After having a series of hip operations, including two double hip replacements, I found myself once again standing at the bottom of the ski piste waiting for my kids and husband to ski down to me and say hi for a quick second before rushing off again with pink cheeks and laughter.
Now, I’m not one for giving up or always doing what I’m told, but I knew skiing was out of bounds and I fully understood why. As I stood there alone, cold, bored and frustrated, I watched a young girl having a snowboard lesson and dreamed of a compromise. I could either accept my limits without a fight or face my fears and try and find another way. I realized that if I didn’t face this fear and try something to get back on those slopes, it would be a limit for life.
The screaming conflict began straight away; ‘To really enjoying family ski holidays, quality time with my kids and husband and really earning my après ski’ versus, ‘but you’re too old, it’s too dangerous, you’re too broken, too unfit…’ and the list went on. But I’m stubborn; there’s always a way and there’s always a choice: to die of boredom or take a risk, so off I went to the rental shop.
My first lesson hurt so much! I was black and blue afterwards, but at least I could get down a blue slope, not elegantly, but I was up there with my family again and, boy, that felt good. My children treated me to the ‘L’ sign on their foreheads for ‘loser’ if I fell or didn’t dare to turn and that was a pretty good motivator too!
I bought protective gear and practiced, fell, practiced, fell less, improved, fell harder, practiced harder and took more risks. Yes, I still came home sore, but happy. I focused on my improvements every day and was determined to give more energy to succeeding than listening to my ever present fears. Each evening I asked myself, ‘What isn’t working?’ ‘What do I have to practice?’ ‘What do I have to improve?’ But the question that kept me pushing forwards was, ‘Why am I doing this?’
I ride ‘Goofy’, yes, that really is a thing, although I had no idea what it meant when my rental board was set up with my right leg binding at the front of the board and my left foot at the tail. As I scoured YouTube for boarding tips, I discovered that goofy means your strongest leg is at the back of the board to help you turn and break. Unfortunately for me, my natural ‘strong’ leg was the one that had been left particularly weak from the operations. I needed to change to my naturally weaker side and, if that wasn’t scary enough, I made this discovery just before going to a big ski resort for the first time with a group of 7 excellent skiers. So, I found myself at the top of a very steep red run with my board on back to front and a group of expectant faces looking up and waiting for me to join them on the slope. I was comfortable enough on the practice slopes but now, up there looking down, it was time to take a leap of faith. I sat there doing up my bindings and asked myself a really stupid question, ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ ‘DIE!’ came the answer, ‘Break something, dislocate something, end up in a wheel chair. Just go back to the practice slopes, meet up with them later, don’t be so stupid…’ I fed myself this poison until I almost couldn’t breathe. I really felt as if someone else was giving me a really good telling off and the humiliation I felt with my friends waiting for me was huge. I set off out of sheer embarrassment and anger. And fell. Hard. Full of ‘you’ll never get down alive’ negativity, I stumbled and limped my way down the mountain berating myself the entire way. But, I DID get down. I had jumped out of my comfort zone and lived-despite my fear trying to convince myself otherwise.
I had needed the others to force me out of my comfort zone and I was grateful for that, but I headed back up alone. This was a battle I had to fight myself. Me against my fear. I knew I could do it-I had proof, but my thoughts were still drip-feeding me poison. I tried meditating on the ski lift; with every in breath, I breathed in energy and calm and with every out breath, I breathed out negative thoughts that couldn’t serve me. This worked surprisingly well (it’s a very long lift) until it was time to ride. My mind really overtook ‘feeling’ as I had to concentrate on riding ‘regular’ or backwards for me. As soon as my head took over so did the negativity. There were two of us up there; one that said, ‘Okay, you know what to do-now just do it’, and the other that whispered, ‘But what if you can’t’, each time I began to go for it.
I tried counting in my head to block out the ‘What-ifs’ and tried counting out loud too. I knew which voice I wanted to listen to, but thoughts have an unfortunate habit of thinking themselves anyway. But oh, those steeps! I learned how to conquer them in theory, but fear held me back from giving 100% commitment to the crucial turns. If I made it, my heart was left pounding with adrenaline and then I immediately wondered if it was just a fluke or luck this time. If I fell, I got so angry because 9 times out of 10 I knew where I’d gone wrong-I hadn’t fully committed-or not quickly enough. I was really determined to get out of my comfort zone, I was determined to keep getting up each time I fell, I was determined to overcome the voice of my fear and I was improving every time, but even my determination to silence that drip feed of fearful thoughts and stay positive actually created another problem entirely:
I realised that, while I was never going to let my fear stop me, I had to accept it and see it for what it was, not fight against it (and therefore myself) each time I strapped my board on.
Fear is only an emotion like any other but it really blinded me. Fear made me panic and make bad choices and bad choices on steep, icy slopes hurt. When I chose to look my fear in the eye, I saw a typical primary school bully. A bully who does what he does because of his own insecurities and fears. I chose to accept it, ‘I see you for what you are and I’m glad you’re looking out for me, but I’m doing this anyway so stay in the valley and be good until I get back.’ My huge, debilitating fear became a small, uncertain child and I had an excellent afternoon of fun. It made a massive difference. My fear still came back to sit on my shoulder at the top of those steeps and before I tried something new, but I took the time to breath, look it in the eye and say, ‘Okay I see you, but I’m doing this anyway’.
I had seen so many boarders riding ‘dynamically’ and had managed a few copy-cat moves. Back home, YouTube gave me the solution once again; music-loud and rhythmic music. I found a Spotify snowboarding playlist. It definitely has a powerful beat with lots of rap and seriously not my thing but I turned it up LOUD and concentrated on the beat and trying to understand what the musicians were rapping about. Before I knew it, I was surprised to find myself back at the ski lift. I’d had the most awesome ride; I’d conquered the steeps without even realizing it. I hadn’t stopped at the top of each one and looked down, I’d just gone with my instincts and the rhythm of the music. There had been no fear. I hadn’t just not fallen-I’d totally loved every second!
And then I knew the final truth:
Yes, danger is real. Yes, I have to be careful of my body. I’d tried to battle fear and failed. Then I’d accepted fear as something looking out for me, but fear made me fall, fear made me fail and fear was responsible for my bruises and frustration. The truth is; fear does not exist in its own right; it is created by our own thoughts. This means that fear really is our choice.
With that music pumping and my mind fixed on the beat, my body was finally allowed to follow its instincts, finally allowed to ‘just do it’, finally allowed to succeed. And, do you know what? It felt SO awesome to know the truth, to feel the power over that uninvited negativity, to know that I really could do whatever I set my mind to as long as fear was not part of the equation. I was on the lift again without waiting for anyone else to join me. I had to get back up there and do it again-leave what little was left of my fear in the valley and really feeling my instincts have a ball.
It was a lonely, painful and frustrating journey, but I’ve never looked back! Once I found a way to ditch the fear once, that was enough to silence my own critics and leave it behind for good. Now, I choose to push my limits, choose to challenge my comfort zone and choose to squeeze every last bit of living out of the mountain of life-especially the steeps!
The only thing I would change with hindsight is going through this alone. Yes, others unwittingly pushed me from my comfort zone, but there was no one to catch me or guide me through the challenges that led on from that. My advice would be to put your trust in a good friend or coach to not only push you out of your comfort zone but to stay to guide and support you through the challenges that lead into your wow zone.