Friday, 30 September 2016

CT's, Neck Braces, and National Awards...

Hello there sunshine and welcome to today's post!

The ski adventure tales continue! This was probably the lowest point of my ski season. But oddly enough it also resulted in more self-discovery and a very unexpected honour. It's funny how that goes sometimes...

Literally the day after my adventure up White Pass, myself, my mother, Sir Scott, and a group of other instructors and students from FIRE set off to the Canadian Association of Disabled Skiing (CADS) Festival. CADS Festival is a week-long national event, where members of adaptive snow programs from all over Canada come together to ski. Students are paired with two instructors at random, and lower level instructors are paired with higher levels for training. It's a win-win for everyone! It's an amazing week of fun, fellowship, and learning all at once.

CADS Festival travels around to different locations each year, but every two years it takes place at a resort just an hour and a half away from us, hence why we all got to go. Because I wear two hats, president of FIRE and a student, the week was a mixture of work and play... But mostly play... Sir Scott and I just so happened to be paired together for the week and were pretty excited to give my new seating a thorough testing. We both couldn't have been happier with the results, as I skied for five straight days with little to no discomfort. Well... For the most part... I'll get to that... This was another huge victory because I have never been able to ski for more than two hours per week. The glory of this accomplishment lasted two whole days... and then disaster struck... my head... on the snow...

I won't go into any detail about the events leading up to it, except to say that at the time I was skiing with a different instructor, and things didn't go as planned. Before I continue I want to say that this instructor is amazing at what he does. Accidents happen, especially in a sport like skiing! So without saying too much about the why, unfortunately I had a nasty fall, with the sit ski flipping upside down... I don't remember much of what happened before, or when the fall actually happened. One minute I was skiing, the next minute I was being picked up after being on my head. Scott was immediately at my side asking me if I was ok. The first thing I said was that I hit my head hard and I had a blazing headache. Admittedly I said this while trying to harness every bit of self-control I possessed not to burst into tears. The fact that the snow was icy and hard, and the impact of the fall on my head, was enough to scare me more than I care to admit. Scott being a former member of ski patrol came in handy, and he quickly checked me for a concussion. Nothing appeared to be wrong at that point except a headache though. After doing more tests, all of which I struggled to get through without crying, Scott took over and we gently headed down to the base.

A million thoughts flooded my mind in the time it took to get down. The pain in my head, neck, and left shoulder were increasing, which of course wasn't very encouraging. I thought the whole way down about the fact that this fall was very similar to the one that prevented me from skiing for two years. Would I have to go to the hospital? Did I break something? What about my neck? Had I undone all of the recovery progress I had made? Would I have to give up skiing for another two years? That consequence would be devastating, especially since I had only just started skiing again. The pain and these thoughts were becoming so overwhelming I just couldn't take it. Now this is the part that I'm still beating myself up over. Once we reached the bottom, and Scott knelt in front of me to see how I was, I just broke down and cried... I have to mention that Scott handled this situation amazingly well and I couldn't be more impressed.

This is where the self-discovery part came in. Even though I shed a few tears, and was pretty worried and scared, I managed to ignore it and remain my smiley self. My lifelong, somewhat debilitating fear of pain was starting to lose its grip on me! I was starting to feel like I had a breakthrough! Scott got me some ice, did his best to keep me distracted, checked for concussion symptoms again, and then said the dreaded words... "I'm taking you to the hospital."

Hospitals and I don't get along... at all... Ever since the horrors of bone surgery when I was four I've been terrified of them. The moment I heard those words, fear tightened its grip on me. For a moment anyway, but after that moment passed I went right back to joking and smiling. The half an hour drive there wasn't exactly pleasant pain wise, but I couldn't believe how well I was taking it. Just to give you an idea, usually pain and hospitals cause major emotional upheaval for me... But I made the whole trip with not the least bit of my emotions playing up, and even was able to enter the hospital with a smile. A HUGE breakthrough for me.

I had to wear a neck brace the whole time, went in for about 10 x-rays on my shoulder and a CT on my neck, but managed to pull through just fine. Mainly because my x-ray technician was extremely sexy... did I write that out loud!? No broken bones, just a small concussion and muscular swelling in my neck. Later on, I found out that I actually tore my rotator cuff in my left shoulder and sustained another whiplash injury, but in the grand scheme of things, it could have been much worse.

I shocked myself and a few others, including my mother, by requesting the next afternoon to get back in the sit ski and go for a run. But here's my logic on this, which really just stems from knowing myself all too well... If I didn't jump right back in and face my fears, I knew it would get harder and harder, to the point where I wouldn't want to ski again. So to prevent that from happening, I simply forced myself to "get back in the saddle" again. And I couldn't be more thankful that I did.

