The tales of the black backpack start in 1998. The president of the U.S. is fighting a sex scandal. The Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, pleads guilty and is sentenced to life in prison. "Titanic" is the biggest box office draw. Top songs of the year are Elton John's "Candle In The Wind" and Shania Twain's "You're Still the One." America loses one of it's favorite singers, Ol' Blue Eyes, Frank Sinatra.
I just found out that my 17-year-old son, Bill, has been named to the U.S. Olympic Team, and that he would be competing in the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan. I just know I HAVE to be there and need to make plans. I walk into the Blue Line Sport Shop on Main Street, Saranac Lake, hoping to find a good backpack so I could pack daily food and clothes supplies and travel "hands free" at the Olympics. The owner of Blue Line, Sam Grimone, was holding court with some of the regulars, drinking coffee and talking local politics. Sam comes over to help me, and I tell him about my son and what I need. Sam throws both hands in the air and says, "That's fantastic! ... You're going to need a good-quality backpack for this trip! ... Let's go see what we have here." We look at several backpacks, and Sam lights up when he spots the black Jansport one. It must have been one of the best ones in his shop. I was afraid it was more than I had budgeted. Sam must have been able to read my mind because he handed it to me and said, "This is for Billy's mom to go to his first Olympics."
That black backpack has been with me since I cheered Bill as he competed in the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan. Two years later in 2000, in Strbske Pleso, Slovakia, we had the good fortune of watching Bill in the Junior World Nordic Combined Championships and the same week traveling to Zakopane, Poland, to watch my daughter Katy and her friend Tim Burke in the Junior World Biathlon Championships. In 2002 we traveled to the Salt Lake City Olympics, in 2006 the Torino, Italy Olympics. The 2009 Nordic World Championships in Liberac, Czech Republic, was incredible as we watched Bill win gold and bronze medals. A real pinnacle was in 2010, watching the U.S. nordic combined team break the glass ceiling for medals won in an Olympics with a team silver medal, Johnny Spillane winning two individual silver medals, and Bill making history winning the first gold medal by any American nordic athlete!
Helen Demong waves an American flag and cheers as her son Bill wins a Winter Olympic gold medal in nordic combined on Feb. 25, 2010, in Whistler, British Columbia.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
The black backpack has one more major trip, the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Oh, the tales it will tell when it returns.
Our small-town businesses are incredibly supportive of all sorts of organizations. They are called upon to donate to school and club fundraising activities and silent auctions. They answer the call time and time again, so I will make every effort to buy locally to return the favor and to keep them thriving.
Saranac Lake is a special place for many reasons; one is because of the vibrant local businesses that support the community. The Blue Line Sport Shop has always been one of those supportive businesses. When Sam Grimone was the owner, his shop was filled with locals who came in to shop and visit. Remembering his act of kindness in 1998 to the mother of a 17-year-old Olympian, Sam Grimone is one of my downtown heroes.
Helen Demong lives in Paul Smiths.