King of Kings

What if you had an amazing support network?

What if you had an amazing support network?

Imagine what your life would be like if you had a support network of family, friends, and organizations who went above and beyond to help you achieve unreal results? Hold that thought…

When I was growing up one of our neighbors owned the local Honda/Ski-Doo business. Between their house and ours was our seven-acre fruit orchard. Since they only had a small piece of land, my parents let them (actually their two daughters…one was my age, the older a year older) ride their motorcycles and snowmobiles in our orchard provided they stayed around the perimeter.

Our parents bought my brother and me ‘our’ first motorcycle when I was about ten years old—a maroon and silver Honda 50 with a tandem seat and ‘buddy’ pegs. We had a blast!

Every time I heard the noise of a motorcycle outside, I would drop whatever I was doing, put on my helmet, and go running out to the garage to try and catch one of the Hegge sisters—Nancy was my age, Joan was her older sister—both were easy on the eyes as they say.

Of course, as soon as I took off, my brother wasn’t far behind.

At first, the girls had a Honda 50 and a 70; my brother and I had the 50 between us. Then the girls got a 70 and a 90. Then I got a 70 and my brother got the 50 but put on a single seat. Then they moved up to a 90 and a 125…I got a 90 and my brother inherited my old 70.

This went back and forth for years during the summers. In the winters, they would occasionally ride their Ski-Doo’s (snowmobiles) around the orchard. We never had any snowmobiles, but we did go skiing almost every weekend. The Hegge sisters didn’t snowmobile too much in our orchard, but the family always had four of them atop a trailer, so I assume they went out of town where there was more open country.

Our whole family skied, and we had some great times, but watching those girls fly around our orchard on their ‘sleds’ looked pretty exciting, especially when they would ‘open them up’ on the straights.

Despite not having the fastest motorcycles or snowmobiles, we did have something nobody else in our neighborhood had—or the whole state for that matter—and those were world class Quarter Horses.

The majority of my classmates, particularly the girls, didn’t really know our family was so successful showing the horses (although some of them had horses and rode them around the neighborhood, we rode in our backyard arena and at horseshows throughout the pacific northwest).

And then one day—I think it was after a newspaper story about me ran in the local newspaper (where my dad and grandfather worked)—I suddenly became quite popular with many of the girls. Although I got ‘notes’ from Mary Taylor, Lori Bryant, and others wanting to ride together, I stayed devoted to the girls who showed horses with us every weekend. Besides, there were only about half a dozen of us boys that showed and a couple hundred girls…pretty good odds I’d say.

In 1974, when I qualified for my first American Junior Quarter Horse Association World Championship Show and Convention in Tulsa, Okla., the girls from throughout the States and Canada were unbelievable. Yep, the odds got way better! [Note: The AJQHA is now the American Quarter Horse Youth Association.]

During this time, from about 1970 until 1980, the support I got from my parents was off the charts. They worked multiple jobs between them and still had time to devote to my brother and me, becoming the best we could be showing horses and going to rodeos, etc. And for the most part, the ‘family’ of people we’d spend the weekends with would give you the shirt off their back to help you if needed.

My last year in the AJQHA—and seventh trip to the World Championships—I was elected the national president and spent more than a year traveling around the States and Canada promoting Quarter Horses.

Yes, I had all but forgotten about the Hegge girls and their snowmobiles. And then, after a few years trying to decide what I wanted to be when I grew up, I joined the Navy.

For about 30 years—1980 through 2010—I competed in more than 20 different sports at pretty high levels. Probably the ‘lowest’ levels were intramural titles at Washington State and Eastern Washington Universities in bowling, Ultimate Frisbee, ping pong, disc golf, flag football, soccer, and volleyball; the ‘highest’ levels were my multiple world championships and records in powerlifting, as well as competing at elite/international levels in cycling, triathlon, weightlifting, duathlon, and Train to Hunt (TTH; a combination of CrossFit, bowhunting, and cross-country running).

