Different, not inferior

I apologize for not blogging very much lately. Things were pretty hectic between dealing with the joys of too much snow and on-street parking in an urban area, medical appointments and physical therapy, and taking care of work and administrative stuff before a skiing and ice-climbing trip to Colorado.

New England weather is highly unpredictable. Predictions of a few inches of snow on Thursday night, followed by a powder day on Saturday made us decide to take a snow-day and rush up to Jay Peak, VT for skiing on Friday and Saturday morning, before rushing back down to have a Chinese New Year meal with my family Saturday evening. And then rushing to pack for my Sunday morning departure to Colorado. It is ironic how having fun, or at least planning for it, can be rather stressful.

Thursday turned out to be a comically bad day, weather-wise. Winds were blowing so hard that all the chair-lifts and tram at Jay were closed, with the exception of a small beginner lift at the base. The thermometer read -20 degF, making it feel more like -40 degF with the windchill factor. We took our time getting to the mountain, waiting to see if winds would die down and if more lifts were to open. Finally we said, let’s go do something. We hopped on the very slow moving beginner lift (not ideal in such cold temperatures), and did a few beginner runs on my new ski, boot and binding; before having to go inside and warm up. And then doing the same thing over again. It was pretty silly, but Scott and I had an enjoyable time nonetheless, and it gave me the opportunity to dial in my new gear. We dipped into some mini-glades, and I found these challenging – negotiating the bumps on one leg and keeping my outriggers out of the way of trees. It was a good data point to acquire: outriggers take up a lot more space than using ski poles.

It was pretty comical (and painful) to see just how stiff my ski boot is, given how much I weigh. The combination of stiffness and very cold temperatures made for a ski boot that took a lot of effort to get into. It made me think of how foot-binding would feel. I need to make sure to have someone with a defibrillator next to me in case I keel over from that exertion.

Friday was significantly better. While we did not get the overnight dump that was predicted, almost all the lifts were open. Temperatures were warmer than Thursday, although still very cold in the single digits before wind-chill. We got on first tram, my first tram-ride post-accident. Disembarking from a swinging tram was not trivial for me. I decided to time my exit as the tram was swinging to the left.

Given how wind-swept and icy things were, we decided to start off on blue cruisers. These were a blast. I found myself overtaking a lot of folks, even on the flatter sections, which I find hard to believe since I am on one less ski than them. As we rode up a lift, we talked about doing a very icy black run off of the lift. It was not so much the pitch that was intimidating, but how windswept and icy conditions were. Scott told me how one guy had died on that run not long ago. He fell, lost all his gear, seemed to knock his head back and continued to slide uncontrollably, picking up a tremendous amount of speed; until he came to a dead (yes, deliberate choice of word) stop at a tree. That was a bit sobering, but I wanted to give the run a go nonetheless.

High winds buffeted me as I tried to pole my way to the top of the headwall. This was looking like an increasingly poor idea, but there wasn’t really anyway out of this, so down I went. I now know that I have to link at least two turns together on icy slopes like this, so that my left (free) foot is on the uphill side. The top third of the slope was pretty crappy; I was a bit nervous about just going for it, worried that I might lose control and slide a really long way. Then, for the last steep portion, I just bombed it and got through it fine. Again, another data point: really icy slopes are a lot harder on one edge, but I just need to power through ice and not stop.

We had to call it a day before noon so that we could drive back in time to have a Chinese New Year dinner with my family. Although things had not gone as planned i.e. all but one kiddy lift was open on Friday and we did not get the powder day forecasted on Saturday, it was a really wonderful couple of days for a few very concrete reasons:

  1. I have found that I am getting better at letting go of being “disabled”, and was able to take total pleasure in doing the same activity that I did before my accident, in a totally different way; as opposed to being resentful that circumstances have forced me to do things differently. Different, not inferior. I have to admit, it feels pretty good to begin to rip on one ski, and attract attention for doing something well, despite physical limitations.
  1. On Friday, while we were warming up by the fire in the lodge, preparing to head out into the freezing cold again, a man remarked “Are you skiing like that for the thrill of it?” as he pointed to my one ski boot and one Sorel on my other foot. I was somewhat pleased that he had noticed, and had the chutzpah to inquire, rather than wonder silently. I was able to tell him that I had been in a bad climbing accident that left me with paralysis in my left leg, and that I ski like this because I have to. And I did this all with a smile, laughing a little. It was quite liberating, actually…not feeling so self-conscious as I carry my outriggers and one ski, or take steps up to a tram one at a time. That isn’t too say all self-consciousness has disappeared. There are still times I am standing under a lift, on an advanced run I would have just cruised down like a green, thinking, man, all these people on the lift must be wondering, Why on earth is she going down slowly, or Has she lost a ski? But, then again, Scott reminds me, you always apologize for being slow and slowing others down, yet you’re just bombing by the majority of folks.

I am sure my self-consciousness stems from a background where sporting and academic accomplishments came very easily, and in many ways, praise was offered for picking something up very quickly, as opposed to working assiduously towards a goal. It is only in recent years that I have come to learn and appreciate that there is no end-state called perfection, only the process under current constraints.

I wonder whether it took my accident to inculcate this into me, or whether the arrow of time would have led me to this realization in due course. There is no doubt, however, that my accident made me “grow old”, fast. While the toll was very high indeed, I think taking the viewpoint that I can only do my best, and work as hard as my physical and mental constraints allow (the farthest boundaries of which are still undetermined), allows me to be content, even proud, of what I have done and am doing, rather than comparing myself against the highest levels of excellence of folks with, say, completely functional body parts. I know people have different interests, and not every one is into athletic pursuits. But I can’t help but feel sad, even angry, when people who are totally able-bodied, do not celebrate their full physicality, or those who actively do a disservice to their bodies and not take care of it.

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