The toboggan hill: What sledding battles taught me about creative problem solving

The pom-pom on top of my toque bobbed as I trudged up the snowy Port Albert hill, my cheap plastic toboggan dragging behind me. My four-year-old cousin Ria walked ahead of me, toughing out the cold and the climb like a boss.

Suddenly, my Spidey senses tingled. Farther up the hill, I saw my uncle on his toboggan come roaring toward us. We were off to the side, but some quick-fire calculations in my head determined that this February freight train was heading straight for us.

Now, I put my snow pants on one leg at a time like anyone else, but I knew at that moment Ria needed a hero to save her. I snapped into action with only seconds left before my little cousin became a tobog-goner. Grabbing Ria, who was light as a popcorn fart, I tossed her off the path … and directly into a bramble patch where she became tangled up in thorny branches.

Naturally, my uncle came nowhere near us. You’re welcome, Ria. You’re welcome.

In my family, being tossed into a thorn bush is fairly mild compared to some of the other injuries endured on the toboggan hills. My sister Becky suffered a massive concussion after slamming headfirst into a tree. I got 36 stitches in the back of my left leg after crashing my sled into the pointy end of a fallen log. At best, our tobogganing afternoons ended in tears. At worst, a trip to the emergency room.

Our family’s competitive nature only increased the odds of these injuries. Every outing included a number of violent, full-contact, cry-home-to-mama races.

As a scrawny kid, I didn’t have a lot of weight to throw around. As a result, I got roughed up a lot by my three big brothers, who delighted in knocking me off my sled, running me into walls or sending me flying off the edge of the hill and into the woods.

It was business as usual one chilly afternoon, my brothers bullying me out of contention race after race. That is, until, I got an idea. We lined up at the top of the hill for another race, and sure enough, I didn’t make it a quarter of the way down the slope before I was flipped off my toboggan.

However, rather than wallow in defeat with a face full of snow, I jumped to my feet and ran back up the hill. While the others were still duking it out downslope, I put my plan into action.

Before long, my brothers came trudging back up the hill to find me casually waiting for the next race. We lined up for another battle. On your marks… Get set… GO! I pushed off and started toward the finish line. Immediately, fists and feet were flailing as we jockeyed for position.

My brother Dan grabbed the back of my sled, attempting to send me into a tailspin. This time, I was ready. Like a pilot hitting his ejector button, I leapt off of my toboggan.

In one fluid motion, I unzipped my coat and pulled free the plastic Crazy Carpet I had secretly wrapped around my torso while the others were finishing their last race.

Diving onto the plastic sheet, I torpedoed down the hill headfirst, crossing the finish line in first place. I made sure to throw in a braggy, over-the-top victory dance for good measure.

Think outside the box

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Race after race, I was attempting to win through brute force. And race after race, I was getting beat up by my brothers.

Rather than continue to hit your head against a brick wall, approach a problem from a different angle. Get creative. Find workarounds. Seek out a fresh perspective on the situation from an outsider. If I couldn’t out-muscle my siblings, I knew I’d have to outsmart them. It’s about understanding your strengths and using them to your advantage.

Problem solving often means a lot of trial and error. The path to success is littered with mistakes and failure. It’s up to you to embrace those experiences as learning opportunities and use what you’ve learned to move forward. As media magnate Sumner Redstone said, “Success is not built on success. It’s built on failure. It’s built on frustration. Sometimes it’s built on catastrophe.”

It’s all right to be bummed when you make a mistake or fail at something. But don’t let disappointment spiral into brooding and an unwillingness to try again. Besides making me cold, I knew laying in a snow bank wallowing about yet another crushing tobogganing defeat wouldn’t do me any good. If I wanted to win, I had to get up, brush myself off and get my butt back up the hill. Because the next race was about to start.