Saturday, December 20, 2014

The REAL Return To Skiing

Disclaimer: I know I posted about "the return to skiing" last year, but looking back, it didn't feel like I really returned to skis. I mean, I got on a lift in absolutely brutal conditions and somehow got down the trail, but I didn't enjoy it. Baby step in the right direction? Of course. Returning to skiing? Not really. Returning to skiing means enjoying those turns and having a blast!

The Butterflies...

Last March, I started talking to Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra (DSES) about taking lessons. I just knew after talking with them that they were the ones that were going to really get me to love skiing again. Unfortunately, or fortunately, my back decided to flare up bad shortly after talking to them. I was bummed, but at the same time, maybe it was a sign to wait until next ski season. After a remarkable summer of hiking and backpacking (!!), I knew it was a good sign that I waited. I was stronger this summer and more in-tune with the bionic back and annoying nerves. I went on more backpacking trips this summer than I had any summer before breaking my back. I had a good feeling going into ski season... 

I reached out to DSES in November, and Andy put my in touch with Maggie. After talking on the phone and via email a few times, Dave and I stopped in before the Thanksgiving holiday to talk to her in person. I had a really great feeling about this ski season after talking with her and several others at DSES. Lessons were set up for December, and I knew it was finally going to happen. I was excited... and nervous. 

It all started about a week before my lessons. The events of February 23rd, 2013 were on repeat as I tried to fall asleep. The nightmares had returned. Only this time they weren't just nightmares, they were "daymares", too. Don't get me wrong, I was ridiculously excited about getting back on skis again (and skiing with DSES), but the chairlift memories were ruining it. It seemed that resort skiing had been ruined for me. I was basically dealing with so much excitement about skiing again, a fresh snow dump before my lessons, and the lift anxiety, all at once.

The excitement hit as we left at 4am for Mammoth. I still couldn't believe this was happening. Well, that excitement started mixing with the butterflies not long after we hijacked Moosie. As we drove up to the Main Lodge, I felt like I was going to hurl my guts out. I was still excited about skiing, but there was also a lot of anxiety. I'd been on a lift since I broke my back and on skis, but the anxiety was still paralyzing. Well, it was time to face that anxiety and fear head on...

Twin Plank Lessons: Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra Edition

From the second I first stepped into the DSES office at Mammoth, I had a feeling that the weekend was going to be a special one. As queasy as I felt from the anxiety that was building in my gut, I also felt at ease because I knew I was in good hands. That doesn't mean that some tears weren't shed in the bathroom at one point, but that was bound to happen. As it turns out, it only happened once. 

Mark could probably tell, from the moment he introduced himself as my instructor for the day, that I was nervous. My face always gives everything away. The lesson started with talking about the game plan, what my goals are (short and long term) with skiing, my concerns, etc. It helped get my mind off the building anxiety of the lift. We headed outside and spent a little time on the basics of getting use to my skis again, something with which I was very okay. Then it was time to face my biggest fear... the lift.

It was weird. As soon as I got on the lift, it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. I mean, I wasn't completely at ease, but I wasn't freaking out (even when the lift would stop mid-ride). We did a few laps on the "Marathon Mile", a super tame trail, to help me get use to the snow, my skis, and deal with some of the anxiety I was feeling about being on skis. After the second time, I think there was a perma-smile on my face. Heck, we even got a huge rainbow on a bluebird day while waiting in line at Discovery Chair! We moved on to the slightly steeper Sesame Street West, gradually adding things to work on, but mostly focusing on my balance on the skis. The guidance, support and encouragement from Mark (and the volunteers) really helped me feel more at ease - even when I was panicking at times. By lunchtime, I had made more progress that I thought I would - six runs, no falls, and a perma-smile!

The afternoon session started off where the morning left off - with a perma-smile and an open mind. More progress was made, including a much needed sliding fall mid-run, but I could also tell that I was finally starting to get fatigued. After the second or third run, my right leg was getting hard to control. It just wanted to do its own thing. It was the most bizarre and terrifying feeling, not being able to really control what was going on. We took a break, which included riding the gondola, and decided it was good to call it a day and start fresh in the morning. 

Celebrating a day full of progress at the top of Mammoth!

I spent pretty much the entire afternoon/evening in perma-smile mode. Hearing the progress I had made in a short amount of time, and seeing it myself, was amazing. It was encouraging to hear that the only issue I might have with skiing is getting fatigued more easily. I'm pretty sure that when I met Dave and Moosie in the Lodge after my lessons, they could see my smile from hundreds of feet away. They were excited about the progress. I was excited about the progress. I felt amazing. That night was all about celebrating... with some tasty MBC beer. 

The next morning started off with a little anxiety, but nothing like the day before. When Dave dropped me off at DSES, Maggie greeted me. She was thrilled to hear how the prior day went and let me know that I'd be skiing with Carolyn and Carlynn (Maggie was fighting a bug, and we were both bummed to have to wait to ski together). The lesson started off similar to yesterday, and I had a blast talking to Carolyn and Carlynn. Mark had filled them in on the progress of yesterday, and we knew to really focus on my balance today while continuing progress in other areas (I seem to like the backseat... but I'm getting better about catching and fixing it). After getting use to freshly waxed skis and warming up, the perma-smile returned. I was tense at times, and Carolyn had to remind me to breathe a few times, but I was having a blast. I felt great after the previous day - including the back! On our last run of the morning, we decided to do a new trail... and I loved it! I was a little tense, but I remembered to breathe the entire way down and got to practice a lot of difference skills! It was a great way to cap off a great weekend! 

You can't ski at Mammoth without saying hi to Woolly!

Skiing Is Fun Again!

I cannot say enough good things about this past weekend. I've had amazing support from so many friends, near and far, throughout my entire recovery journey. It was evident from all of the positive messages I was getting leading up to, during, and after the "return to skiing" weekend. I can't thank everyone enough. Dave and Moosie were there the entire weekend, experiencing the perma-smile firsthand. DSES has almost left me speechless. They've been so welcoming, supportive, encouraging, patient, and just plain awesome. I honestly didn't think that getting back on skis would be so much fun, but it has been thanks to the awesome people at DSES. They've made the skiing 'itch' hit hard, and I can't wait to go back up after the holidays and continue working with them. I know it's not always going to go as smoothly and I'll get frustrated with myself, but that's what this entire recovery journey has been about - overcoming and moving on. They've reignited my passion for skiing and made it fun again. I cannot thank DSES enough for that!

I know that I am lucky to be where I am today with my recovery - things could have been so much worse. I'm thankful every single day that I'm walking again, because I know that I shouldn't be. I've learned to live every day to it's fullest and never take anything for granted because it all could change in split second... and it did for me. Time in the mountains means so much more to me these days. It was amazing to feel the peace that being alone in the backcountry brings again. Now it's amazing to feel that pure joy of skiing again and it means the world to me. I've had my critics, but I'm not going to live in a glass box and just give up on getting my life back. Life is all about living and being in the moment. Do I wish that February 23rd never happened? Of course! I can't change what happened, but I can celebrate every day. Life is all about living... and celebrating every moment with those around you. Many thanks to Dave, Moosie, and everyone at DSES for making my return to skiing so special. 

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