After my car accident at age 25 doctors feared I’d never walk again, after brain surgery nearly 40 years later, they thought I would be lucky to use my limbs properly.
After countless hours of medical treatments, therapy and hard work, I cross-country skied again. I fell in love with the sport, inspired by my Scandinavians ancestors, who invented cross-country skiing centuries ago to circulate across mountains in winter. It reminds me of my forefathers born on the fjords in Northern Norway where reindeer run wild and Laplanders reign, where nature and its preservation is a God given right and obligation.
I was never an adept skier. I am even worse now. From a distance I look more like a wobbly stork than a Scandinavian savant. I huff and puff around each bend. I remove my skis when I can non longer duck waddle up the steep incline. My fear of falling defeats the fun of gliding downhill. I also take my skiis off to walk down any incline. At sharp bends at the end of slopes, I collapse sideways halfway down the slope. Better to fall gently, but awkwardly on my own terms, then crashing out of control.
I spend a lot of time putting on and taking off skiis. But that is the beauty of cross country. Everyone can go at their own pace.
When I moved to Switzerland, the land of ski, no one believed me when I told them, I don’t know how to ski. I have reached an age where I am afraid to try downhill, not so much due to my numerical age, but to my spinal age from years of abusing my body on a basketball court, a bike accident, a car accident left me ever feisty, yet fragile.
I can still remember the first time I went skiing with a teammate on the golf course of Illinois State University. I’ll never forget the wrath of my coach when I came to practice with a twisted knee after tumbling down the slope on the 9th hole.
Skiing for a DI basketball players may be taboo in Illinois, but not in Switzerland. The basketball season takes a back seat to ski season. When my star Swedish center insisted on hitting the slopes a week before our European championship, I went ballistic.
“Don’t worry Coach, “ she assured, patting me on the back, “I never get hurt. I was born on skiis. To me it is as natural as breathing.”
That maybe true for some Scandinavians, but to those ancestors of immigrants, it is still a challenge.
Yet, when I glide around another hairpin turn, my shoulders pull on poles propelling me forward, mountains whiz past in my peripheral vision, and I feel euphoric. As I weave through the fresh powder in forests full of snow sprinkled evergreen, I hear the call of a coyote and inhale the crisp, clear mountain air.
And I feel lucky to be alive.
Never mind that an hour later, my muscles will lock up from the pain of fibromyalgia. Knots will form in shoulders. My neck, hips and low back will ache. Knifes will stab my knees every step I take. I will lie flat - a hot water bottle on my upper back and ice packs on my knees - and close my eyes. I see a sheer, jagged mountain peek pointing toward turquoise skies, icicles hanging from the rooftops of red shuttered wooden chalets in an incredibly beautiful tableau of whiteness. I am blessed to be here in the land of mountains and water where the skies meet the heavens in Switzerland.