Before Blake Mayenschein prepares to race down a ski slope, his friend and mentor, 69-year-old Al Johnson, gives him three words of encouragement: "Be bad, baby!"
Since Johnson took the Evans sophomore under his wing in the past year, Mayenschein has been just that. He has steadily improved his flight level and is now considered to be one of the top young skiers in Georgia.
"Not until this year did I think anything more than, 'Yeah, it's fun to go skiing,' " Mayenschein said. "But now I'm fast and now I'm actually better. It's something that I'm taking more seriously."
Mayenschein picked up his first pair of skis at the age of 4. His mother, Julie, joined the Augusta Ski and Outing Club in 1998. It was at the club where Mayenschein met Johnson, who became a charter member when the club was established in 1970.
"He had the desire to be great. That was the main part of it," Johnson said. "No one ever had to push him to get out there and ski. He was really willing to learn."
Like most newcomers, Mayenschein struggled with learning certain techniques, such as the carve-turn. The carve-turn allows a skier to get around poles using a rounded movement rather than a zig-zag. Unsatisfied with the way he had been finishing races, Mayenschein turned to Johnson for guidance.
"When I first started out, I was just staying in the same spot. I never thought I was any good," Mayenschein said. "But then I got with Al and he showed me better techniques. It really helped me out a lot."
He quickly caught on, and it wasn't long before Mayenschein improved as a skier.
"The defining moment was when we were at the bottom of the mountain waiting for Blake to come down, and he's changed everything," said Tim Long, also of the Augusta Ski and Outing Club. "He was attacking the mountain."
"I didn't recognize him," Johnson said. "I said, 'That looks like Blake's clothes but that can't be him. Blake doesn't ski that good.'"
Mayenschein has parlayed his newfound skills into medals. In the past year, he has brought home multiple bronze medals, and he took silver in an event earlier this month at Sugar Mountain Ski Resort in North Carolina. Last year, he qualified for the NASTAR National Finals in Colorado, though he did not make the trip.
He's at a distinct disadvantage against the majority of his competition because most youngsters that he races against live near the mountains and can ski frequently. Mayenschein said he only travels about six times a year to the Appalachian Mountains for training and competitions.
"What really motivates me is to go up there and beat people who actually live up there," said Mayenschein, who returns to Sugar Mountain for a race Saturday. "It's pretty cool to be one of the only kids from Georgia."
Reach Joey Jones at (706) 724-0851 or firstname.lastname@example.org.