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!|
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."