Saturday, November 23, 2013

On Skis

It would appear that Old Man Winter is on my side. At least, this year, I consider him dumping 3 to 4 inches of snow on us as being on my side. Sure, it's minus 9 C, with a wind chill that drops it a few more degrees I am sure, but there's snow and that means I actually got to find out if I can actually ski.
That's right-I am Alberta bound to attend a training camp for skiing ATHLETES and we weren't even sure I knew how to ski. Turns out, I can. I'm a little relieved to say the least. Can you imagine me showing up with all of the national athletes and being like,
"Hi, I'm here to learn how to ski while you train for the Paralympic Games coming up in a few months."
We've had a few days in the past month where you could get out and ski, however, one of my guides was first out of town on a conference and then ended up having three kidney stone attacks.  So, skiing was out, to say the least. However, today worked out with having snow and everyone being healthy and so at 8:30 this morning, I made my skiing debut.
Technically, I've skied before which I think has helped, but it's been over 20 years. I was a little wee thing the last time I strapped on a pair of skis, participating in my local Jack Rabbits program. So, when I decided to embark on this crazy adventure, I thought that eventually it would come back to me, but I didn't realise that it would come back so quickly.
Instead of going to the ski trail, my guide thought it would be more beneficial to ski on a golf course. That way, the ground would be even and we should be mostly on grass; covered by snow of course. Also, the golf course would probably be empty which would give us the time and space to teach me how to ski. The first golf course we hit was a bit of a bust. A woman came out and told us that we weren't allowed to ski on the grass until there was a foot of snow because we would ruin the grass due to the chemicals they had put down. My guide was a bit confused since the owner of the place had told him we could ski, but since the owner wasn't there, we moved on. No point in burning bridges if we didn't have to.
The second golf course ended up being where we skied. We had a bit of a problem getting my right boot to stay clipped into the binding, but eventually it stuck. Snow had packed into the bar that goes across the toe and under the boot as well. At first, we were concerned that the ski binding was broken and our effort to ski was being thwarted again. The skis we used were "waxless" skis which means that you don't need wax on the bottoms. They are good for beginners, like me. The waxless skis don't have as much glide as the skis with wax, but again, it was good for me. Another small glitch we ran into was a bit of a miscommunication about poles.
I had told my guide that I had bought my poles and he thought I had them. However, the store was supposed to be cutting them to length and hadn't called to tell me they were ready yet. So, he thought I had poles when I didn't. That meant, my skiing debut was minus poles. At first, I was concerned. I thought having the poles would help me keep my balance as well as give me a reference point. Skiing on the golf green meant there weren't any pre-made tracks to guide my skis. I was freaking out a little bit, but I knew my guide had patience and that I could take my time.
Our first loop around the green went well. My guide stood beside me and held his arm at a 90 degree angle, as someone would when running with a blind runner who wasn't quite ready for a tether. I placed my hand on his wrist and we began striding along. All I could think was:
"How do I make myself move?"
But suddenly, I just started moving. It wasn't a motion I had to learn. It was like my muscles remembered what to do. After that first loop, my guide asked me if I wanted to try just skiing beside him, without his arm. I wanted to scream "noooooooooo!" There weren't any pre-made tracks. I didn't have poles! I hadn't been on skis in over 20 years! Was he nuts? I certainly was not ready. However, I thought of my training camp coming up in just two weeks and I let go of his arm; albeit reluctantly. I can't even walk a straight line, how was I supposed to ski in a straight line without poles or pre-made tracks?
The thought of:
"How do I start moving?" came again, and I just started moving forward again.
We spent an hour out there, sun shining, North wind blowing fiercely and me re-learning how to ski. It really didn't feel like an hour though.
As we did one loop after another, my guide started talking about more technique. He skied a circle around me while I stood still so I could hear the "kick" part of his stride and how far one "kick" made him glide. He said he was impressed and that I was already a good skier, we just now had to make me into a racer; all in good time.
And do you know what else? I only fell three times and my guide fell before I did.
My first fall came as I was working on the "glide" part of my stride. I got going faster than I was comfortable with down a small hill and panicked. I leaned my weight back in order to stop the "wooshing" motion (I really wasn't going that fast, but it felt like it to me) and I went straight down on my butt. My guide had said that if you don't fall you're not working hard enough so I hollered from my butt plant,
"I'm working hard enough now."
My second fall came when I was stepping closer to my guide because I had started drifting away from him by accident. My skis crossed and down I went. The third one I have decided wasn't my fault. We were heading back to the car and there was some kind of unnatural surface under the snow-maybe a polished platform-that was super slippery and I landed on my butt again.
Even though I fell three times and the stinking North wind was peeling my face off, I loved it. There's something to be said for being able to glide over snow completely unattached from a person or guide dog. I have always said that working with my guide dogs was the ultimate freedom because I could walk by myself without having to hold on to a person, and it still is, but from my experience this morning, cross country skiing is, apart from the guide dog, the closest thing I will ever come to moving as an independent person. It is the most amazing feeling. I've decided that if we can't make me a racer, I will always cross country ski.
I probably owuld have stayed out there for another hour, but I had a run scheduled in for the afternoon and I had cycled some intervals the night before. I am eager to get better and faster, but I really need to make sure I pace myself. Going into the training camp with an injury would be much worse than going in with a bit lower fitness level than I'd like. So, we loaded the skis back into the car and headed home.

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