life, self-pity. Esophageal Cancer set him on a perilous race down a grueling course set with gates of chemotherapy, radiation and a brutal esophagectomy. His battle against this lethal competitor tested his strength and courage to stand back up when cancer knocked him down, and tested his faith, when the suffering was incomprehensible. He lived what he taught his racers.
Certainly young ski racers were not battling cancer, but to Werner their life challenges were equally important. For some of those racers quitting could have been tempting, when no matter how hard they tried, standing on the podium was just out of reach. Werner coached his athletes to win, but his coaching style went beyond the technicality of racing through the gates. Because of how he led, he inspired several generations of skiers to become the victors and not the victims on the podium of life.
The Werner Zwahlen Ski Education Foundation annual award recognizes a Loon Race Team J2 boy and girl, who faced their tough challenges with the courage, tenacity and spirit that exemplified the qualities of Werner’s character. The purpose of the monetary award is to help the athletes achieve their goals and strive for excellence in the realm of ski racing.