Wonder Boi Writes

Olympic Countdown Alpine Skiing

First thing’s first, let’s give away the FREE BOOKS for this week.  Everyone who commented on my last blog about boardercross got their names thrown into the virtual hat and the winner is solargrrl.  Just email me at Rachel_Spangler@yahoo.com and let me know if you’d rather have the ebook of Edge of Glory or the audio book of Trails Merge.

Now, with that out of the way, let’s move on to this week’s blog and another chance to win more books.

I have to admit, I went back and forth on this week’s topic but ultimately settled on Apline skiing because I gave Corey, one of my characters from Edge of Glory, a lot of love last week and I didn’t want to leave Elise out.


She might get mad or her feelings hurt, and yeah, I can hear you saying “Rach, those are fictional characters,” and to that I say, “Fictional people are people too, especially the ones that fill my waking hours for weeks on end,” so now it’s time to talk Alpine skiing!

Skiing is one of the quintessential Winter Olympics sports. Skiing has been part of every Winter Olympics since their inception in 1924. It’s one many people have tried at least at a recreational level, myself included.

And while most people get the concept of skiing, boards on each foot, poles in each hand, and a big mountain to slide down, the Winter Olympics showcase a few specific types of races you might not be familiar with.

First up is the Alpine Downhill race.  This race is probably what most of us think of when we thinking of a ski race.  It is the longest race as well as the fastest.  Skiers fly down the course around sweeping turns at speeds surpassing 70 miles an hour. The course is marked by polycarbonate gates or flags, but within them skiers can chose their own lines, and they do their best to find the fastest one, because the fastest person across the line wins.

Next is the Super G, which is very similar to the downhill in that it’s a speed event, where skiers pass through wide-set gates that mark the course.  In fact, Super G races are often set on the same slope as downhill races, but the starting point is lower, and there are more turns.  This makes the course a little slower and a little more technical to run. You’re more likely to see people go out of bounds in Super G than downhill because of this.

The next two races move more fully into the technical area. They are called slaloms.

The Slalom has the shortest course in all of skiing and the quickest turns. Skiers have to weave around color-coded gates, which are more like flexible poles placed very close together, and skiers have to turn incredibly quickly in very little space. While they actually cover a lot less ground and don’t reach nearly the speeds of Downhill, their skis switch direction with vision-blurring transitions. Even after watching this sport quite a bit, I occasionally need to see the slow-mo replay to tell if a skier has actually cleared all the gates.

The Giant Slalom follows the same basic principles but has fewer turns and wider, smoother turns. I find this one to be one of the prettiest events to watch because it combines a lot of the elements of the other races.  In both the Slalom races, each skier makes two runs down two different courses on the same slope. The times are added, and the fastest total time determines the winner.

Lastly is an event called the Super Combined. That’s what it sort of implies, in that it combines the times from one shortened downhill run and a one-run slalom. The fastest total time determines the winner.

So there you have it, the 5 events that both the men and women race in order to make up  Alpine Skiing at the Winter Olympics.

But because I spent so much time researching skiing for Edge of Glory, I don’t want to leave you with just the basics.  I wanted to share with you just a couple things I found fun or impressive along the way.

The first is this article about how Julia Mancuso prepared physically for the winter games.  There are pictures like this.


You’re welcome.

And lastly I want to leave you with this incredibly fun video from the Canadian ski team, which introduced me to the concept of “skin to win.”  This video right here was the inspiration for one of my favorite scenes in Edge of Glory.  🙂


And now it’s your turn. Because skiing is something I actually do for fun, comment below and tell me what you’ve done that is either an Olympic event, or something you think SHOULD be an Olympic event.  I’ll do a drawing for FREE BOOKS and announce the winner with next week’s blog.


January 31, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Olympic Countdown – Boardercross

Last week I introduced you to curling, which is a sport I love to play, and you all offered up some great curling team names.  I drew one from a hat and the winner is Carleen.  Just email me at Rachel_Spangler@yahoo.com, and I’ll send you your choice of either an Ebook copy of Edge of Glory or an audiobook of Trails Merge.

For this week, I’m moving away from a sport I play in real life to one I got to play with in a book because it’s time for Boardercross!