However, during those years, my ‘support’ network was more or less ‘me, myself, and I.’ Except for ‘team’ gear everything came out of my pocket. My parents came down to Park City, Utah in 2016 to watch me at the TTH nationals and the Navy helped a few times. For instance, instead of forcing me to ‘burn’ my leave (vacation days), they would approve ‘no-cost TAD/TDY’ orders (temporary assigned duty). For example, in 2000, when I was stationed in Sicily, they let me compete in Antwerp, Belgium, at my first drug-free powerlifting world championships…I still had to pay for my flights, hotel, entry fees, etc. I guess the lack of support drove me to win my first world title.

Fortunately, my support ‘network’ doubled in 2010, when I got married. Since then, my wife, Denise has been there for me every step of the way and I couldn’t have accomplished nearly what I have since then.

I know you’re still wondering about the snowmobiles and what they have to do with support networks. Well, let me tell you…

In the summer of 2022, on my birthday to be exact, we were in Lima, Montana, visiting our great friends—Rocky and Bobbie Pulley. The town was having its annual ‘yard sale’ and people from all over, including the county’s largest city—Dillon, drove the 46 miles south to check out the event.

After the yard sale was over, somehow the conversation turned to uphill snowmobile racing. Wait, what? I remember back when I used to ride my Honda 125—you see, I’m tying this story back to the Hegge sisters—one of my favorite movies was On Any Sunday, a 1971 film with Steve McQueen, Malcolm Smith, and Mert Lawwill. In the film, there was a segment about the ‘Widowmaker Hillclimb.’

Things haven’t changed much for me since those days…I still prefer watching inspirational shows and films about ‘real’ things and people.

Anyhow, I imagined uphill snowmobile racing would be similar to the motorcycle version I saw more than 50 years ago—a high-performance machine and rider going as far up a straight and steep (?) mountain as possible. [Note: About 20 years ago my parents let my brother and I ride their snowmobiles and I remember getting mine up to 100 mph, which felt almost like flying, so I knew they had some ‘power.’]

However, what I was about to see frankly blew my mind!!!

The Pulleys, and some other friends, had been to the 45th Annual World Championship Snowmobile Hillclimb in beautiful  Jackson Hole, Wyoming’s Snow King Mountain Resort a few months earlier.

After hearing about the event and how they had all gone there to support a local guy from Dillon, I was pretty intrigued to hear—or rather see—what they were talking about. Let’s just say, despite their colorful description of how the racers go ‘up’ a 1,500’ course, it was not even close to what they were about to show me!

As we walked into their house, Rocky noted how their friend had won multiple world championships and had broken the record for something called ‘King of Kings’ while they were there.

I thought to myself, ‘King of Kings,’ now that was a cool title! I mean, during my athletic career I have won ‘best lifter,’ set course and world records, set the all-time ‘quickest ascent’ or ‘fastest time’ or ‘lowest score,’ but ‘King of Kings?’

For some bizarre reason, I conjured up a vision of Arnold Schwarzenegger when he played Conan…you know the one where he’s dressed in all his armor and wild animal pelts; his long mane flowing over his massive shoulders; his heavily calloused right hand resting on his upper tree-trunk sized thigh; his scarred left elbow propped up on his enormous left leg; and that gigantic vein-covered forearm holding up his crown encrusted head as he sat on his gargantuan throne, which (in my mind’s eye) was somehow replaced by a dark gray and black, ninja-like snowmobile with long, stealthy barbs jutting out from it to slay anybody, or anything, that got in the King’s way! [Note: The first bodybuilder I ever met was in fact, Arnold, backstage at the 1980 Mr. Washington contest when he was the master of ceremonies. I was there with the first ever athlete I coached…two weeks before my 19th birthday.]

Now where was I? Oh yes, once inside the Pulley’s house, we sat down and Rocky began typing letters into the TV’s search screen…k-e-i-t-h…and then the screen was filled with row after row of videos they had watched (probably myriad times).

