By Eirene-Gin Nakamura
Most people don’t think of Baywatch when they see Dr. Keith Neergaard, but for those who know him well, he is Mitch Buchannon, the winter edition. In his famous red trunks, David Hasselhoff runs in slow motion on the beach towards a drowning victim, as the theme song declares, “Cause I’m always ready, I won’t let you out of my sight!” Switch out the trunks for a red windbreaker, and the beach for a snowy mountain, and Neergaard is the Hero on the Hill for skiers and snowboarders at Heavenly resort in South Lake Tahoe.
An experienced skier with a friendly face, Neergaard was invited to join the volunteer patrol force a few years ago after making friends with the patrollers (dubbed the “Slopewatchers”). A ski patroller, the snowy equivalent of an EMT, takes medical care courses specializing in cold-weather illness and injury in order to survey the crowds of skiers of all levels that rush to the mountain at the first sign of snowfall. Aside from serving as niveous lifeguards, Neergaard describes the main role of a patroller as “being there to provide a peace of mind; anybody who is going for a day of fun has it knowing they’re there if you need them.” He smiles and says, “I enjoy providing that peace of mind,” disproving students’ belief that he only enjoys being notorious for killer pop quizzes.
Although the majority of his year is spent in the classroom, as soon as class lets out for winter break the 2009 Patroller of the Year trades in his button-up short-sleeves for the crimson and black jacket and a motorized sled to join his close-knit friends at Slopewatch. “I really enjoy the camaraderie,” he says. “Some of my closest friends are now patrollers…and we get together year-round.”
Being a patroller hasn’t pushed him to bubble wrap his kids when he takes them to the slopes. In fact, he started both his children on skiing at age 2 and proudly declares, “Both my children ski the toughest runs they have. Double black diamonds — no problem!” His son has even gotten involved in ski patrol, playing a victim in training scenarios. The little Neergaard hopes to follow in his father’s footsteps by becoming a patroller when he turns 16.
At the end of the day, Neergaard says that the service component, not the sweet jacket or killer snowmobile, is the most rewarding of the array of incredible aspects he gets to experience. “Really helping people on the worst day of their lives — you know — facing a hospital trip, is very satisfying,” he says like a true Buchannon. “It’s a different kind of reward than in the classroom experience.”
Sure, the job may not be easy, but it even comes with tangible perks: Complimentary tickets for friends and family are guaranteed. Neergaard says that the most enjoyable patrolling days are “when I can help out some friends and colleagues to come join me.” He lists the Ivys, the Lighthouses, Tammy McGuire, and Floyd Hayes among those who have visited the resort at his invitation. “It’s always fun to have Angwinites up there!” he exclaims.
If you play your cards right, maybe next time you’ll get to catch a glimpse of Keith Neergaard, Hero on the Hill.
Michelle Rai was a reviewer for the Marketing Public Relations textbook, recently printed by Pearson Prentice Hall. The book is for undergraduate public relations, new media, and marketing courses, and it presents public relations through a marketing approach rather than communications studies or journalism.
In October, Mei Ann Teo directed her NYC debut at Joe's Pub of the Public Theater, one of the nation’s preeminent cultural institutions. The show, "Lyrics from Lockdown," had a sold-out house and was received with standing ovation. Her film "Not Here" screened at the DC APA Film Festival and the San Diego Asian American Film Festival.
In November, the PR office met the arrival of the redesigned ViewPoint magazine with great rejoicing (and one or two groans of dismay over details). Let us know if you need a copy. We're also always looking for alumni updates, so if you're an alum or keep in touch with grads from your department, let us know at email@example.com!
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