Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

This Marriage Thrives on Being on Thin Ice

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

This Marriage Thrives on Being on Thin Ice

Article excerpt

For better and for worse. For richer and for poorer. For colder and colder.

That's how the vows should have read when Jim and Mary Chapin were married over four decades ago.

Unless minus-35 degrees - without the wind chill - strikes you as balmy. That was the temperature two weeks ago in Minneapolis when the Chapins officiated outdoors at the North American Long Track Speedskating Championships.

"That was cold enough for me," said Mary, a finish-line judge.

Jim, who refereed, said, "I was dressed for it, but the skaters don't wear many clothes. They had to be freezing."

When asked why an arctic frolic was a good idea for two grandparents, Mary snapped, "Hell if I know!"

Besides volunteering to shiver, skating officials work for free, find their own transportation and cover their own food and lodging.

As a bonus in Minneapolis, Mary spent a night in the airport. Her flight home was canceled after Jim, travelling on a different frequent flyer coupon, was already aloft.

Speed skating is not just a hobby in this St. Louis household.

It helped rear six children, five of them boys. "I always tell people we raised our kids out at the Steinberg rink in Forest Park, for better or worse," Mary said.

Mostly for better. As Jim said, "It's given them a lot of self-esteem and determination. They learn how to make decisions on their own."

It led to lasting friendships across the country. "It's been more than just a sport for us," Mary said. "It's been a social thing."

It enabled Jim Jr., now 40, to become a three-time Olympian (1976-80-84). "He was 10th in the 500 meters in '76," said Jim Sr., "just half a second out of first place."

Despite the time, cost and sinus-searing cold, it's been good, clean fun.

That's why Jim Sr., 63, has been a referee for 25 years and serves as volunteer - what else? - president of the Amateur Speedskating Union.

And it's why Mary, 61, has logged over 20 years as a judge. Or at least one of the reasons.

"Once your kids don't need you to tie their skates or get them to the line, I find a skating meet pretty dull," she said. "If you don't have a job to do, the heats can be boring. …

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