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Our Story Begins: Sledding Away


Olivia in snow

Our Story Begins:
Sledding Away

$2.4 Million.

That’s what sledding cost the city of Omaha, Nebraska – a town where I lived for years. (I know, the picture up there is of head GEM’s Olivia, but it’s a good pic)

I’m not going to discuss the merits of this particular case other than to say the Omaha couple’s daughter was paralyzed from the waist down after she hit a tree in Memorial Park in December of 2000. I was in Omaha then, I even took my kids sledding at that very park. I took them even after this accident happened. Why? I was with the kids. I went down the hill with the little girls in my family and they giggled. Incessantly. So did I.

But then the family of the accident victim sued and the city paid out. Elsewhere…in Boone, Iowa . . . $12 million because kids hit a concrete cube at the foot of a hill.

The liability of kids sledding . . . in parks . . . in the winter . . . on slippery snow and ice in public parks . . . has led to a sledding ban in many cities.

broken arm

I don’t pretend to know the suffering of these families, I probably would be just as distraught and angry and scared as they are. Of this I am sure, I have four kids after all. Still…when I got hurt…when my son broke his arm on the jungle gym at school…suing the school or city never crossed my mind.

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When I was a kid I grew up in the frozen and cold areas of the Midwest that had sledding as a rite of passage. (That’s me in the shadows up there trying to cross-country ski…before they had breakaway boots, by the way) For me and all my friends and family, when you read the strip Calvin and Hobbes with sledding being a theme, you related. The stupidity of it seemed innate, but you loved the fact that you rolled off, crashed, got cuts, bruises, and all the things that go along with it. When we lived in one house we sled over and over again. When we got a hair older we tied the inner tube from a tractor tire to the back of an ATV and flew up and down off hills and drifts of snow. The whole idea was to throw the other kid off the inner tube.

My point to all this is the fact that we knew it was dangerous, we knew it was nuts . . . and that made us want to do it all the more. Did I get hurt? Yep. Was it stupid? Sometimes. Was it fun? Ab-so-freaking-lutely.

Having done all that, though, we did sled and ride and do stupid things and it never, ever crossed our minds to blame someone else for it. When the ATV hit a pocket over a hole and flipped over, trapping me underneath, I shouted for my brother. He laughed for about 5 minutes before he decided to get me out. Did our parents get mad at us?  Again . . . Ab-so-freaking-luetly!

Related:  Our Story Begins: Answers to Life’s Grueling Questions

This isn’t my diatribe like all the click-bait stories you see. I’m not claiming “we road cross-country with no seatbelts, played with sharpened lawn darts, ate lead paint, shot BB-guns and didn’t put our eye out, and walked around without sunscreen or hand sanitizer and ate dirt because we liked it!” I’m saying . . . kids have fun pushing the envelope and testing the limits of their fears and their adrenaline. It’s up to us as parents to watch them doing it and to make sure they’re safe, too. I have no idea if they were in each of these cases or not.

I will say, though, that in October of 1997, when Omaha had a blizzard that toppled trees, closing the street to my home, my kids and I went sledding into the street. The hill was steep – like 60 degree angle steep – and we sledded down it, though we did it together. I was on the sled. When we might hit a tree I rolled off with the kids. When they wanted to do it alone I stood on the bottom of the hill next to unsafe things like the felled trees and staircase banister.

Sledding is as old as a kid’s thought process to put wooden planks together and ride them down a hill. Hell . . . we celebrate adults who strap planks to their feet and ride down mountains as “athletic prowess” but they don’t sue the ski resorts when they tumble, resembling the “agony of defeat.”

Can we sled safely? Absolutely. We can use helmets, pads, and watch our kids like I did. My thinking is that every other kid, sledding properly, is now paying the price because they’re banned from what has been a snowy activity for years.

What do you think? Do you still let your kids sled? OliWould you do it today knowing the risks?

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