Thursday, February 19, 2015

Facing Fears. And losing.

First the background story:
I tore my ACL almost three years ago, in late March 2012. We were vacationing in Colorado and I was skiing at Copper Mountain. Although I hadn't skied in years and was definitely a beginner, I was loving every minute of it. It was our last run of the day and things were icing over a bit. I looked back to check on Isaac, caught some ice, and fell. One ski fell off, the other jammed its tip into the ice so my foot and ankle stayed, but my knee wrenched sideways. It was excruciating. I had the honor of being carted down the mountain on a snowmobile.

A wild thing happens when you tear your ACL. Your quadricep muscle shuts down to protect your knee from further damage. The doctor will tell you to flex your quad and your brain will tell your quad to flex and you will look down at your leg and absolutely nothing will happen. That is crazy. Not to mention really scary.
waiting for surgery. I had to sit a lot. Thank goodness for patient children who were 8, 5, and 3 at the time

I had to give it time for the swelling to go down and to gain some strength back and then I had surgery in the beginning of May, 2012. Surgery was not great. Well, actually, the surgery itself went very well, but I do not handle meds well. They finally made me leave when the office closed at 5, even though I should have been well enough to leave around 1. I was groggy and vomiting and not at all coherent. Jim has made the executive decision that if I require surgery again, I will spend the night, no matter how minor they say the surgery is. The next day I couldn't breathe, as in I was gasping for air and my lungs would not work. Scary. Again a lovely side effect of my inability to handle strong medicine. Three days after surgery I stopped taking all of my many bottles of hard-core pain medicine that I was supposed to be on for weeks and weeks so that I could function like a human again. Things improved greatly from there on out.
day after surgery

snuggles after getting home from surgery

I worked hard at physical therapy. I cried. I thought I'd never recover. I worried I'd never run again. In my head I knew it was but a blip in my life, but in my heart, in my psyche, it felt really big. I also came to the realization that I will not age gracefully. I will be angry that my body won't keep up with what my mind wants it to do. That was not a fun thing to learn about myself.
post surgery Mother's Day. . . p.s. how weird is it to see me with only 3 kids?!

But I worked. I started on the stationery bike and couldn't even make one revolution around. I started walking without a brace. I started running. I ran hill repeats. I put in the time and the effort. Three months after surgery I ran my first post-surgery 5k. Five months after surgery I ran my first post-surgery 10 mile race and then my first post-surgery half marathon. Now I have to think about which knee I had surgery on. I run my races and and play tag with my kids, climb rocks and play sports with no thought. I am recovered. I am  healed. I am strong.
First 5k after surgery. That's a happy mother runner!

The BRF who listened to me cry and supported me. She had surgery the same summer so we finished together.

Isaac and I at the finish line

post-race family picture.

In the three years since my surgery I have gotten pregnant, had a baby, and moved a few times. There has not been time or energy for skiing. The first winter I was pregnant and the second winter Asher was little and required a lot of my time and attention. And now it's winter again and we live in Colorado and I've been equal parts looking forward to and dreading my first time skiing.

Adding to my uncertainty is the fact that Audrey broke her leg skiing while I was pregnant with Asher and was in a full-leg cast for 12 weeks. She has healed up beautifully and skis again and I am beyond proud of her tenacity. She is strong, that Audy-boo! She is my inspiration in many ways and I know it's lame and cliche to say that, but if you knew her it would make sense.

Current story:
feeling excited and ready
Last week we went skiing. I wrote about it here. Jim and the kids skied the first two days and then Jim stayed with Asher while I skied on Friday. I went into it excited. I got to the top of the easiest run and went down tentatively, but it was okay. The kids and I went to some of the easier greens and it was still ok. I wasn't enjoying it. I wasn't having fun. But I was ok. At lunch I explained it to Jim this way: "It's like I'm fighting it the whole way. I'm holding back and not even skiing, but finding the slowest, safest possible way down the mountain."

In the morning I asked Audrey, my go-to girl on overcoming ski injuries, how long it took her to not feel afraid. She said she was nervous in the morning of her first day back, but by the afternoon it was just fun. I hoped my story would be similar.
with my little cheerleader on the chairlift

It wasn't. We decided to head up the mountain more since the higher we went the colder it got and we wanted to get away from the warm, slushy snow. Unfortunately the greens (easiest) were also steeper up there. It's safe to say I freaked out. Bless my patient children. When I would stop part way down a run to cry and talk myself out of vomiting from fear, Audrey would wait for me a bit down the hill. When I caught up she would say, "you're doing a really good job, mama. You can do it." Elliot waited, too, and told me how great I was and that it would get easier. Isaac was off doing his own thing on the snowboard by the afternoon or I'm sure I'd have gotten another really nice and sweet, yet ultimately ineffective pep talk from him, too.
These kids are so darn supportive. and really good skiers, too. Maybe someday. . .
At one point, I'll call it my low point, I called Jim, who was with Asher at gondola lodge, crying and sick to my stomach and telling him I couldn't do it and find a map to instruct me on the fastest way to get to the lodge because I was done! It was so bad. I contemplated asking one of the people working to help me get down the stupid mountain, but the little, teeny, tiny, minute piece of pride that I had left prevented me from doing that. So, he gave me directions and I wiped my tears and caught up with the kids and slowly and fearfully made my way down.

To say I am disappointed in myself is an understatement. I remember the freedom, beauty, and joy I felt skiing at Copper Mountain before my crash and now I felt only fear and caution. I think of the athletes who have had this same stupid surgery and go back and own their sport once again. Don't misunderstand, I know they are on an entirely different mental and physical planet than I am, but I did think I would be able to at least go out and enjoy a leisurely ski down a beautiful mountain.

So, where do I go from here? Part of me wants to try again and part of me wants to go to the resorts with my family and snowshoe and cross country ski. Would that make me a coward? Do I care? I don't know. This has thrown me for a loop. This mental and physical fail. This getting stuck in my own head. This intense fear. I so badly want to tell Copper Mountain to suck it. But I just can't this time. Not yet anyway.

Here's the plan: I have one lift ticket to Winter Park already paid for and I'm not about to waste that money. I will go and try again because apparently the greens at Winter Park are easier than those at Steamboat. I will give it another go. And if I like it I will keep going and if I don't like it I will stop. Dangit, I hate losing. Well, to clarify, I'm fine losing in a game or a race if someone's better or they get lucky or they trained harder, but I hate losing to myself. I hate not being strong enough to overcome this.

What would you do? Any pep talk or words of wisdom?


  1. I swore I commented on this...but maybe I didn't.....anyways, my thoughts are that it might be time for a lesson. Not because you don't know what to do, but you get someone to watch you and help you. And while its great that you can make it a family activity, maybe try to get to the slopes alone when your family isn't there so you aren't thinking of their safety/fun and you can focus on yourself as much as possible. And if you really decide that its not for you to ski that is just fine!! There's still cross country, and snow shoeing and hiking, don't let one activity keep you away from the fun that can be winter!

    1. Thanks! I agree with you. This was definitely not an ideal back to skiing situation, but it was the best we could do with a one year old. Next time we go my mom is going to come and watch him and my husband is going to be my "coach." Our other kids are fine skiing on their own so they can kind of do their own thing and check in after each run, but I will not have to be on the job as their mom while I'm getting reacclimated. I'm going to give it another go, but I agree with you that I have many options to enjoy winter if I decide it's just not for me.