The People Who Shape You – Indomitable Spirits

 

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I have a sister 5 years my senior who is and always has been GORGEOUS. After a bajillion people tell you that you should model, you start to give it serious thought. It took some pleading with my Mom to enroll her in a modeling agency and get head shots, but she was soon on her way to gracing local department store ads and covers of record albums with her beautiful self.

Here’s where this worked to an unbelievable advantage for me…my Mom has always been a staunch believer of treating her kids equally. If she spent x amount of dollars on one kid, she felt the need to do the same for the other. Lucky for me, modeling isn’t an inexpensive endeavor. Growing up in Western New York provides you with incredible skiing close by. Our town’s recreation department offered Ski School at Kissing Bridge Ski Resort on Tuesdays for kids in 4th-12th grade. Skiing was something the rich kids did. We were not rich (Side note: To give you some perspective, when I was a kid I thought people who had dishwashers, refrigerators with built in ice makers, or pools were rich.) So when my Mom asked me if I would be interested in learning how to ski, I jumped at the chance.

Now where my sister only modeled for a few years, I ended up falling in love with skiing and attended the full 9 years of ski school, so I definitely made out better on the deal. However, skiing at Kissing Bridge would have a life long impact on me because of one man whom I’ve never even met. I don’t know his name. We never spoke. To be honest I have never even seen his face, but this stranger’s influence on me was so profound it has helped shape who I am today.

Somewhere around the Junior High school years, my friends and I were riding the chairlift up for another run. Our lessons were over and we were in our “free skiing time” enjoying goofing off, trying new things and being loud and obnoxious as Junior High Schools girls often are. Anyone who skies knows that you only ski the runs under the chair lift if you are decently good. Otherwise your colossal wipe outs are entertainment for all those above you to see, who have nothing else better to do but to watch the skiers below while trying to stay warm and look for cute boys. Ok that last part may have only been my friends and me but whatever.

I will never forget the first time that I saw him. He caught my attention from a good distance away due to his gracefulness. His turns were clean and his cadence steady. His run looked effortless. He was so good that at first I thought he was part of the resort’s Ski Patrol, but he wasn’t wearing the right colors. I intently studied his movements trying to glean tips so I could improve on my own technique. And then I saw it. My eyes widened in amazement as he got closer and my brain deciphered if what I saw was actually true.

This man only had one leg. ONE LEG! He put the rest of the skiers on the hill to shame with his skill and he only had one ski!!! All four of us strained to turn around in our lift chair so we could continue watching him as he passed us down the slope, out skiing everyone I knew. How was he doing that?!

For the remainder of the ride up we excitedly rambled on with an impressed array about what a marvel this man was and statements like “Oh my gosh can you imagine how HARD that is?” and “I can’t ski like that and I have 2 skis!”. We all decided we were going to try it.

This is the stuff America’s Funniest Home Videos are made of. We started off our new challenge by simply bending at the knee on one leg, and attempting to hold the ski off the ground. We quickly learned that balancing that way was near impossible. It would only take a few feet before we would crash and burn. Over and over. Or, it was too easy to cheat and you would instinctively put your ski back down in order to regain balance.

We theorized that by holding up one ski, it was weighting us down on that side and throwing off our center of balance. Therefore, logically, we had to get rid of the ski altogether to solve our problem. So how were we going to do that? In a moment of junior high brilliance, we each proceeded to take off one ski and THREW IT DOWN THE HILL. (Disclaimer: Mom if you are reading this I swear this was back when we rented skis and not after you bought me my own beautiful set of skis for Christmas that one year that I loved and cherished and rubbed with a polishing cloth weekly and never ever for one second would dream of abusing.)

Dear Lord was that a disaster! It was wipe out after wipe out. Mass casualties were strewn across the hill as far as the eye could see. We were a bruised, snow covered bunch by the time we pummeled ourselves to the bottom and it was a miracle one of us didn’t break a leg. Our epic failure made us admire the gifted skier even more.

This man made such an impression on me. I thought about him. A lot. I wondered if he only had one leg when he first learned how to ski. Or did he lose a leg and have to relearn how to ski all over again? Either way I knew it couldn’t have been easy and must have required a lot of drive and determination riddled with frustration along the way. I can’t even imagine how many times he fell trying to learn. This gentleman not only learned it, he mastered it! I recognized that his success was a choice on his part. I didn’t view him as an amputee to feel sorry for, I saw him as larger than life. He was an inspiration! I decided right then and there, if anything ever happened to me I wanted to BE. LIKE. THAT. I wanted to be like this man with an indomitable spirit and not let anything stop me.

I continued to spot him sporadically throughout the years and always smiled as I admired his impeccable technique and rhythm as he artfully made his way down the slope. I thought about him many times with great admiration and fondness. He became like an unaware mentor to me.

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A long time had passed since I last thought about my unknown skier friend. I was now dealing with my own health challenges. As my Lupus symptoms increased in severity, my activities decreased proportionally. I had already learned that one of my favorite pastimes, mountain biking, was too jagged and hard on my joints. All the weight on my hands gripping the handlebars would cause me to stop and shake them out frequently during the ride due to the pain or just plain going numb. I could still bike, but I was going to pay for it dearly for days following. One day of fun = five days of knock me on my butt pain and fatigue. Same thing went for jet skiing, I could go for an easy pleasure cruise, but no hard riding and wave jumping like I loved.

I had taken up yoga to ease joint pain and maintain flexibility which helped, but I knew I had lost a lot of muscle. I had big dreams, how could I climb a mountain in my current state? How could I rebuild muscle when every activity made the pain worse? In one moment of frustration, for some reason that indomitable spirit came to mind. Here this guy was missing an entire limb and he didn’t let that stop him. Why did I assume all these years that he skied without pain or sacrifice? On the contrary, he probably skied despite the pain. How much harder did he have to work and how much stronger did he have to be to do what he wanted compared to the rest of us? It was a choice.

I had a choice. I could wall myself off from the world and any new experience which may exacerbate my symptoms or I could say “Screw you Lupus, I’m not going to let you stop me from accomplishing what I want to accomplish.” I was going to experience pain either way right? That was part of my new everyday normal. If I was going to be sore and achy, I might as well be as healthy as I could be, fully experience life and be sore and achy.

I actually laughed out loud and echoed my 13 year old self and said “I want to BE. LIKE. THAT.” I had a lot of work to do, I had made my choice.

You never know who is watching you. You have the ability to influence and inspire without even saying a word.  How POWERFUL is that?

*With eternal gratitude to an unnamed, ski-masked inspiration and indomitable spirit. I wish I could properly thank you for shaping me.*

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