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What Would You Do If You Weren't Afraid?

This refrain kept passing through my head last week, particularly after snapping on my skis, disembarking from the button lift, and looking at my first (super easy) green slope.

I thought it must have been Brené Brown, from recent Facebook posts, who was the source of the question, but when searching after deciding to write this, I realised it was most likely Sheryl Sandberg (which makes sense with the Facebook source).

Regardless of the source, it was the mantra running through my head.

Because as I stood at the top of the kiddie hill last Wednesday, looking down, it was exactly two years to the day of my ski accident when I completely snapped my ACL skiing in Zermatt. It had been an ideal sunny day with pretty good conditions.

Unfortunately, I was a bit too cocky, over-skiing my ability while developing a book idea in my head trying to keep up with my significantly-more-advanced-skier husband and daughter. We were on our way to an amazing restaurant that my husband had talked about for years. In fact, I crashed in sight of that goal.

I knew before I even fell that it wasn’t good, from the sickening pop that I felt in my left knee, before I even fell over in the snow. Then it took me about 10-15 minutes just to get up, to the great concern of my family, waiting at the bottom. I was stubborn enough to ski using the good leg to the restaurant, sharing my hopes of it getting better during the much-awaited lunch. It didn’t.

A trip to the emergency clinic in Zermatt confirmed that there was no more skiing, at least for that vacation, and I would need to visit specialists back home to know how bad the verdict was.

It was bad enough… a completely severed ACL. We first tried to restore knee function without surgery, but despite religious adherence to physical therapy, I never regained enough stability to walk completely stably, and the surgeon confirmed the only certain way to ski again would be surgery.

As I really wanted to ski again, I opted for surgery and had that as early as I possibly could at that point (May 2, 2017) in hopes of making the end of ski season 2018. I couldn’t wait to be back on the slopes.

That wasn’t to be, although again adhering religiously to the physical therapy regimen, at the nine month check-up with the surgeon, he was very happy with the healing and progress, but recommended that I not try to ski until at least one year after the surgery. Then, with all the arrogance of a good surgeon he said to me that he had fixed my knee better than before as long as I let it heal, but I would find my biggest problem to be in my head, a fear of skiing and re-injury, rather than any physical constraint.

At the time, I dismissed his warning as ridiculous.

It didn’t feel ridiculous around late autumn 2018. At this point, skiing was no longer an abstract concept in the far-off future. Skiing was staring me down in the next few months.

I was relieved we had decided to spend the Christmas holidays in Portugal. There wasn’t too much chance of skiing there.

However, when we came home, we started discussing the winter sport break and where we should go. I suggested to my husband that we head back to Portugal. After all, winter is quite cold and wouldn’t it be so much nicer to be warm? As we had been on diets and lost weight, we were cold all the time anyway at home, so why should we voluntarily head anywhere cold?

My daughter insisted on skiing, and my husband, who has learned to read me quite well, saw right through my subterfuge. I was outnumbered, and we made plans to take a shorter break at Hemsedal, in the Norwegian “Alps” where we could also visit family.

As week 7 (the Gothenburg area winter sport week) neared and we started packing our things, I started to feel physically sick as I lifted up my helmet and back protection, putting my ski boots in the bag.

I hadn’t thought about that “pop” so much, but now it was all I could think about. Usually accompanied with a bout of nausea.

I tried again to back out, claiming too much to do at work.

But no, again my family insisted, so we packed into my trusty car and headed for the mountains. With each mile passing, my nausea increased as I kept feeling and “hearing” the “pop” over and over again.

We had talked about starting the first day in Norefjell, a smaller ski area slightly closer to Sweden. We could ski there for three hours, then go on to the cabin in Hemsedal. We were making good time on the road though, so we went all the way.

In a way this was good, I was able to delay the inevitable another hour. But it was also another hour of anxiety.

Finally, there I stood, at the top of the kiddie slope, thinking about running the first run. “Pop, pop, pop, pop” were coming in sickening synchronisation with my racing pulse.

What would I do if I weren’t afraid?

I would ski again.

So I pushed off, and tentatively made my way down the simple slope. I was stiff, I was terrified, ridiculously fearful that the slightest error would lead to the same sickening “pop”.

But I made it to the bottom.

Then I took the lift up, and up again to the top of a longer green slope. No longer on the kiddie hill, but a real slope on the mountain, albeit one on of the easiest ones.

As I stood up there and looked down, its gently beckoning curves as terrifying as blacks had once been, I thought again:

What would I do if I weren’t afraid?

I would ski again.

Throughout the day, with each new slope and each run completed, I realised that I wasn’t nearly as nauseous and fearful, and I started to remember why I had wanted so badly to come back to this sport.

The harnessing of nature’s elements, the speed, the silence broken only by the sound of the skis on snow, and the beauty of a mountain covered in white, pushing my abilities with each run, gaining more speed with more control.

What would I do if I weren’t afraid?

I was skiing again. Through greens, to blues, and even to reds on our last two days. My husband had the patience and support of a saint, skiing for days well below his ability, but there for moral (and if necessary, physical) support. My daughter, less so, but what can be expected from a nine-year old who has skied since she was two, and sought the adventure of the trickiest blacks? To her credit, she did chase any skier or snowboarder who dared to come close to her mother and did a valiant trek uphill the first time I fell, to be there to help me up and make sure I was ok.

What would I do if I weren’t afraid?

I would fall and know that I can get up.

I would ski again. And I did.

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