If you’ve found yourself reading this, you likely either follow or have stumbled across one of my social media outlets and thus seen the word “skol” a time or two amongst my posts. In that case, it's also likely that you've asked yourself, “What the hell does 'skol' mean?” and even likelier, "Who cares?!"
In anticipation of my Ten Year Cancerversary fast approaching on December 1st as well as the publishing of my first memoir in early 2017 and also in honor of one of the the only exciting Vikings seasons to take place in my lifetime (or so we thought), I’d like to fill you in on the expression’s meaning, and why I choose to use it at any and every given opportunity.
If you're one of those fortunate enough to hail from the North Star State or are a rare out of state Vikings fan, you are probably familiar with the word, as it has lingered around the franchise for decades and gained popularity in recent years. Though it can be heard echoing throughout the mystifying air within the brand new US Bank Stadium downtown Minneapolis on any given Sunday, even many who are familiar with skol don’t know it’s true meaning.
For me, it’s significance sinks much deeper than football. But before we get into that jazz, let’s discuss it’s formal definition.
The Google search for “skol meaning” produces the term’s modern day translation, which reads as follows:
An exclamation used to express friendly feelings toward one’s companion before drinking.
However, this is hardly it's definition. This watered down definition only scratches the surface of the word’s essence, so let’s dive into the history books and get to skol's roots.
The term is, indeed, authentically Viking. Between the 8th and 11th century AD, warrior groups known as “Vikings” could be found navigating about the seas and rivers of Northern Europe, wreaking havoc along the way, raiding and pillaging just about every village they came across. Throughout their conquests, these fiercely determined warriors sought to capture and kill the leader of each opposing group, after which they would eagerly decapitate his (or her) head. During the celebratory feast after battle, the Viking leader would drink out of his fallen opponent’s skull, then spelled “skoll” as a sign of victory but also respect.
From this tradition, the expression “SKOLL!” was born and regularly cried out by Viking warriors before and during battle. It was exclaimed in an effort to rally one’s fellow brothers and as a reminder of the goal: to fight ferociously as a tribe, take no prisoners, and, ultimately, win. To put simply, the definition of "skol" is to kick ass and take names. Hence, it’s adoption by the Minnesota Vikings as the football team’s official battle cry.
Like I said, the saying holds more weight than a simple “cheers”.
My affinity for the term began years ago and as my love affair with the word has progressed, it's become something very personal to me. But as aforementioned, for me the significance of the word goes far beyond sport.
Keep in mind: I take myself and “life” only partially seriously at all times, including those topics which are inherently serious in nature, however, there are some things that you just feel in your bones.
For the past ten years I have been living with a potentially deadly form of cancer, known as Chronic Myeloid Leukemia, cancer of the blood and bone marrow. Though many are unaware, there was a period of time shortly after diagnosis when I was ill….very ill (chronicled in my soon-to-be published memoir). There were multiple occasions on which I was forced to consider the potential of defeat...the potential of "failure" (aka death), but even during the darkest of times such as those, there was a power inside of me, an indescribably force, that refused to give up. Perhaps its best described as the “will to live”.
Throughout my writing endeavors, I have spent countless hours trying to justly describe this phenomenon; the intangible force that drives one to “hang on” when they’ve gone lower than they ever knew possible. It is like a fire living in an unidentifiable place deep inside of us that burns and refuses to go out, even when life’s challenges have dwindled it down to the smallest flame.
But as the Vikings knew best, it only takes one spark to burn down an entire village.
I continue to find myself revisiting the word “skol" as a way to describe the the blazing fire within. For me, it is, indeed, a battle cry and a verbal symbol of the drive to fight, and, thus, the drive to live. It's a reminder to kick ass, to never give up, and to battle 'til the bloody end.
December 1st, 2016 will signify ten years since my cancer diagnosis. This day holds great importance to me for obvious reasons, as living for ten years with a deadly form of cancer is a significant feat, but the ten year mark, specifically, holds additional value in my situation.
At age 16 I was much younger than the average diagnosee of CML (like 50 years younger), which is why at my first appointment following diagnosis, my doctor looked my sixteen year old self and said,
“The average CML patient is 65. Our goal is to keep them alive for 10 years. We’d like you to live longer than that.”
I am beyond grateful and so proud to report that as of December 1st, we will have met our goal. Though making it here hasn't been easy.
Although I have been able to accomplish many great things in the past ten years, including graduating high school early with highest honors, being an all-state high school gymnast, getting a bachelor's degree in Finance, becoming a sponsored wakeboarder and competing on the pro wakeboard tour, representing brands across the globe, including LifeProof, Liquid Force, and Hard Rock Cafe, appearing on TV, in magazines, and in movies, raising over $50,000 dollars for various charity organizations, having a successful career in commercial real estate, and as of October, finishing writing my first book, I have done so all the while fighting an endless battle.
Unbeknownst to many (mainly because I prefer not to display it) is the war that I continue to fight every single day with my disease. In addition to life’s daily struggles, I battle the affects of my disease and the oral chemotherapy which I ingest every day at noon. Three hundred and sixty five days a year, I wake up tired and suffer from increased fatigue throughout the day. I deal with bone pain, stomach issues, bloating, and nausea from my medication, and every time I look in the mirror am reminded of my disease at the sight of my swollen, puffy eyes. But in addition to these struggles, each day, I’m also presented with two options: give in or fight. I can either give up or I can skol.
I prefer the latter.
So perhaps it’s due to my Scandinavian origins and the closeness I feel with Leif Ericsson or simply because I take pride in adorning myself in purple on Sundays, but either way, SKOL has and will always have a special meaning in my heart. Though it can be yelled, chanted, or screamed, skol must ultimately be felt. It’s an inner strength and the will to not only proceed, but to excel (and to have a little fun in the process). To not just put one foot in front of the other but to kick ass and win.
Because in the battle of life, there is no room for prevent defense. You don’t fight because you’re scared to lose. You fight you fight because you want to win.
If I had it my way, for my Ten Year Cancerversary on December 1st I would be blowing that Vikings horn at US Bank Stadium, rallying the troops for battle, and instigating all things skol. However, wherever I end up, I will most definitely be amongst friends and family - the reasons I fight in the first place - living, loving, and, undoubtedly, skol-ing.
No matter what unfolds this football season or the next, I will always have a Viking heart, and no matter what happens with my health, I will continue to battle. I will continue to fight to live and continue to drink from the proverbial skull of life. I will always skol.