Before I could read the whole title, Rocky had clicked on the first one and it began to load. And then it happened…

The video opened with a shot of the starting gate; a red inflatable arch emblazoned with the words ‘Welcome to the World Championship Snowmobile Hillclimb’ in white, and the two side supports decorated with logos for the ‘SNOW DEVILS, JACKSON HOLE, WYOMING’ as the organization who presented the event.

As the camera panned across the arch, I glanced at the title of the video

King of Kings: Keith Curtis at the 2022 Jackson World Championship Hill Climb

Then it showed the back of a rider, sitting on his trusty steed, dressed in turquoise, white, and bright orange, just like the machine beneath him; the words KLIM and CURTIS above the number 711 on his upper back. The only thing closely related to my ‘Conanesque’ image from before was the stealthy full-face helmet which was dark blue-ish and black.

And then, as the engine roared, he blasted off…literally! In that instant, I immediately felt my pulse also take off; my heart rate trying to keep up with his lightning-like acceleration as he left the starting gate in a cloud of snow and cheering fans!

I was nowhere prepared for what I saw next. Instead of a straight-up-the-hill drag race of attrition, Curtis was flying around gates like I used to do when I ski raced…only he was going UP a mountain that Olympic downhill skiers would normally go DOWN!

The first gates were shot from a distance, and you couldn’t quite fathom the athleticism it took to navigate the lower portion of the course. But then he roared into the camera frame as the snow and ice turned to mud and rocks.

Curtis laid on the throttle as the engine screamed, sending him about 50’ over a muddy cat-track (a road that is used for snow grooming equipment and novice skiers to go up and down the mountain). The white snow was now gray; the course looked more like a motocross track.

It’s at this point that I begin to get a true appreciation for Curtis’s phenomenal skill, which obviously helped him to achieve the unmatched results he has amassed. Instead of man-handling the machine like I imagined a man-mountain (aka Conan) would, he seemed to ‘dance’ with the snowmobile.

Just past the halfway point, the snowmobile got bogged down in a deep trench, but in a blink of an eye (I know because the first time I watched it I actually blinked and missed it), Curtis performed a ‘two-step’ dance movement with his lower body and is immediately teleported past the next few gates as if it was planned…or should I say, choreographed?

Seconds later, he and his Polaris ‘dance partner’ are virtually vertical—as is the mountain—when he flies across the finish line.

The elapsed time was about a minute…Curtis finally sits on the small leather-padded seat (they must last forever as it’s hard to wear out something that’s hardly ever used) and gives a ‘thumbs up’ and a ‘bottoms up’ gesture to the fortunate fans, hill help, and camera person on top of the mountain.

One of my favorite sayings is, “If it was easy, everyone would do it.” Curtis made it look amazingly easy, but NOT everyone—in fact, not many—could do what he did.

As he stood ‘on top of the world’ he acknowledged his incredible accomplishment of breaking the ‘King of Kings’ record. And just as I suspected he and Arnold have one thing in common, they both had enormous ‘pumps’ in their forearms…ha ha. [Note: A ‘pump’ as referred to by Arnold (see his movie Pumping Iron for a full description) and Curtis is when the muscle becomes engorged with blood and makes it extremely difficult to contract. Also, about ten years ago, I provided a friend tips on how to overcome grip problems for his friend attempting to break the world record for pull-ups in 24 hours as they encounter the same ‘pump’ and grip issues.]

And last but definitely not least—especially as it pertains to the focus of this post—Curtis concludes the video by saying, “…I couldn’t do it without all my sponsors, and fans, and support, and family…good times!”

Fast forward about six months and my wife and I are having dinner with the Pulleys at the Cosmopolitan’s Jaleo in Las Vegas—we were there for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo—and they tell us they just made their reservations for the 2023 Hillclimb and ask us if we want to join them. Are you kidding? Heck yeah!

In my book REAL QUESTIONS UNREAL RESULTS, I mention how self-help guru Tony Robbins says, “you should never leave the scene of a decision without taking action.”

Well, right after they told us where they were staying, I made our reservations. Decision. Action.