In the grand scheme of Olympic sports dating back to ancient times, or even modern winter Olympic sports dating back to 1924, Boardercross is a real Johnny-come-lately.  In fact, it’s so new that my character who is only 30 years old was able to compete at the very first Olympic snowboard cross event in 2006, and the entire history of the sport isn’t much longer than that. The earliest informal races began in the ’80s on the backside of mountains and uneven terrain far from the main resorts. The sport was so counterculture that when Olympic organizers first asked competitors to do an exhibition at the Nagano games, many of the big names initially refused, and the rag-tag governing body denied the International Olympic Committee to even use the name “Boardercross,” which is why it’s listed on the Olympic program as Snowboard Cross despite the fact few of the riders use that term themselves.

So, what’s the point of all this excitement and open rebellion?  Well, in Edge of Glory my skier describes the sport of boardercross as a cross between BMX and a mountainside bar fight. I stand by that as a base explanation, but the full story is a little more complicated.


In Olympic Snowboard Cross there are multiple heats or preliminary races featuring an early round of qualifying or seeding, followed by knockout or elimination heats where 4 or 6 racers are pitted against each other with the top half of the field moving on.  In each race, boarders or riders shoot out of gates atop a mountain course, then the fly over jumps, through turns, and past various obstacles all at the same time.  As they jockey for position, the riders often come into contact with each other, and while things like punching or deliberate tripping are frowned upon, elbows flying and shoulders bumping at high speeds is part of racing.  The first one across the line at the bottom wins.

At the end of each heat a certain number of riders, usually the top 2 or 3, advance to the next heat.

The subsequent races are generally run back to back with the entire event taking place in a single day.  This year the entire Men’s Snowboard Cross program will take place on February 14, and the entire women’s program on February 15.  It makes for a gruelling day for competitors and an exciting one for spectators.


And one of the things I love best about this sport, aside from the speed and crush of bodies, is that everybody has a shot every time out. No lead is ever commanding enough for feel secure. I’ve seen big names get tripped up and go down right out of the gate.  I’ve seen people lead the entire way with no one else around, only to wipe out completely on the last jump, and I’ve seen people fall at the start of a race and look completely out of it, only to have every other rider crash later on, giving them a clear path to finish.


Anything can happen at any point, and then the top riders in that race go right back up and run the same course again, so that someone who looked dominant the first time down might end up with a face full of snow fifteen minutes later.

Don’t take my word for it. Check out this race from 2006.

And while these riders do have a reputation for bucking both the tradition and formalities often associated with the Olympics, don’t let their laid-back natures fool you: They are top flight athletes.  If you want to see more of what goes into getting competition-ready, check out this video of legend Nate Holland’s training workouts. You might just catch a glimpse of where I got some reader-favorite scenes from Edge of Glory.


I hope I’ve convinced you to mark February 14 and 15 as important days on your Olympic viewing calendars (You all have Olympic viewing calendars, right?) but in the meantime, let’s give away some free books!

For an entry into this week’s drawing, leave me a comment telling me which Olympic sport you’d most like to compete in if you had all the necessary abilities.  I’ll announce the winner next week.

January 25, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Olympic Countdown – Curling

Hello and welcome back to my Olympic countdown.  Let’s start off by announcing that the winner of last week’s comments drawing is Virginie.  You get to choose either an ebook of Edge of Glory or an audio book of Trails Merge. Just email me at Rachel_Spangler@yahoo.com with your choice.

And now on to this week’s entry on curling!

Those of you who follow me on social media know I love curling and have filled the position of skip of the Lusty Shams at the Buffalo Curling Club.


What you might not know is how the game is played.

Curling isn’t a sport that many people follow, much less play in most of America, but it always gets a boost in Winter Olympics years as many people cock their heads to the side in confusion as their TV screens fill with images of people in loud trousers shout and sweep big rocks down a sheet of ice.  When I tell people I curl, the most common comment I get is, “That’s awesome. I watched that during the Olympics, but I still don’t really get it.”

So here’s your crash course in curling.

The equipment is simple enough.  You need a sheet of ice with some concentric circles at each end, and 16 smooth rocks or stones with handles. These each weigh between 38-44 pounds or 17 and 20 kilograms.


You also need curling shoes, or slip ons to go over your regular shoes: one to grip, one to slide.  The block you push off of is called a hack.


You need a broom for each player.


The part of the ice with the target is call the house, and the middle of the target is called the button. The line that cuts the house in half from top to bottom is called the tee line.


