It’s been eight years since I last skiied. I’m less fit (and older) than ever before. I also now have the added issue of anxiety challenging me in everyday life, let alone in attempting extreme sports.
However, because (not in spite) of the above, I feel it’s 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 couldn’t 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 then being expected to ski a blue run from scratch on the day we arrived, to not keeping up with my ski school peers and getting ‘special tuition’ from our school teacher instead. I think I cried most days. What also stayed with me, though, was the freshness and peacefulness of the mountains. I didn’t quite appreciate it at the time but as the years passed I began to understand the appeal.
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 around 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 new attitude and a new head on my shoulders.
I took my new, “actually, I can” attitude to Arinsal, Andorra with a group of friends, and booked myself into a ski school. I loved it! So much so, I didn’t want to leave. Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t a miraculous recovery from the nerves I had felt before, and that little niggle about being no good at sport was still there deep down inside. Only, these were also the things that were driving me, and this time – more importantly – it was on my terms.
Now eight years on, I’m back in the mountains and donning a pair of skis once again, aiming to progress but with a keen focus on enjoyment. When I first hit the slopes on Sunday, an old muscle memory was awoken and, to my relief (just like riding a bike) I remembered how to ski. But (also a bit like riding a bike for the first time in eight years) I felt wobbly, nervous and out of control. I felt pressured to keep up with the group and subliminally focused more on speed than technique, resulting in a regular sequence of spectacular wipeouts and a rather sore neck.
That wasn’t going to stop me.
One of my favourite mottos is: “Just keep swimming,” (Dory, Finding Nemo) and this week is all about that mantra; if you fall, simply get back up and try again.
Day by day, I am relaxing into it, remembering technique, regaining my ski legs, 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 hard, 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 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 and 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.
Don’t ever let something or someone from your childhood make you feel second grade or like you can’t do something.
You can do anything.
Give it a try. You might love it.