Monday, February 10, 2014

Open Up: Let 'Em Run!!

Around our house, the Winter Olympics can't come around too often.    We watch many of the sports and enjoy cheering for the United States team, but are not above rooting for a good athlete no matter where they are from.   

Yesterday we happened to be watching some of the downhill skiing and were simply amazed at the speed and danger those skiers were in from the moment they began their downward descent to the gate at the end of the course.    You could hear their skies chattering on the icy slope and the cameras followed them closely as the edges of the skies dug into the crusty surface.    It was obvious the conditions on the hill were extremely slippery and the skiers had to be ever vigilant to not go flying off the course into a snowbank.    With modern cameras (think Go-Pro!) you can all but be on the slope yourself as they follow the competitors moment by moment down the course, wind biting at your face and ears.   

As I watched the skiers yesterday I could almost feel my own leg muscles tense up as they would go into a sharp curve or go down a hill at blinding speeds.     I found myself holding my breath as they went airborne from the Russian Trampoline only to land and have to do it all again several times before skidding to a snowy stop at the bottom.  

Now if I am being honest I have to say I have never in my life skied as fast or fearlessly as these athletes competing at the level of an Olympic champion.     What I have done is ski on some spectacular slopes in the Colorado Rockies and in Park City, Utah for a period over ten years of my life when I was much younger and before back surgery and arthritis put an end to my skiing days.   I know what it feels like to be on top of a snow covered mountain and look across the vastness that makes up those majestic mountains.    I've stood in the cold with wind nipping at my cheeks and nearly sucking the breath from my lungs.   I watched as others around me swooshed by leaving a trail of their tracks carved into the powdery snow.   And on several occasions, I found myself gliding along, enjoying the view and, for a brief time, not thinking about how dangerous it was that I had strapped some waxed boards to my all too heavy (and bone crushing painful) ski boots and then rode on a chair lift up to the highest point on the mountain that I dared to go and then stood on the edge of a slope, pushed myself forward and took off.  
Marcia and Rebecca at Keystone, Co

And then one day the worst thing happened.    Or at least it seemed that way at the time.    I was going along fine, wind in my hair, sun bouncing off of my goggles when I hit an icy patch.    They don't talk about "icy patches" too much in ski school.    In fact, I don't recall anyone ever mentioning those pesky spots that can happen anywhere along the slope.   When the sun is shining and the temperature rises just above freezing, the snow can melt just a little and get soft.  As the skiers go over those places they pack the snow down and it gets pressed into a hard, icy mess.    If the temperature drops again, you can easily have little surprises waiting for you all. the. way. down. the. hill.   

So I hit one of those icy places and being a relatively inexperienced skier, I started skidding and slipping, pretty much losing control and headed for the snow bank.  At some point (I'm not saying when because frankly I don't remember and I don't WANT to remember), I fell and got turned around so I was headed down the hill head first.    There was nothing to do but continue to slide and pray that I'd get to the bottom without hitting anything.    I slid over further and further and finally was off the trail, headed straight for a pine tree.   And then I stopped, my head only inches from the bark of the tree.  

Larry and Rich ready to go!
Larry raced over and helped me to my feet.    We quickly figured out that the only thing hurt was  my pride.   Oh and maybe a bruise here and there but mostly it was my ego that got injured.   I didn't fall much when I skied, even as a beginner.    I don't know why except I was pretty cautious and took my time.   Or maybe I was just lucky.  This fall felt really humiliating and I was embarrassed, too.

So we made our way back to the condo and related my tale of woe to my niece, Rebecca,  and her husband, Rich. They were sympathetic to my plight and offered hot chocolate and sincere encouragement and thanks that I had not been seriously injured.   I put my skies up on the rack in the hall and was thinking, "Well, that is that.    No more skiing for me this time."  Just the thought made me feel anxious and start breathing faster.  

The next day, I opted out of skiing.   There was plenty for me to do at the condo.   Laundry, making chili, watching the snow fall, baking brownies.    Oh, for sure, my skiing was done for this trip.    And I meant it.    The mountain had gotten the best of me and I was ready to wave the white flag of surrender.  

But I was not counting on having a mentor or challenger right there in the condo with me.    It turned out that Rich was having none of it.   He allowed me a day off and then he began talking about going back on the mountain again.     I protested but he was not going to give up.  He just kept telling me I needed to go back out there and try again.    Rich was a really good skier, a confident athlete and sure of himself when he got on the mountain.  And in his mind, the thing to do when the mountain kicks you in the behind, is get back out there and stand up for  yourself.    Take a deep breath and like the Nike ad says, Just do it!  

The next morning, bright and early, we headed out, just the two of us into the frosty air.   We made our way over to the ski lift and with my heart in my throat, we got on the lift headed for a modest run not too far up the mountain.     I might mention here that ski lifts are not my favorite mode of transportation and I have encountered a few issues with them in the past.  My heart was racing as we got near the top because it's a known fact that for many skiers just getting off the lift without suffering an embarrassing prat fall right in front of everybody is their highest achievement.  I know this because I have had prat falls in front of everybody and I have also skied, victoriously, off to the side of the lift without humiliating myself.   So I have known both feelings.