On most curling teams, you have four players (a mixed doubles event is being introduced this year, but let’s stick to the basics). The positions are easy enough to follow. They are first, second, vice, and skip. In competitive curling, there are ten ends, which are like rounds or innings.  In each end, every person on the team throws two stones, alternating stones with the other team. Generally, the order stays the same with the first throwing first, the second throwing second (easy, right?), followed by the vice and the skip.  So the order of play for each end will usually look like this,

Team A – First throws
Team B – First throws
Team A – First throws
Team B – First throws

Team A – Second throws
Team B – Second throws
Team A – Second throws
Team B – Second throws

Team A – Vice throws
Team B – Vice throws
Team A – Vice throws
Team B – Vice throws

Team A – Skip throws
Team B – Skip throws
Team A – Skip throws
Team B – Skip throws

None of the rocks or throws have special names except the last stone of an end, which is called the hammer, because you hope to use it to hammer the other team, who is out of shots.

Easy enough to follow.  Now the next layer comes in the sweepers.  When the first is throwing, the second and vice sweep. When the second throws, the first and the vice sweep. When the vice throws, the first and second sweep.  Then the skip and the vice trade places, and the vice acts as the skip while the skip throws and the first and second sweep.

If that got a little confusing, don’t worry. You just need to know that most of the time the first, second, and vice all rotate sweeping for each other, and the skip only comes down to that end of the ice to throw the final two stones.

So what does the skip do the rest of the time?  They call the shots, using their broom to indicate the direction they want the rock to go, and hand signs or voice commands to indicate the type of spin and speed they want the person throwing to use.  They stand behind the house and watch both the line and the speed of the stone and call out commands to the sweepers.  When you hear someone on the ice shouting, “HARD!” or “Up up up!” that person is acting as the skip.

The skip can help sweep their own team’s rock at any point.  They cannot sweep the other team’s rock until after it passes the tee line. Mostly they do a lot of yelling and a little sweeping.

So, why do the sweepers need those commands, or for that matter, why do we need sweepers at all?  Well, in short, science.

You see, curing ice is pebbled with very fine dots of waters that are sprayed on top and then allowed to freeze. This guy is pebbling the ice.  Then the tops of the dots are shaved off.


See the texture now?

As the stone travels down the ice, it spins where it catches on these tiny bumps, causing it to slow down or move slightly from its starting trajectory.  The friction of the brooms can warm up the ice though, causing a thin layer of water to form and even or lessen the pebbles for a second or two, thus creating a path of least resistance.

Contrary to popular belief, the brooms do not make a rock spin in different directions, but they can speed up or slow down the rate at which a rock spins, which contributes to the path it takes.  If you speed up a rock’s rate of spin it will curve more, if you let the rate of spin slow down, it curves less.

I can tell you from experience that the sweeping is much harder than it looks, and faster, too.  Staying upright while hurrying down the ice with your body weight pressed forward on a moving broom while your feet push and slide offers a tremendous core workout, and the difference it makes is often inches in a game of centimeters.

Okay, so those are the basics of who is doing what and why, but what’s the point?


Well on the surface it’s simple: You hope to finish the end with as many of your stones as possible as close as possible to the button.  The scoring often gets confusing to first-time observers, because they think points are awarded for proximity to the button or by the color of the ring the rocks land on.  Not true.

When all the stones are thrown, the team that is closest to the button gets a point for every stone they have closer to the button than the other team’s closest rock.

Okay, I get that can sound a little confusing, so here are a few illustrations.


Here, the green team had a lot more stones in the house than the yellow team does, but the yellow is closest to the button, so they get one point and the green team gets none.


Above, both teams have two stones in the house, but both the reds are closer than either of the yellows, so red gets two points, yellow gets zero.


This example is a lot more congested. Care to take a guess?  It’s hard to see for sure, but it looks to me like the yellows have three in the blue to be points one, two, and three, but red has the fourth closest rock, cutting off those other two yellows and making the score for this end yellow 3, red 0.


Finally in this one, the red just barely looks to edge out the yellow, even though both of them are on the red circle.  This still means red 1, yellow 0.

So, only one team gets any points in any given end, and once those are tallied up, all the stones are cleared and the process starts over, with the team who scored in the previous end throwing first, and the team who didn’t score having the hammer (last rock).

They do this for ten ends, and whoever has the highest cumulative score wins!

There you have it.  Everything you really need to know to start following curling during this year’s Olympics.

There are a couple other rules that may come into play occasionally (stripping guards, hog lines, etc.), as well as tons of strategy for blocking and knocking out stones, but those are things the announcers will explain in detail if/when they arise.

In the meantime, here are a few curling shots to whet your whistle until you get to watch the real deal in Pyeongchang.

And finally, here’s this week’s question for the comment second and a chance to win a free ebook/audiobook: If you were on a curling team, what would you name it?

A few of my personal favorites are Sweeping With The Enemy, Rockin the Sheets, and Dwayne Johnsons (think about it).