The evening after my accident was banquet night, which resulted in a very unexpected surprise, but most of all a great honour. During the evening, the CADS national board presented awards to outstanding members of clubs across Canada. A very special award was given to an instructor who will forever remain a legend in my eyes. Vince was the craziest, most adventurous, and unique man I have ever known. He was the most deserving of the award Volunteer of the Year. I hope you're flying high in heaven Vince! When I am able to get my own sit ski one day, I shall name it Vince. My emotions were running high after Vince's award, and honestly, I was hardly paying attention to the next award being presented. All of a sudden I heard my name being called! But for what? What did they say? Administrator of the Year!? If I didn't have my seatbelt on I'm sure I would've fallen over. I was in complete and utter shock. Had I really just won a national award? I was so overwhelmed, tears filled my eyes as I went up to receive the award. It took me a good long while before I was able to process what had just happened. I felt undeserving of such a great honour, but at the same time, I couldn't be more grateful and touched.

The week of CADS festival was full of ups and downs, but I've concluded that even the downs taught me something positive. I learned that I can have courage in the face of pain. Often I beat myself up because I feel like I'm not strong. The times when I'm not strong always distract me from seeing when I am. So in the end, I'm thankful that the fall helped me to realize who I am on the inside. I would never have felt it had it not been for that fall. As the saying goes, it doesn't matter how hard you fall, just as long as you get up and try again. And never, never stop trying. Never give up!

Monday, 19 September 2016

Beauty Thy Name Is White Pass...

Hello there sunshine and welcome to another post!

Today I am continuing the tales of my ski adventures by describing my favourite day of all. But first a little of the background story...

For three glorious weeks I had been completely enthralled with my return to the skiing world. Well... In spirit at least... My body was singing a different tune entirely. Something like this: ouch, ouch, ouch. At that point sit skiing was kind of a love-hate relationship. I loved the sit ski, but the sit ski didn't love me. I had been using a particular kind of sit ski, specifically the one I had used from the very beginning. It had never accommodated my needs well, and after those three weeks, it became apparent that my continuing to use it was not going to be an option. I was willing to fight through the pain to continue my beloved skiing, but my therapists, who are often much more logical than I am, foresaw more injuries, some of which could be permanent. I was again faced with the decision of having to give up skiing...

This is where Scott came in, who was to become my instructor later on. Scott had just agreed to take on equipment management for the program and had a meeting with me to discuss some improvement ideas. During said meeting, we got to talking about the problems I was having with the sit ski. I'm still not sure why he wanted to do this, and had he known what this involved I think he might have changed his mind, but for whatever reason, he took it upon himself to help make me comfortable in the sit ski. Poor man...

His first change of a great many was in the type of sit ski I use. I was switched to a sit ski called the HOC2 Glide. As the name suggests, this sit ski really does glide, and immediately offered positive improvements for my skiing. As I said before, Scott became my regular instructor, and after our first lesson assumed the name Sir Scott. Don't ask me how that name came to be... I couldn't tell you... But it stuck. I won't go into too much detail about the many changes and improvements Sir Scott made to my seating, but all I can say is that he worked incredibly hard and devoted many many hours to seeing that I was comfortable, and without him, I wouldn't be telling you these stories.

By March 18th it seemed that my seating was finally starting to work! Scott and I went on a "field trip" as I like to call it by heading up to the hill to put the seating to the test. We went for a few practise runs, immediately overjoyed by the success of the seating. Ever since I started skiing I had never been able to balance the sit ski on my own. Because of my spine, I constantly lean to the left, which of course causes the ski to fall over. But thanks to Scott's adjustments, I was sitting in the centre of the ski, and could, therefore, balance on my own!!! If I had been given just that small victory that day it would've been enough. But it got even better...

"Let's go up White Pass." Said Sir Scott.
White Pass? But that's almost to the top of the mountain! I've only skied lower mountain and easy runs. White Pass is for real skiers! I don't belong UP THERE! Remember when I talked about fear being the driving force to discovery? This was one of those moments which proved that theory for me. As we loaded the White Pass chair a million not so encouraging thoughts were going through my mind. Mainly... WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING??? But nothing, absolutely nothing, could have prepared me for the feelings that flooded my heart and soul as we reached the top. I now know why the Bible talks about God's presence being at the top of the mountains. Truly this is where heaven feels closer, and my peace is found. And when I dream of heaven, I think it ought to look something like the top of White Pass. Impossible? Impossible for me to be up there said my mind? Impossible no longer! I was hit with the ultimate feeling of freedom all at once. Tears of pure joy filled my eyes... Literally... I fogged my goggles... But it didn't matter. White Pass is forever burned into my mind as being the place where impossible is two letters too long. I'm not sure if I could ever explain just how much the White Pass experience touched me, except to say that it completely opened my eyes to what is possible and gave me a new attitude towards myself as a skier. For the first time ever I felt like a real skier, which is more important than I'll ever be able to convey.