We got to the end of the ride, quickly made our exit and began gliding over to the place to start our way down the mountain.    I was thinking of begging Rich to just let me go find a gondola to ride back down but somehow I knew by the look in his eyes not to even go there.     As I said, he was having none of my excuses or protests.   I was practically quaking in my ski boots as we inched our way over to the slope.    All the while, Rich was giving me encouraging pats on the back and he kept repeating a little mantra something like, "You can do this."    He must have said that ten times and I kept holding back, not wanting to let my skies get anywhere close to that edge.   I knew once I went over the edge there was no going back.   

For those that don't ski, slopes, especially the easier ones have areas that are slanted downward and then flat places where you can stop, catch your breath and rest before finishing the run.    On more difficult ski trails there are fewer flat places and steeper slopes.    Rich had wisely brought me to a relatively easy ski slope to try to rebuild my confidence.    So we took off again, down the hill.

At the next opportunity I stopped again.    It was clear this was going to take some time and I was not really enjoying it one bit.    Oh, I made my way down the hill, but joy and exhilaration were the last things on my mind.   I was kind of getting annoyed with Rich because he was so determined to help me get past the fall and he was not going to give up easily.  He just kept repeating his mantra.   I kept thinking, "just get me off this mountain!"   This was not going well.    

We came to another slope, another chance to win back my confidence and prove to myself that I could do it.    I hesitantly shoved myself toward the edge of the slope and let them drop over onto the edge when I heard Rich take a breath behind me.    I began to cautiously inch my way down the hill, making snow plows as I went.   A snow plow is a beginner move taught at the very first ski lesson so you will slow down.   You put your skies together in a pie shape wedge and it really does make you go rather slowly down even a slanted run.   And that's what I was doing.  Snow plowing my way along.   It is not a good strategy for skiing with intention of having fun.   It's just a way to get the job done until you get to the end.    

Finally, in exasperation, I am sure, I heard Rich shout, "Open up!!  Let 'em run!!"   In other words, stop doing that silly snow plow and go for it!!    I knew he was going to dog my tracks, repeating that phrase over and over until I did it.    So just to get him off my back, I dared to let those skies drift ever so slightly to parallel with each other.     As they came into line, my speed began to pick up, as expected.     I stood up a little straighter and began to look around me.     I saw the trees going by, faster and faster.    I heard the noise my skies made as they glided across the glistening snow.    The wind blew across my face, reddening my skin and making me know I was alive and on this day I was skiing like I meant it.    I was having fun and could feel that tiny thrill of excitement in the pit of my stomach as I approached the orange gates at the bottom of the hill.  Rich's last ditch effort had worked!  
Marcia and Rich--- I did it!

I have thought about that day since then many times.    I am proud of myself for having the courage to go back to the mountain and prove to myself that I could conquer my fear and overcome the self doubts.   And I am really glad that I had that chance, one more time, to ski like I meant it.   To have fun.   To open up and let 'em run.    

As it so happens, I didn't want to relate this tale from my past just for grins and giggles.   No, my dear reader, whoever you are, wherever you are in life, I have a point to make.    All of us face mountains that have sidelined us.   We all have moments of self doubt and certainty that there is no way we're going back to face those fears.     When those times come into your life, you need to remember those Olympic athletes and the mountains they are on.   Not one of them was always where they are today.   Every single one of them had to learn their sport the hard way.    And when the times got hard, the bruises too painful, somehow they had to reach deep down inside and push their way back to the top of the mountain and try again.     They had to find a way to say to themselves, "you can do this."

Breckenridge, Colorado
I was lucky that day and had a coach, a family member and mentor who could have been out on the mountain skiing for himself.   He took time from his own opportunity to ski a much more demanding, difficult ski trail to encourage me to return to the hill.    A good lesson was learned that day.    Don't give up on yourself and give in to defeat.     No matter what your goal, your station in life, your level of education, you can go on to bigger dreams.     Put yourself back on that mountain top and give yourself permission to Open Up:  Let 'em run!   

Sunday, February 9, 2014

She Loves You, Yea, Yea, Yea!

It had a been a difficult year for me.    The previous summer in June of 1963 our family had -- it seemed to me -- rather abruptly packed all of our belongings into a gigantic Mayflower Moving Van and left my hometown of Jackson, Mississippi to go live Deep in the Heart of Texas -- Fort Worth.    My Dad had gotten a promotion at work and had the audacity to make the decision to move to Cow Town, as it was quaintly called, without consulting me or my sister, Ginny.  

To say we were upset and unhappy about the move would be a huge understatement.    I think we cried all the way to the suburbs of Dallas and at that point I realized we were moving to a very, very different place.    I had just finished up the 9th grade at Hardy Junior High School and was really looking forward to my first year of high school the next fall at Provine High School.    I thought I'd finally arrived at the perfect age and was eagerly anticipating what life was going to be like now that I had finally gotten to the big time -- high school.   All of that had taken a sudden about face as I realized I'd have to start all over making friends, going to a new school and all that a move like that entails.   

