Monday, March 24, 2014

Amputee on a Ski, Part 3 of 3: the Eye-opening Stuff

These adaptive skiing posts started out being about my five days as an amputee in the Greek Peak 2014 Winter Challenge program, but it's really about my whole winter's skiing. And bruises. And self-discovery.

I expected it to be challenging, sure. I figured it would be physically difficult. But I didn't expect it to be my new form of therapy. Wasn't expecting to find so many left over emotional pockets of panic and powerlessness. I thought I'd pretty much purged my psyche with all the therapy, meds, time and self-knowledge. Wrong again. 

The most rewarding part of skiing this winter was how I learned to accept both my fear (the panic that still ambushes me) and my trust of the incredibly supportive skiers who helped me. You may not have noticed, but I have a slight (ahem) tendency to charge at life determined to conquer everything on my own. I carried this attitude into amputee-hood. It's important to be stubborn and independent. But it's just as important to value people who want to help. 

When I shut up and listened, I began to trust. I stopped feeling overwhelmed and started to progress, slowly, but surely. It took a month for my bruises and pulled muscles to settle down, but then I went back every Sunday I could the rest of this season. March 16 was the final day of the adaptive program and we celebrated with a dish-to-pass  lunch and a very moving awards ceremony. 

That was also the day I began putting some turns together with more confidence and reliability. I 'm still on Alpha, the beginner slope, but I'm gaining tools and confidence. I can imagine the day I'll venture onto another slope--with my entourage, of course. Scott, one of my instructors (who masquerades as a para in a wheelchair but is actually a maniac on a monoski) told me, "Pretty soon you'll be off to the top of the mountain! You'll see!" He also told me, during one of my mild but recurring panic attacks, it took him two years to work through the panic.

This sense of community has opened my eyes. Admitting I need help opens up opportunities. After my above-knee amputation seven years ago, I climbed back on my horse and sort of battled at riding. One-legged-ness wasn't going to slow me down! Except it had, along with being middle-aged. To ride safely, I need help. And guess what I'm not good about asking for?

But skiing has limbered up that part of my brain. My friends at the barn where my mare lives want me to ride. They are supportive. I don't have to feel limited by not being able to charge out into the woods or over the biggest jumps. I'm looking forward to getting back in the saddle. I wasn't expecting this gift from my adventures on a monoski.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Amputee on a Ski, Part 2 of 3: the Amazing Stuff

If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes almost that many to teach an amputee to ski. (Especially that raise part: two or three designated picker-uppers is standard for us beginner mono skiers.)

From the moment I drove into Greek Peak and passed the DO NOT ENTER sign as I'd been directed (which sets the wonderful tone for the whole thing) and saw the banner on the adaptive ski center (THINK THE SLOPES ARE OUT OF REACH FOR YOU? WE DON'T THINK SO!) my hopes sky-rocketed the way they had when I was a little kid on my way to riding lessons. Walking through the door was like coming home to a place I'd never been.

Of the dozens and dozens, these are only the instructors, staff and volunteers present on the Thursday of the Winter Challenge ski week program. There are plenty more who come on the regular adaptive-ski weekends all through the season.

Of the four chairs down front, only two are campers like me; the other two wheelies are instructors, including one who started in  Winter Challenge four years ago. In this mob are other former program skiers who've become devoted to the slopes, including a couple who met at last year's Challenge and plan  to get married at Greek Peak this fall. 

Every day was a roller coaster of literal highs and lows: altitude, temperatures and fears overcome. Every night we trooped off to push tables together in a different restaurant and celebrate in rowdy style. When crutches clattered to the floor, I wasn't the only one who looked to see if they were mine. 

Once, in our casual convoy of vehicles shuttling from resort to hotel, we forgot to plan ahead and found ourselves in a unique situation. Stacy couldn't transfer to her wheelchair and we'd forgotten to bring someone to help. Tracy had one arm; Andrew was blind; I have one leg. Hell, we couldn't even get Stacy's chair out of the back and put the wheels on...We stood there in the middle of wonderfully politically incorrect (DO NOT ENTER!) joke. How many adaptive skiers does it take to _____? Someone went off to find a guy from the hotel. It wasn't the only time.

One night an instructor in chair tried to recruit a guy he didn't know (also in a wheelchair) into the program. In the past this has been known to work. Robyn, who runs Winter Challenge, bragged of one amputee tri-tracker, "It took me three years, but I got him in! Now you can't keep him off skis!"  A random stranger on crutches in a restaurant was challenged to a race by One-legged John. (He declined. His loss.)

People like these take my breath away. They restore my faith in humanity that I can too easily lose just listening to the news. I count myself unbelievably lucky to live close enough to this community that is so eager to help me rediscover a sport I thought I'd lost. 

Gotta get me a sign for my door: Gone Skiing!


Next time: Amputee on a Ski Part 3 of 3 (The Fun Stuff!)