My friend Jessica Bigby has offered a Perfectly Human post before: "Walking Toward Freedom." In it, she talks about what it meant–both physically and spiritually–to start learning to walk without her canes. Recently, I learned from Jess that after years of assuming that skiing was impossible for her, she decided to learn how. Not only does this story inspire me to keep learning new things (see my post from earlier this month, "Still Growing Up"), but it also reminds me that just because I haven't been skiing in over a decade doesn't mean I can't try again. As you read Jess' reflections on her first skiing experience, use it as a chance to ask yourself: what are your impossible goals for the next ten years?
For years I attended a ski trip hosted by a Christian organization. Since I walk with canes as a result of cerebral palsy, I didn't go skiing. In fact, I never made it to the mountain. But the day after my 29th birthday, I made a list of things I wanted to do before I was 40 (30 seemed far too close) and somehow learning to ski made it close to the top of the list. Many of my friends were discussing ski weekends they were planning for the winter and I didn't want to miss out! I started exploring adaptive ski programs and found one in Killington, VT where my friends had planned to go.
Prior to my trip, I went to Ski Chalet and purchased all of the garments necessary to keep me warm. The morning I woke up to go skiing my friends laughed as I piled layer upon layer. When I arrived at the lodge, I was greeted by my instructor, John. He handed me goggles, found a helmet to fit my head, and the two of us headed off to get fitted for my ski boots and skis. It was a struggle to finagle my feet into those boots. Once they were on, I had to learn how to walk and balance myself at the same time. I likened the walk in ski boots to that of when I have orthopedic surgery and my doctor requires I wear a cam walker boot. The difficulty walking paled in comparison to the pride I felt that I looked just like every other skier in the lodge. I even had my own skis!
John and I headed out on the snow. I had a couple of options. The first was to have skis on my feet but use outriggers as my ski poles. These outriggers were the same height as my canes and had little skis on the bottom of them. I thought this would work out well because it would be similar to how I walk with canes (just on snow). But it didn't work out as I'd hoped. My right leg naturally turns in a little bit causing me to cross my skis. That option was out. A second option was to use this device similar to a walker but still have normal skis on my feet. Again, crossing my skis prevented this from being the most viable option. The last and best option was a bi-ski. A bi-ski is a sit ski with a bucket seat and two skis that can be used independently and with hand-held outriggers. The bi-ski also has a handle at the back, allowing someone to push you down the mountain if necessary. Since my arms are strong but my legs are weak, the bi-ski was the most realistic option.
After getting situated in the bi-ski and adjusting the outriggers, John began to fasten the straps. A strap across my feet, two across my chest, a few across my waist… I wondered how I was going to be able to move, but somehow I could. My arms were free to use the outriggers and although the straps were tight, I was comforted to know that if I fell, I was not going anywhere! John pushed me up to the lift, lifted me on, and up the mountain we went to begin training on the bunny slope. I felt SO cool on the lift. I was a real skier sharing in the experience everyone was having that day. Just because I had a disability didn't make me different. Yeah, I sat down to ski, but that didn't bother me. Other than that, my experience was the same as my fellow skiers.
We exited the lift and practiced on the bunny slope. I got used to using the outriggers and even wiped out one time. I tipped over but didn't hurt my body at all thanks to the straps! After a morning of practice, I was good enough to head to the green trails. At the mountain top, John guided me (by holding onto the handle of the bi-ski) and yelled instructions on which outrigger to use as we skied down the mountain. "Sharp left, sharp right, keep your outrigger out and down on the snow," he yelled. I sliced through the powder and made it to the bottom. It felt amazing to have accomplished something I never thought I could do. I was no longer hanging out in the lodge. I was out on the snow with everyone else. I loved it, and by the end of the day I had made plans to return to the mountain again.
My second trip to Pico, I felt comfortable and confident. I knew that I could ski. This time we went straight to the blue trails. Thankfully, John was guiding me because it was icy and we were smokin' down that mountain! We ran the blue trails all day long. The next day when I returned home, I was sore. SO sore. Every joint and muscle on my left side hurt. My body reeked of menthol. I used up every ounce of hot water in the house, soaking in the tub, trying to ease the aches and pains. But it was all so worth it. While I needed a little assistance to accomplish my goal of learning to ski, I did it. I no longer let my disability confine me to the lodge. My perseverance and determination launched me to the top of the mountain, down, and of course, right back up again!