Monday, March 20, 2017

Not my best ski day: Careening down a mountain headfirst, on my back

Some days, the snow is powder, the sky is blue, and the skiing is fine.

But that doesn't describe my latest adventure in skiing.

The powder snow had melted, and then turned to ice. It was raining shards of ice that pelted my face and obstructed my vision.

Skiing on sheer ice is difficult for an experienced skier. For a novice like me, it's a death wish. How do you control your turns and your speed when skiing on a sheet of ice? Very carefully.

One minute I was skiing and in control. But the next, I was careening down the hill on my back--headfirst--so I couldn't see where I was going. Apparently, I also was screaming.

I couldn't get my legs out in front of me to stop. As I slid down the mountain upside down, I prayed I wouldn't slide right off the edge into nothingness. Or hit a tree. Or another skier.

I didn't.

Eventually, I stopped. Amazingly, I still had both skis and poles--not to mention my limbs. No damage to the wrists either.

Shaken, I popped off one ski, and pulled myself back up. Am I crazy for trying to learn to ski at age 57--so soon after breaking both wrists? Many normal women my age are content with keeping both feet planted firmly on the ground.

Maybe I should take up knitting or scrapbooking like a normal woman? But I've never been normal.

A few minutes later, after giving myself a quick pep talk, I was skiing on sheer ice again. As I made my way clumsily down the mountain, I fell several more times. None were as spectacular as my earlier agony-of-defeat head-first death plunge.

When I finally made it to the bottom of the hill, my heart rejoiced. Even though I'd been shaken and scared by the fall, I'd pulled myself together to finish the run.

The next day, I awoke in a body that felt beat up. Large, purple bruises emerged on my right leg.

Some days are golden, with fluffy, powdery snow and blue skies. Other days, we're careening down the mountain on our backs--headfirst--with no view of the danger in front of us.

Just another day in this adventurous life.

Monday, March 6, 2017

For the first time since my ATV accident, I went skiing

Today for the first time since my horrible ATV accident, I got back on alpine skis. And much to my mother’s relief as well as my own, I didn’t break any bones. 

It’s been two years since I last skied. I was a beginner who had just taken my first solo ski runs—and my first solo chair lift rides. When I first started skiing at age 54, the chair lift was the most traumatizing part of skiing (due to an unfortunate chair lift episode when I was 19). The Mountain Man had assured me that skiers do not fall off the chair lift. But trust me, if anyone could fall off the chair lift, it would be me. The klutz.

My saving grace is that I’m an adventurous klutz. So even though I had been terrified of falling off the chair lift, I wanted to learn to ski. So I forced myself to sit down on that chair lift seat and ride it to the top of the mountain. It wasn’t technically good skiing or confident skiing. I fell multiple times. And I was so slow that when I watched a video of one of my runs that first year, I seemed to be skiing in slow motion as other skiers flew past me. Despite my lack of speed, it was fun.

Then the fun ended 18 months ago when I crashed a four-wheeler while crossing a bridge. Despite the fact that people had crossed that bridge on ATVs for decades, I was the first person to ever crash on that bridge. But leave it to me, on my maiden voyage driving an ATV, to crash spectacularly on that bridge. I crushed both wrists. Now I have titanium plates holding my wrists together. I’m the Bionic Woman. Well, maybe the Klutzy Bionic Woman.

After my accident, my orthopedic surgeon and physical therapist sidelined me for an entire ski season while I continued healing and regaining my fine motor skills. My surgeon said I could eventually return to skiing and other adventurous pursuits. He said my titanium wrists would be fine—as long as I didn’t take another forceful fall rivaling my spectacular somersault over the ATV handlebars.

Still, I was nervous about skiing. Last night when I laid out my ski clothes and gear, I worried that I might get hurt. I imagine myself falling so hard that the titanium plates would poke out of my skin.

I awoke in the middle of the night and my mind started playing the “what if” game. What if my wrists weren’t capable of holding myself up on the handle tow? What if my now-arthritic left wrist and thumb couldn’t hold the ski pole firmly? What if I fell off the chair lift? What if I fell on the mountain and wasn’t strong enough to get back up again?

But here’s the question that was at the forefront of my mind: What if my accident had so paralyzed me that I’d lost sight of the adventurous woman who had given me so much confidence and transformed me in midlife? I didn’t want my fear to paralyze me.

Sometimes, when I begin to doubt myself, my old, bitter soccer mom persona pays a visit just to taunt me and throw doubt on my self-confidence. Last night, uninvited, she threw open my door and made me question myself, my abilities, and my existence. In her sarcastic voice she asked: “What makes you think you can ski again? You broke your body. You are 57 years old. Maybe it’s time to take up knitting from a rocking chair. What makes you think you can do this?”

Wow. That woman loves stealing my joy. 

But I won’t let her do it anymore. I’ve learned to shush her quickly and put her in her place—far away from my Adventure Woman ears. Now I am the Dragon Diva. The Woman with the Dragon Tattoo. Yes, I also happened to have a klutzy, horrific accident that crushed both wrists and sidelined me for many months. But now I have two titanium wrists. They are strong. And so am I.

I thumbed my nose at Soccer Mom and told myself: “You can do this. You can do anything you put your mind to.”

Then I climbed back into bed and slept soundly.

Thankfully, the Mountain Man is not only a ski instructor, but a calm man who inspires calmness and confidence in me. First, he gave me a quick beginner’s lesson to remind me of the basics: turning, controlling my speed, stopping. Then we skied down a small hill and headed for the handle tow to take a couple of turns on the bunny hill. Would my once-broken wrists be strong enough to hold myself up? Would I fall? Would I get hurt again?

But here’s a fact: My wrists are titanium. They were strong enough to hold myself up on the handle tow. We made two runs down the bunny hill. My body and my mind remembered how to ski. The Mountain Man asked if I wanted to make another bunny hill run.

“No. Let’s get on the chair lift and go skiing up on top!” I said.

So we did. The chair lift wasn’t as scary as it had been before. On my first run, I fell once, almost right after we started down the hill. But it wasn’t a spectacular fall. I wasn’t hurt. No broken bones. I didn’t have titanium poking out of my skin.

But I did need to take control of my self-talk. Although skiing is very physical, it’s also a mental sport. You must believe that you can maneuver your way down the mountain—or you won’t be able to do it. Sprawled on my back in the snow, I tried to get up by pushing myself up with my ski poles, but my arms didn’t have the strength to do it. So with my ski pole, I released my right ski and stood up, and snapped my ski back into the binding.

“You can do this,” I told myself. “You’re the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The Dragon Diva.”

Then I skied down the mountain—and I didn’t fall again. I had fun. Although my 57-year-old body is exhausted and my legs feel as wobbly as Jell-o, I am glowing. I conquered my fear, and I experienced joy at 8,000 feet. 

Confident that I will return to the ski hill next weekend and the weekend after that and the weekend after that, I bought a season pass that’s good for the rest of this ski season and all of next ski season.

Dragon Diva has returned!