"The real voyage of discovery consists in not seeing a new landscape, but in having new eyes."
- Marcel Proust
She'd done it all. A charter member of Canada's snowboarding team, Sherry Newstead had lived the Whistler dream to its full potential. From competitor to film stunt person, from swinging gogo dancer to "connected" talent agent, the blond dynamo they called Punchy had pushed the envelope of the possible in just about everything she undertook.
"I virtually grew up at Whistler," says the 40 year old with a knowing smile. "I was brought up by my friends." A long giggle. "It's funny you know - I really did grow up here. And I was able to incorporate all sorts of things from the people I encountered here too."
Then she met Rob Boyd. "It's been quite a journey," she admits of her love affair with Whistler's favourite son. And one of their first dates, she says, had to be among the funniest. "It was locals' night at Sushi Village," she says. "One of us had heard that it was supposed to be an '80s theme." A great lover of costume parties, Newstead convinced her new beau to get into the swing of the evening. "So we went through our closets and put together the tackiest '80s wear we could find."
As it turns out there was no '80s theme at the restaurant that night. "I'm sure you can imagine the kind of entrance we made," she says with just the hint of a smirk. "There we were all decked out in our finest retro gear and nobody else in the room was costumed. They must have wondered what the heck was going on..."
But to their credit the new couple kept a straight face and carried it off. "That's what I love so much about Rob," she says. "He's game for anything."
Consider the way he asked Sherry to marry him. "Well," she says. "It's Christmas time and I've got this crazy Swedish snowboarding friend staying with us. He's just broken up with his girlfriend so there's this dark, nasty cloud hanging over our house..."
No matter. The tradition on Christmas Day is for Rob to shed his skis and go snowboarding with Sherry. "It's our own little ritual," she explains. "And on this particular Christmas it's puking!"
Rob has the engagement ring in his pocket. His plan is to take Sherry into the forest and propose.
"But the riding is way too good to stop," she continues. "We finally get home - still cold and soggy from the day's adventures - and we're all stressed out about getting the turkey into the oven in time for dinner." She stops talking. Laughs. "Suddenly Rob gets down on one knee and takes this ring box out of his pocket. And I'm thinking: 'Are you seriously doing this?'"
He was. They were married in the summer of 2003. Soon after that illustrious event (but long enough you incipient rumour-mongers) came the announcement of the imminent arrival of their first son. Dylan Boyd was born in the spring of '05. His brother Evan was born 16 months later. Sherry's world was about to take a major left turn.
"I thought I had things pretty much under control," says Sherry. "I'd seen how Rob related to the kids he was coaching. I was convinced he'd make a pretty great dad."
What Sherry hadn't counted on however, was that "dad" was about to embark on a big adventure of his own. Invited in 2004 to join the national team as a special coach for the women's speed program in view of preparing them for the 2010 Games, Boyd now had to make one of the most difficult decisions of his life. Should he leave his pregnant wife and take up the new challenge? Or should he stay at home, squash his own ambitions and be there full-time for his new family?
"It wasn't an easy decision," admits Sherry. "But we decided we could do it." She sighs. "I really didn't know at the time quite what I was getting myself into."
Being a single mom is one thing. But raising young kids while your spouse is on the road for five and six and seven weeks at a time - what my dearly departed wife, Wendy, used to call pseudo single parenting (she had a lot of experience at it) - is almost as difficult. In some ways, maybe more so...
"The biggest challenges for me," says Sherry, "came in the first three years of motherhood. The first pregnancy went well but it was a bit lonely without my partner. When Dylan came along I suddenly found myself home alone with a new baby. Sometimes in the dead of winter, solo in the big house, I would get really melancholic. I know I shouldn't have but I did. At times I thought: 'What have I done? Have I made a terrible mistake? How am I going to get through this?' I had lost touch with my friends because none of them had kids and nobody dropped by. Every act took more effort."
It's a familiar refrain with new moms. But for Sherry, the situation was about to get a lot more complicated. "When Evan came along things got worse. I tried to not let on too much to Rob about how I was feeling because I didn't want him to worry or think I was losing my mind. Secretly, inside, I was questioning my sanity."
No wonder. Alone, and with few friends to whom she could turn for advice, Sherry had to oversee the upkeep of two young boys little more than a year apart in age. It would have been seen as a considerable challenge even for a conventional couple. For the new mom the challenge seemed insurmountable at times.
There were solutions of course. She could have thrown up her arms and given up. Asked her husband to leave the team and come home to help with the chores. But pride - and something else. Toughness? Discipline? Drive maybe? - made her eschew that path.
"I grew into the nurturing role," she explains. "As a new mother I was a bit lost. Reeling from a sudden lack of freedom and then being blind-sided with a second pregnancy when my first child was only seven months old: that was tough."
She laughs - but there's more than a hint of pathos there. "Things really went wild after Evan came along," she says. "Juggling a toddler and an infant on my own in the dead of winter after a second Cesarean delivery was a bit overwhelming at times. After all the excitement of baby number two died down and Rob went back to Europe, there I was with two little ones. I was completely immersed in motherhood. No nanny, no help, just me and my babies. I was delirious most of the time from lack of sleep. It was a bit crazy. Sometimes I would call Rob on the phone in Europe, in the middle of the night. I just needed to reach out and know that he was there, somewhere far away but to feel that connection." She sighs. "Sounds wacky, doesn't it? But I just wanted a connection... any connection with the father of my boys."
Departures were particularly hard. "I would try to be strong and put on a brave face at the airport but I felt like I was going into solitary confinement. I loved my babies as much as any mother could but being alone so much was taking me to the brink of what I could handle. It is really hard to explain but even though I had two babies I would be really lonely at times. I couldn't really explain it to my child-free friends and I was too proud to admit to them I was struggling." A long pause. Another sigh. Then she continues: "I felt like I had two lives, one with Rob and another when he was gone...
"I think the reason it seemed so crazy, other than the obvious of never getting a break or any real sleep, was that I was alone most of the time. I would worry that I would screw up somehow. You always hear on the news of some poor parent who turned their back only to discover that some terrible thing happened to their pride and joy. I don't know that things got easier as I went along but I was learning to cope better."
And now? What's life like with Rob at home and settling into his new job with the Whistler Ski Club? "The boys are older now - three and a half and five. They are bundles of energy and it takes every ounce I have every day but it is so much fun. They fill my life with joy, at times with frustration or anguish but all in all we have a lot of fun. I have a very close bond with my boys. I mean, you only get one shot at raising good children. I want to be sure that my boys grow up to be nice guys, keep their sense of humor and have the best lives possible. I am already so proud of them.
"Having children," she adds, "makes being a grown up more tolerable. I can't imagine what I'd be missing now without my little guys to show me the world through a fresh set of eyes. Everything is exciting and new. There is no end of adventures to be had. They are keen to learn and to explore. Without children, I think getting old would be pretty boring." Another happy bout of laughter.
"After all," she concludes, "having to be mature all the time is not nearly as much fun as playing pirates or building an elaborate set of train tracks..."