16 years after my first attempt at skiing, not only am I a teensy bit older and a lot less fit, I also now have the issue of anxiety to contend with in my everyday life, let alone in pursuing extreme sports.
Yet, because (and not in spite) of this, I believe it is even more important to continue to push myself out of my comfort zone, keep trying new things and effectively perform my own exposure therapy.
When it comes to sport, I feel proud of myself for overcoming that damaging segmentation into the ‘less able’ PE group that bred in me a very negative view of sport and a belief that I simply could not do it, which lasted for many years beyond school.
At the age of 17, I elected to join a school skiing trip at the eleventh hour. Looking back, I suspect this decision was based more on FOMO than a desire to learn to ski. After all, I couldn’t do sport.
Lo and behold, I hated every second of it; from wiping out coming off my first ski lift and being expected to ski down a blue run from scratch on the day we arrived, to being unable to keep up with my ski school peers and receiving separate tuition from our group leader instead. I think I cried most days.
What also stayed with me, though, was the peace and tranquility of being on top of the world. At the time, this provided little recompense for the inadequacy and utter fear I felt on the slopes – but as the years passed, my fear-filled memories somehow faded and I began to feel the draw.
I don’t know if it was the mountain air calling me, or the desire to prove to myself that I could do it, but eight years after that torturous school trip, something inside me clicked and I felt the overwhelming urge to try skiing again, this time with a fresh attitude and a new head on my shoulders.
I took my new, “actually, I can” attitude to Arinsal, Andorra with some more experienced skier friends and booked myself into a beginners ski school. It took a few days of pushing myself to keep up with my fellow ski-schoolers. But, guess what? I loved it!
So much so, I didn’t want to leave.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a sudden and complete turnaround from the nerves I had felt eight years prior; the fear of falling and that little niggle about being no good at sport were still both very much there. Only, this time, these were the things that were driving me. And, most importantly, it was on my terms.
Fast-forward another eight years (now 16 years on from that fateful teenage FOMO moment that I still remember so vividly) and I’m finally back in the mountains and donning a pair of skis again, hoping to progress but with a keen focus on enjoyment.
When I first hit the slopes on Sunday, that eight-year-old muscle memory awoke and, to my relief, (just like riding a bike) I remembered how to ski. I was a bit wobbly, nervous and out of control, and perhaps felt pressured to keep up with the group so I subliminally focused more on speed than technique, which may have resulted in a sequence of spectacular wipe-outs and a rather sore neck…
That wasn’t going to stop me!
One of my favourite mottoes is: “Just keep swimming” (- Dory, Finding Nemo), and this week is all about that; if you fall, simply get back up and keep going.
Day by day, I am relaxing into it, regaining my ski legs, recalling technique, and gradually getting braver, better and faster. Again, at my pace and on my terms.
Today I descended several red runs – a grade above my existing comfort zone. It was challenging, conditions were fast and icy, and I fell hard three or four times towards the end of the day; my legs were cramping and aching and just wouldn’t do what I wanted them to. I got halfway down the final piste with the others waiting for me towards the bottom and felt an overwhelming sense of panic. It took a lot of self talk and focus for me to finish the run: “Just keep swimming. You can do hard things. Don’t give up…”
And, slowly but tentatively, I did it.
Tomorrow I’ll get back out there, refreshed and raring to go again. I might take it a little bit easier, but I’ll be satisfied that today I pushed myself hard, so I’ve earned it.
The moral of the story? Don’t let childhood labels define adult you; never let something or someone make you feel inadequate or like you can’t do something.
You can do anything you want.
And, you know what? You might even love it.