As Scott and I descended the mountain, literally the last ones to leave at the end of the day, we both couldn't help yelling "THAT WAS AMAZING!!!", etc, etc, followed by "wow" over and over again. We had conquered so many barriers that day, both physically and emotionally. I balanced in the sit ski for the first time, we went up White Pass, and conquered our very first black run! The day was a victory through and through, and two things will forever be in my mind as a result. First, how thankful I am to Sir Scott, not only for all his efforts in making me comfortable enough to continue skiing, but also for making me see that I can reach for new heights. Second, for being able to see the beauty that is White Pass, which will forever hold a special place in my heart and in my dreams. I am now convinced that my heart belongs at the top of the mountains...

Sunday, 18 September 2016

The Return of Mighty Mouse!

Hello there sunshine and welcome to today's post!

Now originally I started out with a train of thought, which was interrupted in the last few posts, but now I shall resume. What was I talking about again? Oh yes, I remember... Ski adventuring!!! 

I had mentioned in a previous post all about my work with FIRE Adaptive, but this season I went on a skiing journey of my own, and one that was quite unexpected. Two years ago I sustained a whiplash injury, due to some skiing shenanigans... Unfortunately, the injury was undetected for many months before I decided to get help, and by that time it had worsened to the point where I was in therapy twice a week for almost two years. What started as a whiplash injury ended up spreading to my shoulder, causing a nerve to be pinched, which was later diagnosed as thoracic outlet syndrome and carpal tunnel. During this time my therapists asked me not to go skiing in order to allow full recovery. 

Before the season began this year, my therapists deemed me fully recovered, which meant I could start skiing again. I don't care to admit to this, but at that point I had completely forgotten the joy that skiing brought me, and....uh... had no desire to return. In fact, I resolutely made the decision that I would not return to skiing this season. In my mind, the recovery period from an injury was too long, and the risk of hurting myself again was too great, so therefore it wasn't worth it. But it would seem that my resolution was not meant to be... 

The first day of FIRE Adaptive had arrived, and I was faced with a problem that I've never had before. We had too many instructors and not enough students! Well, that wouldn't do... After all, most of these instructors were just newly trained and EXTREMELY enthusiastic to start teaching. There was room for one more student... I called around to our absent students making sure that their plans hadn't changed. No luck! What could I do? The solution became apparent. I would simply fill the space for that one lesson. But I'd only go once and that would be it! Again, that wasn't meant to be. 

As soon as I heard the click of the last strap being buckled, was whisked away by the chairlift and found myself at the top of those familiar slopes again, I knew my previous resolution was on shaky ground. Almost like floodgates being opened, the feeling of joy, freedom, and everything indescribable filled my very soul. Attempting to convey the feelings that overwhelm my heart while skiing may be an impossible task, but all I can say is that I feel so light, it wouldn't surprise me if I took off right there and started to fly! No longer am I "Grace in the wheelchair", who has to sit on the sidelines watching everyone else enjoy sports activities. To be completely honest, I can even forget that I have a disability when I'm zipping down the mountainside. I am fully aware that without the assistance of my instructor I wouldn't be skiing at all... But at the same time, my instructor and I become one somehow (well... not exactly somehow... we work on synchronization of course), and we just ski. It's as simple as that. Skiing brings more joy to me than any other earthly thing because of freedom! To not feel heavy and restricted and held back, but rather free not only to conquer mountains but to just be me. Being able to just be Grace, without having my wheelchair accompany me with all its labels and preconceived notions, is all the freedom I could ask for.

In spite of all those wonderful feelings, skiing can sometimes terrify me so much I'm sure it would make people wonder why I continue doing it... Am I afraid when I go skiing? Sometimes. But here's the thing. Normally if I'm afraid of something, my first reaction is to run from it. What I've learned from skiing is that fear can be the driving force to discovering what's on the inside. Fear has the opposite effect on me while skiing. Instead of running away, I tackle it head on because I know that I'm going to learn something about myself that I didn't know was there, courage being one of them. Seeing fear in that light has helped me to conquer many many challenges, both on the hill and off, and I couldn't be more grateful.

In joy, in freedom, in fear, in victory I descended the mountain on that first day. As you can probably guess, I did NOT stand firm in my resolution not to ski that winter... I went on to have some incredible adventures. Want to hear about them? Come back soon for more!