Lay your best ideas on me.

January 19, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Let The Olympics Countdown Begin

Okay,  before I get to the main subject of the blog, let me thank all of you who commented on last week’s post.  I did a random drawing, and Lynn Lawler won the free Rachel Spangler ebook of her choice. Congrats, Lynn!

And now, with the new-year tasks checked off, let’s turn our attention to the first big awesomeness of 2018, the Winter Olympics!

Clearly I am kind of a fan. I mean, if my writing an entire book about the lead-up to these games didn’t give that away, I don’t know what does.


Some might say I am a bit obsessed.  I don’t know about that, but I have been known to make elaborate spreadsheets of view times to make sure I don’t miss a single viewing of my favorite events, which to be honest is most of them.  I may or may not have even set alarms to wake up in the wee hours of the morning to see some races/meets live so as to avoid spoilers. And as to spoilers, I have developed a detailed process for posting about events that provide for adequate spoiler spaces and safety blocks without having to stay quiet for hours until people in other time zones catch up.

If all those things add up to equal an obsession, then I’ll gladly take up that mantle and wear it proudly.

And what does that mean for all of you sitting at home in your varying level of interests and knowledge?

Well for one, you get to share in my excitement, and everything is more fun when you can manufacture some excitement about it.  What’s more, though, you get to share in my knowledge of sports, which will helpfully let you enjoy them a little more without having to do all the intensive researching and spreadsheeting on your own!  Over the next four weeks, I will be blogging about some of my favourite events and, of course, sharing  some of the things I learned while researching Edge of Glory in the hopes of giving you some background in sports you might not be as familiar with, so by the time they grace our TV screens, you will not only be able to follow the action, you’ll have a few talking points to impress your viewing companions.

For starters, Winter Olympics sports are divided into three categories: ice sports, alpine sports, and Nordic events.  Why the Nordics felt the need to call their sports “events,” I do not know (maybe someone will tell me in the comments), but they did, and that give us three overviews to do.

Ice sports are, fittingly enough, played out on ice.  They include.

Bobsled – Two-man, two-woman and four-man
Luge – Men’s singles, women’s singles, mixed doubles and mixed team relay (new) Skeleton-  Men’s and women’s skeleton event
Ice Hockey – Men’s and women’s
Figure Skating – Men’s singles, ladies’ singles, pairs, mixed team event and ice dancing

Speed Skating – (Long track) 12 events – 500 m for men and women, 1,000 m for men and women, 1,500 m for men and women, 3,000 m for women, 5,000 m for men and women, 10,000 m for men, team pursuit for men and women

Short Track Speed Skating (8 Events) –  for men and women 500 m, 1000 m, 1500 m, and also the 5000 m relay for men and 3,000 m relay for women.
Curling – (A personal fave!) – Men’s and women’s, plus a new mixed doubles event

Alpine events are basically the skiing and snowboarding events where you’re pointed downhill at all times. They include:

Alpine Skiing (A Rachel favorite you’ll hear more about) (10 events – 5 disciplines for men and women) downhill, super G, giant slalom, slalom, and super combined
Freestyle Skiing – (five events) aerials, moguls, ski cross, ski half pipe and ski slope style
Snowboarding – (4 events for men and women) parallel giant slalom, slope style, half pipe, and snowboard cross (another Spangler favorite!)

Last are the Nordic events, which include:

Biathlon – (11 Events) men’s 10k sprint, 12.5k pursuit, 15k mass start, 20k individual, and 4×7.5 relay. women’s 10k pursuit, 12.5k mass start, 15k individual, 4×6 relay, 7.5 k sprint, and the mixed relay
Cross-Country Skiing 12 events (6 for men, 6 for women): individual sprint, team sprint, freestyle, pursuit, classical, and relay
Ski Jumping – (4 events) – Men’s individual large hill, men’s individual normal hill, men’s team large hill, women’s individual normal hill
Nordic Combined – Ski jumping plus cross country skiing (3 events, men only) individual large hill /10 km men, individual normal hill /10 km men, and team

So there you have it!  So much to learn about and look forward to.  Also, free books!  Because what better way to foster excitement than free books?! So for each blog I write in the lead of to the Olympics, I’ll ask questions for you to answer in the comments section and then do a drawing to select the winner, who will have their choice of a free audiobook of Trails Merge or ebook of Edge of Glory.

So for this week’s drawing, I’ll ask you to look at the list of Winter Olympics sports above and tell me which ones are your favorites to watch, or which ones you want to know more about!