I made it through the summer that year without too much angst and met some new friends my age when we began attending a Methodist Church a few blocks away from our house.     I was a very shy teenage girl at that point in my life and very self conscious of my Mississippi accent and my Mississippi clothes that suddenly seemed really out of style with what my new peers were wearing.   I was approaching my 15th birthday that fall and I let my Mother know right quick that if I didn't get some penny loafers (Bass Weejuns) and a pair of white Levis I would die a mortal death right there.

I was just getting adjusted to my new hometown and figuring out how to make new friends at my brand new school, Arlington Heights High School.   It was a rather affluent school with kids that came from a wide area.  Some of the kids I went to school with actually were driven to school in chauffeur driven limousines.   A few lived behind gated mansions with servants and amenities I had never heard of, much less seen!    Of course, not all of the classmates there were rich and neither was I.   But it wasn't long before I found another lonesome soul like me and she and I became fast friends right away.   I was beginning to think I might do OK here in this Cow Town, so far removed from my old hometown in nearly every way you could imagine.  

Things were going well until the late fall of that year when the entire nation experienced a loss so great and so unexpected it threw us all into a kind of group mourning and state of grief.   It was the assassination of President John F, Kennedy.      I was in Mr. Van Meter's biology class when we first heard that there had been a shooting and by the time I got to my English class a few hours later we were told of the president's death.     There is no way to describe exactly how it felt but it was a frightening and very scary time for everyone to see our president shot to death and it happened in a town only 30 miles from where we were.  The President had been in our own town earlier that morning.  We were not prepared for such a devastating turn of events.   And for the next two months we all more or less went through the motions of living and tried to go on with our lives but it was extremely difficult.

In January of 1964, a buzz began to go around especially among the youth of the nation.   There was a new musical group that was the latest sensation in Europe.    They had an odd name and their clothing and hair made as much news as their music.    Some of their music began to show up on local radio stations and word of a trip to appear in person in the United States began to circulate.    For a nation still in mourning, it was a light hearted turn to something that would help us transition back to living again.  

That group was The Beatles and once they came on the musical scene, the world has never been the same.   They influenced music for sure, but they also brought in new hair styles, clothing and new ways of thinking.    Over the years that they were together,  their music evolved, too, and each fad of the way they dressed morphed into another.    Parents lamented their long hair, which by today's standards was anything but long.    Schools dealt with how long was too long and what to do with the boys who dared to break the rules for acceptable hair styles.  The Beatles were pretty outspoken, too, and the youth of the world began to listen to not only their music but some of their opinions about politics and even religion.

By February 1964, the arrangements had been made and the Beatles were scheduled to appear on the very popular variety show, The Ed Sullivan Show.    Mr. Sullivan was famous for having a wide range of  entertainers on his show featuring everything from opera singer, Robert Peters to dancing bears and the Line Backers from the Green Bay Packers.    Anybody who was anybody showed up on Ed Sullivan!    So the word spread like wildfire that THE BEATLES were going to be on Ed Sullivan.  

My sister, Ginny, and I were so excited to see our new found singing idols that we actually stayed home from our church youth group the first Sunday night they were on.   We were fairly quivering with excitement when the time came for them to come on stage.     Girls in the studio audience were swooning and crying, something we had never witnessed before.   My father, unabashedly a musical snob, was not impressed and rather vocally told us how he felt about the whole thing!   Undeterred, we watched with rapt attention and thus, Beatle-mania broke out right in our living room and truly,  all across the country and eventually world wide.

So on this 50th Anniversary of that occasion, I can't help but look back in fondness with all that took place during that time.     I was a shy, awkward teenage girl, searching for who I was and wanted to be.    I had been plunked down into a totally new situation and was finding my footing in a new place.  New friends, new way of talking, new way of dressing.     And layered on top of that to become politically aware of how quickly things in our world could change, it was almost too much for a 15 year old girl to endure.    The Beatles were a phenomenon that came along at the right time and place.  They sparked our imagination and made us smile again.    

Thanks to John, Paul, George and Ringo, I turned back to being a teenager again.    I talked with my best friend late into the night about which one of the Fab Four was the cutest.   We read our Beatle magazines from cover to cover and felt like we knew every aspect of their lives.    And one Sunday afternoon my Dad took me by the local record shop where I bought my very first Beatle album, Meet the Beatles.    I thought nothing could ever top that.    For a teenage girl, I thought I'd finally arrived and that all was right with the world.    

Every kid needs something to remember their teen years for that they will take long into their adult years.   For me, one of the highlights will be remembering my fascination, indeed, love for the Beatles.     They brought me great joy and happiness at a time in my life when I needed it.    They were the first real recording artists that I knew much about and wanted to buy their music.     The bonds of friendship that I had with my first friend I made in Fort Worth were knit from the common thread of our love of the Beatles.    Even all these years later I can hear their early recordings and smile and remember the words like I knew them at 15.     She loves you, yea, yea, yea.... Indeed.