First Day of Skiing with a Spinal Cord Injury.

After a long month of long hours at work coupled with an MS attack that took my lower body out of commission, I’m finally back on the skihill!


Morning in Banff

Morning in Banff

You know, I generally have a pretty positive attitude toward my immune-system eaten spine. The rebelious lower body comes and goes and I know one day it’ll stop working for good. I’m ok with that. I work in health care. Every day I see people, even young people, forced to relearn to live due to spinal cord injuries. For most of them, it was sudden. Their sports, their ambitions, their dancing – bam! Gone in a flash. Me, I’m lucky. I’m super, super lucky: I had the fortune of being warned. And a good, fair warning it was: over 15 years later I’m still making nearly full recoveries after every attack. I’ve had lots of time for dance and gymnastics, skiing and hiking. I have one more trip planned and then I’ll be ready. Of course, the more time the better, but yeah, no regrets.

So I haven’t completely recovered from this attack. I don’t have full use of my legs yet but I figured I’d get back on my skis since, you know, having bought a pass and all. Besides, since moving out here, I’ve always found healing in the mountains. Whether I’m sad, stressed, tired, sickly or just in dire need of exercise, they’ve been there for me. (Mountains are always there for you. You can always find them at the same spot, time after time.) So, I thought, why not turn to them for some physiotherapy as well?

Mother Nature at her finest.

Mother Nature at her finest.

Today was the big first day! As you can see by the pictures, the weather didn’t cooperate much. For the most part, it was snowing and winding hard. They even had to close most of the chairlifs early. But! At least it wasn’t -30 or raining.

The flatlight (for you non-skiiers, flatlight happens when the light isn’t bright enough and you can’t see the snow, not even the snow that’s super close to you) was a little hard to deal with too. Even with goggles supposedly made for bad weather, I was blind. On my first run of the day, I wondered for a moment why I couldn’t go forward. Took a little wiggling around to realize that my skis were, in fact, stuck in a snowdrift as high as my waist.

As for my legs…

I have to say, it was a little frustrating to be strugging on runs that I would have flown through normally. Especially since the snow was soft (seriously! It was like light light flour. I desperately wanted to rub my cheek on it. ) and the powder was bountiful. I could picture myself gliding around the moguls, catching the little jumps and digging my edges to carve the semi-steep slopes.

Instead I probably looked like a first timer as I learned to ski all over again.

I’ve been trained to ski mainly with my ankles. It’s hard to convey this to beginners who look down in amazement at the iron bindings firmly clasped around their lower extremities, but my feet are always moving. They feel the ground and they adjust over and over again. But now I have very little control over my ankles. The nerve damage in my feet is a double wammy, making the feeling of pins and needles (very similar to when you stand up after losing circulation in your feet for awhile) quiiiite uncomfortable and masking whatever signals the ground was trying send. Skiing without relying primarily on my feet to read the snow for me was like being 4 years old and discovering long slidy shoes for the first time all over again.

Then, my knees and my hips are still pretty restricted. I don’t use them the same way as I do my ankles, but they’re still supposed to take whatever orders my feet send them. They’re supposed to bend or unbend as needed so that I can flow with the bumps and dives of trails. Muscles that refuse to relax make that usual flexion/extension process a tad more complicated. I felt pretty rigid. In turn, the rigidity forced my weight backwards, causing me to lose my balance a lot. I had a million flashbacks of my ski teachers of yore shouting at me: “Get off the toilet seat! Stop leaning back!”

While I seemed pretty doomed to failure, I got a bit better after the first few runs. It was painful and took a lot of concentration, but I was able to get in a few excellent turns. I mainly stuck to blue (intermediate) runs but I did succeed on a few black diamonds that, I swear, I ended up on completely by accident. I looked a bit stupid, I think, and I was slow, much slower than usual, but thankfully, the flatlight and resulting blindness forced just about everyone to take their time, lest they find themselves falling off a cliff or getting stuck in a snowdrift.

I took an approximately 90 minute break midday to eat lunch and check into my hotel room (staying right on the mountain, yay!). I considered lying down to nap, but I itched with the urge to head back outside for some extra torture. I ended up going on for quite some time, long enough to catch the very last lift up before the center closed for the day.

That last trip was worth it too. The Sunday crowds were gone so I had the hill to myself. And my mountains smiled on me, shining some sun through the storm and giving me a glorious flatlight-free final run.

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