January 11, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | 16 Comments

Happy New Year

I am smidge supersticious.  I usually blame my massive sports fandom. I never say “no hitter” when someone is throwing one. I don’t ever step on a foul line. And if the Cardinals are losing in the 3rd inning of a post-season game, I have to eat crab rangoon (It’s a long story.). However, as the “on this day” feature on my Facebook has spent the last few days sending me photos from New Year’s Days past, I’ve realized my Southern influences might have actually made New Year’s as steeped in superstitions as the baseball playoffs.  In every year of recent memory, the tree has come down and the house cleaned on New Years Eve, so as not to carry any mess from one year to the next.  I move heaven and earth to be with the people who matter most to me. Susie and I do not usually go out unless we take Jackson with us for fear of starting the new year with our family split.  And on New Year’s Day we always eat black-eyed peas (Hopping John) with honeyed cornbread and some kind of greens to symbolize both frugality and prosperity.


I can’t remember how long we’ve done these things. Facebooks says for at least the last eight years.  Some of those years have been good, some of them have been bad, most of them have been a mix, still the tradition means more in the doing than what it does or doesn’t actually do (which is probably nothing more than putting a wish in my heart).  And yet this year we did none of those things.

There’s no Christmas tree to take down because we didn’t have one. We weren’t home to deep clean the house, also, because we don’t have one.  I mean we’re not homeless, but we’re traveling.  We’re renting a lovely little seaside cottage in England, but as we spent the holidays with family back in America, there was neither a holiday mess in the cottage, nor anyone there to clean it.  You see, we sort of straddled the new year, not fully in any place except 27,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean.  When we left America, it was still 2017 for about 4 more hours, and by the time we landed in Ireland and then England, it had already been 2018 for about 7 hours.  There was no countdown, no ball drop, no glass of champagne. At some point I did look over at my wife and whisper, “I guess it’s past midnight wherever we are right now. Happy New Year.”  And we shared the quick, chaste kiss of two women surrounded by strangers with a kid snoring softly across their laps.


We had to make quick  airline connections, so there was no breakfast.  Lunch was in a train station coffee shop, and dinner was literally the only thing left in the freezer when we made it to our cottage, a frozen pizza.  Even if any of the stores had been open, I doubt I would’ve found the fixing for a Southern-style New Year’s dinner in them, and I know I wouldn’t have had the time or energy to assemble such a feast after being awake for 28 hours.  Any other year I would have legitimately freaked right out at losing nearly every one of my holiday traditions/superstitions. This year I didn’t.


This year I spent the new year flying east.  I got to 2018 hours earlier than I otherwise would have if I’d stood still.  This year I sped toward the rising sun, and by doing so shortened my time in darkness.  This year I didn’t celebrate a new start. I went out to meet it.  This year I traded superstition for symbolism in action. And it felt good.


I don’t know if I will end the year in a place I love. I don’t know if I will end the year healthier or skinnier. I don’t know if I will end the year more prosperous (doubt it).  I don’t know if the Cardinals will make the playoffs.

What I do know is that I’m not going to sit around waiting for my dreams to come true.  I can’t control the cosmos or the world at large.  In the theme of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Aaron Burr, “I am the one thing in life I can control,” and I am not going to be a passive observer in 2018. I am going actively seek it out and ask, “What cool things can I do today?”

With that in mind, I’ve made my list of goals (not vague resolutions like “eat less, smile more,” but tangible, measurable goals) as action-oriented as possible.  But I’ve also made peace with the fact that sometimes life has something better in store.  Sometimes you start a year in a small college town with no real changes on the horizon and end it on a plane to the place you’re living on the North Sea in the border lands of England. I’m not just open to that, I will run out and greet it.

In the meantime, here’s some cool stuff I’m looking forward to trying.

Finish level 3 of Rosetta Stone

Have a Full interaction in Spanish

Learn to Sail

Cook 12 new things

Attend 4 book events

Take an online course

Visit 10 new Cities/Towns/Sites

Entertain friends 12 times

Write two novels

Write 25 blogs before December

Read 12 grown up books

Watch 12 documentaries

Do at least one thing that scares me.

12 dates with Susie

12 outings with Jackie

12 family game nights

Walk 1,400 miles

Burn 700,000 calories

Donate to a Food bank 4 times

Donate to 12 Democratic House candidates

Tithe all book and Bywater checks

Visit Spring Training

Have a Day of Yes

Pay off a credit card

Now, comment and tell me what you are hoping to get out there and do this year. There might even been a free ebook in there for one lucky commenter.

January 4, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | 7 Comments


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