JUST LIKE RIDING A BIKE
I skied on New Year’s Eve—the first time in 21 years. During my ski sabbatical, skis shrank by a foot and got fatter by a few inches. Helmets became the norm instead of something only old people wore (and the young, cool crowd sneered at). I saw the same, familiar snow bunnies in Chamonix, France that I saw in Vail, CO 21 years ago, completely kitted in Bogner with Lacroix skis and designer goggles, but that’s where familiarity ended.
My brain remembered the feeling of carving turns, legs burning as I raced down a black, and then another. It remembered the weightless sensation of skiing on fresh powder. It remembered the sound and smell of the snow. My body didn’t remember.
Skiing again after 21 years is not like riding a bike. My legs didn’t want to bend, to keep my skis parallel or to shift my weight with ease. My poles were used more to slow me down than plant and turn. Children as young as three whizzed past me, unafraid. Even my daughters, who learned to ski three days before, passed me repeatedly. But I kept going because I promised myself before buckling my ski boots—an act as familiar as tying my shoes—that I would ignore my pride. I knew I would suck at something I used to excel at, but I had to try because skiing was always my favourite sport and I desperately missed it.
So I snowploughed with children, down flat, wide runs, determined not to fail. With each traverse I tried to bring my skis together and let my legs guide me instead of the awkward waist bending, shoulder twisting and head bobbing I felt my body doing (I must have looked ridiculous). I continued pushing myself on longer runs, trying to find my rhythm, trying to master my form, trying to remind my body how to ski after a 21-year break. It wasn't easy and it didn't help my pride.
I stopped skiing because Multiple Sclerosis stole my balance and coordination. When the disease was being especially cruel, it took my ability to walk and even rendered simple tasks like buttoning my shirt nearly impossible.
The first winter I had MS, I skied an impressive 42 times. My body was numb from the waste down for several months and my legs felt like elastic bands, but my strength was stable and muscle memory filled any voids. By the second winter, my body had endured relentless beatings and wouldn’t cooperate. I only skied twice that year. It was the last time that spooked me.
I bravely strapped on my skis that morning. I urged those skiing with me to go ahead because it was a green day for me and blacks were waiting for them. I made slow, gentle turns down the slope, nothing bold, but something happened. Either my skis crossed or someone hit me, I don’t know, but I remember the moment before my head hit the hard snow and then the pounding and confusion that followed as I tried to move. Something was left on that mountain, after that fall.
One year of not skiing quickly turned into 21.
I can’t blame MS entirely for my ski sabbatical. Although my balance and coordination are often weak, I am strong and haven’t had a relapse in 11 years. I can, however, blame building and morphing fear. I became terrified to ski. Terrified to fail. Terrified to embarrass myself. Terrified to hurt myself. Terrified to do something I once prided myself on being good at doing.
For years, my daughters begged to go skiing. I had run out of excuses to avoid, so I used their excitement to help me face my fears. I decided I’d end 2017 squashing my pride and being brave. I wouldn’t overthink it and instead I’d go into autopilot mode. So off we went to the French Alps and off I went to keep a promise to myself. I did it! I faced my fear and skied straight through it.
I’ll ski again this year and next. I’ll let my confidence slowly rebuild as my snowplough transitions into something more closely resembling parallel and my speed increases above 5mph. I won’t focus on my past glory days of skiing, which were truly amazing. Instead, I will focus on what I’ve achieved and which terrifying feat I will overcome next.
Bring it on 2018. I am ready.