February 7, 2021

Failing, Falling & Cross-Country Skiing: 7 Lessons in Resilience.

cross-country skiing

I’ve been in Minnesota for a few years and have always wanted to try cross-country skiing.

It’s one of those bucket list items where it was either too cold or there was not enough snow or money—but the truth is I get really afraid to try new things.

I had a horrible experience trying downhill skiing the first time at 16. I was hungover and a friend had loaned me all of her equipment. I looked like a purple people-eater dressed in purple from head to toe. I felt so awkward. I walked into the wet, chaotic ski rental place and felt so out of my element. I got all geared up and then learned the infamous Bunny Hill was closed that day.

The girls I was with had skied multiple times, so I was the only beginner that day. We jumped on the chair lift and elevated higher and higher into the sky. I’m all for thrill rides, but this is good. Let me back down.

Then they expected me to slide off of this contraption? Hell no. I’m not getting off. I mean, I knew I had to somehow get off, but I was frozen. I would not budge. They kept it going as my friends slid off elegantly and it took me around for another run. I knew I had to brace myself for what was to come, but I yelled to the worker guy, “I can’t get off!” He made it stop to the dismay of all of the angry patrons behind me booing and complaining. He helped me make my way off without it knocking me in the back on my way down. 

I’d fallen, and I couldn’t get up. I had never done this. How do you expect me just to ski down this huge hill?

My friends became increasingly frustrated with my whining and went off to ski on their own. I managed to get up and literally started flying down this hill and then making myself fall to stop and repeating until I made it to the bottom and hit the lodge for the rest of the day. There was no way I was doing that again.

I took a snowboarding lesson over a decade ago and went alone. I was going to do this without other people this time. I took the one lesson, fell off of the chairlift, snowboarded by gliding, and falling down the hill. I thought to myself, that was good for today. I was too scared to try the lift again, plus I had signed up for two more lessons that I never made it to.

When I moved from Seattle to Minnesota in 2017, I gave it another go. My sons and husband are avid snowboarders, so I got some gear and we headed to the “mountain,” which here is more like a big hill. I got accustomed to the magic carpet—a flat escalator that takes you up with your snowboard. Now, I am someone who holds on for dear life up an actual escalator, so this wasn’t as easy as it sounded. There were no handles. I fell multiple times on this magic carpet and the guy would stop it when he saw me. I would somehow get to the top and “carve” my way back down, but stopping was a huge issue. I had to fall on my ass to stop, and that got old quick.

My family and I were up there one day and I was getting on that trusty magic carpet as I was still not ready for the dreaded chairlift. My family was doing the bigger runs. I put my one leg on the magic carpet, with the board, but somehow my other leg doesn’t get the memo and I’m straddling—one leg on-one leg off, but the guy in the booth with the stop button can’t see me and hear my screams of anguish. I am spread eagle on this thing and I am being spread further and further apart. By the breeze, I can feel I know my butt crack is hanging out. There happens to be a lady from Church behind me with her kids looking the other way. 

I see my trusty husband run over to me, flailing his arms and yelling at the guy to make it stop. He helps me up while asking if I’m okay; I am mortified, but okay. 

That was my last try snowboarding. I gave up too easily, you may be thinking. 

So here I am a couple of years later. I rented my family and me some cross-country skiing equipment and booked us a time to go. I was actually pretty scared and nervous. Things that seem to come naturally for others I tend to struggle with, and so I was hesitant to believe my husband’s comforting words of,” it’s easy, you will be fine.”

We went out on a Sunday and the weather was perfect. Thirty degrees Fahrenheit in Minnesota, I’ve learned, is sweatshirt weather, and so I’ve become accustomed to thinking 30F is “warm.”

We got geared up and started on an easy flat trail. I was gliding; I was moving; I was doing it. I was really doing it. I didn’t have the speed and momentum at first, but I had a good feeling about this being my thing. 

We laughed a lot and had a great time out there. We had some falls, and they took me on an intermediate hilly path that I wouldn’t have chosen, but for their adrenaline-junkie hearts, it fulfilled a need, and I was able to fall down some hills and still have fun.

I felt joyful and childlike and loved being out there. 

The next day, I wanted to pick up some equipment so I could do it myself whenever I wanted, and it was sold out everywhere. I went to five different places and finally found some gear.

I went again and again and started improving. My son and I had the most laughs and I loved feeling sore in “all the right places.” 

Today it was kind of snowy and windy and I wasn’t sure I would still like it, but I went out and pushed through. I didn’t just want to be a “fair-weather” skier. I wanted to make sure I could do it even when the weather wasn’t optimal and I was alone.

Here’s what cross-country skiing has taught me thus far:

>> I can push through hard things, literally. 

>> Falling up a hill is actually easier than falling down a hill.

>> I can always stop, breathe, and get my bearings when it feels too hard.

>> I have found my inner Viking—there’s something special and familiar about trekking through the snow; perhaps my ancestral roots are speaking to me.

>> My gut told me to go back on an unfamiliar path. I saw beautiful deer prance right in front of my eyes. If I hadn’t tried a new path, I would’ve missed that magical moment.

>> It may sound silly, but I like to believe that my grandpa and grandma and mom and dad are watching out for me. When I have moments like those, I feel their presence and thankfulness and gratitude for my angels. 

>> I know that I am speaking from a place of privilege and that the younger me would have never gotten the opportunity to seek something out like this to do. Everything that cost money was out of the question and so getting to do this now is a privilege that I don’t take for granted. 

>> If I wasn’t a sober person, I would not care nor want to do something that didn’t involve drinking, and so I thank God for my long-term sobriety. I know none of this is possible if I’m not sober.

>> I know as an adult child of an alcoholic, it can be hard for me to let loose and have fun. To truly enjoy myself. There is fear in letting my guard down, and even doing a simple thing to most, like going cross-country skiing for the first time, made me lose my appetite and sweat with nerves.

Here are some final takeaways:

1. Sometimes, the best trail is the one you didn’t plan on taking.

2. Having a sense of adventure really is the spice of life.

3. Sometimes, doing things that are scary and risky creates a feeling of exhilaration that can create joy and happiness.

4. When pushing through to a new endeavor, it’s okay to laugh and have fun and feel like a kid again.

5. Fear can be healthy—get out of your comfort zone. Try something new, and ski like nobody’s watching. Maybe there’s a prancing deer right around the bend. 

6. Being out in nature is so therapeutic; it’s so quiet. You can hear a branch breaking, birds chirping, snow falling. So good for the human soul.

7. If you fall, you can always get back up again. Most people are concerned with themselves, and not worried about what you look like, what you’re wearing, or if you’re doing it right.

I got cut from both the basketball and the volleyball team in seventh grade. I wouldn’t say that I am athletically gifted. I struggle with coordination and balance. I did play a little bit of rec softball and finally made the team in ninth grade, but I warmed the bench the whole season. I was more concerned with the outfit and what shoes I would get to wear. I literally prayed the ball wouldn’t come to me from the outfield. 

I am 44, so I’m afraid of being not as limber as I used to be. Being out here on the trail free as a bird really is a big deal for me. I’m always afraid that I’m going to fall or break my glasses, get hungry or thirsty, and lose my way back to the car, but so far, I’ve just kept going.

I hope I can inspire you to try something new. Please share with me if you do.


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