Chris Paynter was 10 years old when he first saw the jagged peaks of the Austrian Alps, the aqua waters of the River Salzach and the theatrical baroque architecture of the city of Salzburg. Monday, the lifelong fan of Julie Andrews and "The Sound of Music" finally laid eyes on it all in person.
"I loved everything," Paynter, 41, said of his afternoon field trip to Salzburg with his parents. The alpine skier is in Austria to compete in the Special Olympics World Winter Games. "But my favorite part was running up the stairs like Maria [at the Mirabell Gardens] singing 'Do Re Mi.'"
Thirty-one years ago, Paynter's parents, Ellen and Dean, traveled to Austria on vacation. While in Salzburg, they hired an English-speaking taxi driver to take them on a tour of filming locations for "The Sound of Music." When they returned home to Oklahoma City, they watched the movie with their two sons as a way to share the experience with them. That was the first of "thousands of times" Chris watched the film.
"The whole movie is my favorite part," said Chris, who owns "countless" versions of the film on DVD and VHS, and watches it as often as once a month. "My favorite character is Captain von Trapp. And Maria. And Mother Superior."
Ellen and Dean had planned for years to take Chris to Salzburg and re-create their original tour, but each time they began planning -- for Chris' 30th birthday, and then for his 40th -- something came up and they had to cancel their trip. When they found out Chris had been selected to his fifth Special Olympics World Games team and would be competing only one hour from Salzburg, they knew the Hollywood stars had aligned.
"He's been looking forward to this for so long," Dean said. "It's crazy that he's now been able to do it. Watching his expression all day when he saw something new that he recognized from the film was priceless. Almost as good as a gold medal, right, Chris?"
Chris thought about his dad's words for a moment, and then agreed.
"Almost," he said.
Below are nine scenes from Paynter's memorable day.
Act 1, Scene 1
Paynter's favorite moment of his Salzburg tour was running up the same stairs outside the Mirabell Palace where Maria and the Von Trapp kids sang 'Do Re Mi' in the film. "That's it! Oh my God!" he said when he saw the Pegasus Fountain and the stone staircase. "Those are the steps they came up!"
Act 1, Scene 2
At several moments throughout the tour, Mom and Dad were overcome with emotion watching their oldest son walk through the scenes of his favorite movie. "This is truly amazing," Mom said.
Act 1, Scene 3
"I remember when they ran through here singing, too!" Chris said as he re-created another scene in the Mirabell Gardens. Of all the songs in the film -- for the record, Chris knows the words to them all -- 'Edelweiss' is his favorite.
Act 1, Scene 4
After a 30-minute walk from the Stift Nonnberg Nunnery where Maria von Trapp was once a novice, the Paynters arrived at Leopoldskron Castle, an 18th-century rococo mansion that doubled as the von Trapp house in the 1965 film.
Act 1, Scene 5
As the Paynters looked out over Leopoldskroner Weiher Lake, Chris reminded his parents that the lake was where Maria and the kids were giggling and laughing in a rowboat in a famous scene from the movie. "That's when they all fell in," Dad said. "Remember? They saw their father and all stood up and tipped the boat."
Act 1, Scene 6
By the end of the tour, the Paynter family had walked more than five miles around Salzburg and watched the sun set behind the Alps. But that distance is nothing for Paynter, who plans to run his eighth half-marathon next month at the Memorial Marathon in Oklahoma City.
Act 2, Scene 1
After a tough day of pre-competition on Monday in which he caught an edge and fell in his first run, Chris came back on Tuesday to win gold in the Giant Slalom. It was not his first World Games gold medal, though. He has several from his first four World Games appearances in the sports of powerlifting and alpine skiing. "I'm glad my legs weren't tired from all that walking yesterday," he said.
Act 2, Scene 2
Ask the Paynters which moment was more special for them this week, touring Salzburg with their son or cheering him on during the medal ceremony where he received his gold medal, and it might take them a while to answer. "There were tears at the bottom of the race course," Dad said. But, added Mom, "Monday was pretty special. To have been able to give that experience to Chris meant so much. He can cross it off his bucket list."
Act 2, Scene 3
Chris, however, said nothing tops winning gold. It's been 16 years since he competed in a World Games -- his last was the World Winter Games in Anchorage, Alaska, in 2001 -- and felt the excitement of standing on stage to have a medal hung around his neck. But was it better than strolling through "The Sound of Music"? "I don't know," he said. "That was awesome."