So, fast forward again…to March 24, 2023, and we are walking through the endless string of custom snowmobile trailers and snowmobiles parked around them at the foot of Snow King Mountain Resort. One of the first ones we come to is the turquoise, orange, and white trailer of Keith Curtis #711. Parked outside it is not one, but three similar painted Polaris snowmobiles. Rocky says his dad is likely inside the trailer preparing the machines for the battles that lie ahead.

After we purchased our wrist bands—a huge thank you to the organizers for giving all four of us a generous military discount—we made our way through the vendors and other spectators to the seating area. As I sit down and look up, and UP, and UP at the hill, I’m thinking, ‘no way!’ The last section is near vertical.

At this point, I want to fast forward for the last time, to Sunday’s (March 26) finals. By now I’m beyond impressed by Curtis and the others at their athleticism and tenacity to not only get to the top, but to see who can do it the fastest.

On Sunday, only the top qualifiers in each class get to run. Curtis has qualified in ALL five of his classes.

As his first run is only moments away, all of his fans—including my wife and I—grab our orange and blue towels, which Curtis’s mother handed out earlier. As he drives his machine up on top of the starting mound, we go wild…yelling, screaming, clapping, and waving our towels and clanging our cowbells.

I can honestly say, I don’t think any other competitor received such a welcome. And Curtis, extremely humble and grateful, stands up and recognizes our support.

Previously, the announcer would list all the rider’s sponsors and supporters…but the course was ready, and he more or less said, ‘You all know him…now sit back and enjoy the ride!’

And we did. In less than a minute and a half, Curtis had won another world championship. Not long after that he won another. On his third run, in a very competitive class, he finished second by just over a second. But then he bounced back with a vengeance and won his last two classes.

Then came the really exciting runs—known as the ‘King runs.’ There are three general categories—stock, improved stock, and mod—and several classes within each based on the size of the engine. Each of the class winners (newly crowned world champions) raced for the ‘King’ of each general category. [Note: My apologies if my interpretation or terminology is wrong.]

The weather kept changing by the minute. One minute it was overcast, the next it was snowing. Then it was foggy or a downright blizzard whereby you couldn’t see halfway up the course. It must’ve been extremely arduous for the racers.

Once the riders were ready it was time to determine who would be the ‘King of Kings.’

Curtis would start his title defense in grand fashion by taking the ‘stock’ title.

Moments later he would also take the ‘improved stock’ title.

He was looking to be unstoppable, but in the ‘mod’ category he would have to face the younger racer who beat him earlier. The crowd was on its feet as Curtis stood atop the starting mound. Once again, he acknowledged us before taking off like a man possessed. Fortunately, the weather was absolutely gorgeous. [Check out the video here.]

As he flew across the finish line, he had the fastest time of the day. Now it was a waiting game.

When the competitor who bested him earlier came to the line, you could feel the tension. There was a small group who cheered him on as he took off. At the halfway point it was very close, but then he stalled out in one of the many man-sized ruts covering the upper part of the course.

And with that, the waiting was over…once again, Keith Curtis was the King of Kings. Long live the King!

After he finally made his way back down the hill—it takes a lot longer coming down than going up—there was a small crowd of his family, friends and supporters waiting to congratulate him. It was truly amazing to be a part of the celebration. Hopefully at next year’s event I can personally congratulate him on his ninth ‘King of Kings’ title!

The point I want to make is that even though he was the only one who rode to the top he’s probably the first one to admit he couldn’t have done it without his supporters. Although in the past 30 years, especially the last dozen, MY support group has been my incredible wife…I can’t thank her enough.

So, what kind of support group do you have? What if you had an amazing support network…how much more could you accomplish?

By the way, if you ever drive by Lima, Montana, be sure and stop in at the Pulley’s ‘Lil BAr Brew’ (yes, that’s how it’s spelled) coffee stand just off of I-15…and if you want something a little stronger than coffee or are there around dinner time, you just gotta check out The Peat!

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the Socratic Warrior
the Socratic Warrior
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