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What writers can learn from Dale Begg-Smith

Before we lost patience with the inane chattering that apparently passes for commentary these days, we were watching the Olympics last weekend and that’s how I learned who Dale Begg-Smith is.

If you’ve been keeping up with the Games, you’ve likely heard his name; if you’re in an Olympics black out, then here’s what you need to know: Dale Begg-Smith is a Canadian by birth, Australian by choice who was, until last weekend, the world’s top men’s mogul skier.

He’s a controversial guy, apparently, not the least reason being that he is, in The Wall Street Journal’s words, “an Internet prodigy” who has made millions thanks to his online spam business. Among the other reasons he’s hopped up the ire of just about everyone was his decision to move to Australia to ski for their team when the Canadian team presented him with a decision: drop his business and devote more time to training, or drop skiing and devote himself to his business. Begg-Smith didn’t really understand why he couldn’t do both… and excel.

Now, I’ll admit that I know next to nothing about sports. I’m lucky to make it to the gym twice a month and I don’t have the faintest idea what it takes to become an Olympic athlete other than persistence and a whole lot of hard physical work I’m just not cut out for.  But the fact that Begg-Smith has held onto his position as world class skier for more than four years running seems to suggest that he knows himself and his training needs pretty well, and this is the first lesson writers can take from Dale Begg-Smith:  Don’t let other people tell you what process is right for you. If you possess talent, skill, and tenacity, as well as the ability to assess yourself objectively and discern your needs, then take the advice of those who tell you how you should go about your work as just that: advice that you’re free to apply or dismiss as you see fit.


There’s another lesson we can learn from Begg-Smith.

Begg-Smith has been vilified by many media outlets for avoiding press conferences and interviews, scorned as sarcastic and arrogant because he refuses to answer questions he considers irrelevant to skiing (When asked about his businesses at a press conference, Begg-Smith curtly replied that he wasn’t there to talk about business. Fair enough, if you ask me). NBC, in their “profile” of Begg-Smith, portrayed the skier as a “man of mystery,” mainly trumping up this image, I believe, because they simply had nothing to say about him.

The media have attempted to dog Begg-Smith into fitting the narrative they want to write about him, to shame him into speaking in order to defend himself against the image they’ve made of him because, as one journalist said, “he has a responsibility to do so.”

But I love that Begg-Smith won’t be corralled into mainstream media’s box. He’s okay with letting the media make him into whomever they need him to be. He knows exactly who he is, and it matters little, if at all, whether you or I or anyone else like him. He knows what he came to this world to do, and nothing will deter him from his goals. He doesn’t capitulate to the machine of any profession that wants to reshape him into anyone other than who he is. It’s a lesson worth imitating.


4 responses »

  1. Dale Begg Smith caught my attention too. I don’t know much about him, but he seems like a fascinating person.

    I’ve been reading about ultrarunners lately and drawing comparisons to them with writers. Ultrarunners complete races of 100 miles or more. Unlike most track stars, many of them seem to run just for the fun of it. (You get a belt buckle for completing the 100-mile race in Leadville Colorado).

    I was reading about how Jenn Shelton could have easily been an Olympic marathoner, but she didn’t want all the distractions that go along with that. She runs at least 20 miles every day and is one of the world’s fastest ultras–out of all men and women.

    What I find most interesting about ultra-runners is that they’ve developed a mind-set in which they derive pleasure from running. So, while everyone else is measuring out the absolute maximum they will run, ultras have the opposite mentality. They just can’t get enough.

    To some extent, ultra-runners remind me of bloggers. Most bloggers receive little attention and even less money. They are doing it for the pleasure of it. Maybe that’s why bloggers are some of the most prolific writers around.

    I think you’re a good example of that. You just had a baby, you have a husband, and work. But you make the effort to actively maintain blogs dealing with several facets of your life.

    I’d say it’s a good bet that the diligence, enthusiasm and creativity you put towards blogging carries over to the quality of your paid work.

    • Steve- I really like the comparison to the ultra runners… who, it’s worth noting, haven’t received a whole lot of press either. I guess they’re not “story” worthy in the way that Begg-Smith is only story worthy to the extent he bucks the narrative the media want to impose upon him. I read your piece about the Tarahumaras and I’ve been fascinated by them ever since I read about them in that Gatopardo article. But where’s the “story” about them for mainstream media? Nothing happens quickly enough to make them interesting, right?

      I also like your analysis of blogging, which hadn’t occurred to me either. I don’t usually make distinctions between blogging and writing, but blogging does serve an important function for me, in much the way you express here.

      I always appreciate your comments, Steve.

  2. My mom says they’re foregoing a lot of the quiet piano music, life story, movie of the week stuff this time around. Even so, I wasn’t missing not knowing anything about the Olympics until I read this. Thanks, Julie!

    • Kate-

      Your mom’s right– I don’t know what happened, but these are the life story-free Olympics (or rather, the same handful of athletes–probably the well-sponsored ones) with their story repeated ad infinitum.

      Begg-Smith’s a bad ass, though. Gotta love how he’s defying what everyone wants and thinks.


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