Tag Archives: skiing

Compassion Fatigue: A Light Bulb Moment!

For so many with a passion for compassion, there can come a point where we need to reassess our vision. Admit that we have over-extended our scope or perceived list of responsibilities beyond our sphere and have actually gone too far. Moreover, although we not be thinking about compassion fatigue or burnout, we need to pull our heads in before we implode. Otherwise, instead of being able to help and support others, we risk needing help ourselves!

I would suggest that if you are watching ants lugging heavy loads with more than just a casual eye and indeed considering learning ant language so you can help them more effectively: “Hey, can I give you a lift?” Then, perhaps you have taken compassion just that little bit too far.

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There comes a time when especially the most compassionate souls need to re-visit their priorities before it’s too late.

 

I have been putting a lot of thought into compassion since I signed up for the 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion Movement where on this day Friday 20th February over 1000 bloggers worldwide have signed up to write a post about compassion on their blogs.

Here is a link to the project: http://new.inlinkz.com/luwpview.php?id=497564&fb_ref=Default

Today, is the United Nations Day of Social Justice. Thanks to my husband and has his particular way of challenging “stuff”, I would just like to stress that “social justice” has nothing to do with society taking justice into its own hands, mob rule or the formation of such abhorrent organisations as the Klu Klux Klan. Rather, it’s about giving everyone, as we Australians put it: “a fair go” and fighting against all forms of discrimination…even the insidious, invisible ones!!

Bloggers Around the World Unite: 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion.

Bloggers Around the World Unite: 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion.

Writing one post about compassion for me is impossibly difficult. It’s like taking me to the most sumpuous smorgasbord restaurant (all you can eat)  and being told: “You can only eat one thing!”

WHAT THE???!!

My husband would tell you that’s impossible. That I could never, ever go into a smorgasbord restaurant with all those tempting tables of every kind of Chinese, Thai, Italian, Mexican etc etc food each piled up as high as Mt Everest and all those tantilising aromas ticklooing my senses coaxing me to completely pig out: “Eat me! Eat me! I know you want to eat me.” THat’s before we even get to dessert and I can’t even think about chocolate without salivating, even in extreme heat when most mortals find the concept of molten chocolate abhorrent.  They want something cool.

THerefore, you won’t be surprised when I tell you that I’ve never left a smorgasbord restaurant without feeling incredibly ill and being reminded of that infamous restaurant scene where Mr Creosote explodes in Monty Python’s: The Meaning of Life:

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aczPDGC3f8U

Unfortunately, my poor brain just can’t cope with sooo much choice and its default mode is:

“I’ll take the lot, thanks!!”

So with that graphic image of over-eating firmly etched in your brains, you’ll understand just how hard it is for me to write about just one aspect of compassion. There are literally limitless possibilities out there and a bit like Mr Creote, I could spew all those fabulous anecdotes and reflections out in the post, which would just be counter-productive….not to mention messy and very, very smelly, stinky and downright repulsive!!

MY instructor helping me up the magic carpet on my first ski lesson in 2013.

Giving me a helping hand: my ski instructor helping me up the magic carpet on my first ski lesson in 2013.

Just a few of the anecdotes I’ve considered revisiting today include address the love of a stranger and the compassionate support I received from my ski instructors who skied back down the mountain lugging my skis, boots and poles so I could take the chair lift back and conserve my small reserves of energy. Their compassion and using their physical strength for good, enabled me to ski down the best slope for my ability and give me the experience of a life time. It would not have happened otherwise and I would never have left the “magic carpet” or beginner’s area. Moreover, my testimony of skiing down the mountain for a second time after overcoming a flare up of my auto-immune disease, pneumonia and chemotherapy would not have happened.

Skiing down the mountain at Perisher in August 2013.

Skiing down the mountain at Perisher in August 2013.

I also wanted to write about some of the ways people actually treat people with disabilities with anything but compassion. Things like parking in disabled car spaces without a permit, crashing into people using a walking stick and how there is the completely inadequate social support to allow people with disabilities to live with dignity. For example, despite have a muscle-wasting life-threatening disease, it took me five years to get any domestic assistance and that is completely inadequate. There are also no long term supports for parents of young children who might be dying or living with severe, disabling illness and who require ongoing child care but lack the second income to pay for it.

Just to compound this sense of paralysis through analysis and compassion overload, I started looking up inspirational quotes about compassion.

Some were beautifully poetic:

“Grief can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom.”

Rumi

“The dew of compassion is a tear”.

Lord Byron

However, reading through compassion quotes became quite challenging and rather than concentrating my compassion into some kind of manageable, bite-sized portion, it expanded the scope exponentially:

“Compassion, in which all ethics must take root, can only attain its full breadth and depth if it embraces all living creatures and does not limit itself to mankind.”

Albert Schweitzer

“Let us fill our hearts with our own compassion – towards ourselves and towards all living beings.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

“If we’re destroying our trees and destroying our environment and hurting animals and hurting one another and all that stuff, there’s got to be a very powerful energy to fight that. I think we need more love in the world. We need more kindness, more compassion, more joy, more laughter. I definitely want to contribute to that.”

Ellen DeGeneres

Okay. So after reading all of these quotes, I’m starting to think i should go back to the ant I saw this morning lugging that mighty big crumb and offer it a lift. After all, an ant is one of these living creatures we’re been calling on to assist!!

Ouch! Double ouch!! My brain hurts. Really hurts. This compassion fatigue seems terminal!!

But to add further salt to the wound:

“Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph.”

Haile Selassie

That’s why I decided to write about compassion fatigue. Not the clinical version but just the garden variety which anybody with even just the smallest social conscience can experience. After all, each of us only has so many gold coins we can put in the collection tin and some of us, especially those living with any form of severe chronic illness, can feel like we could warrant some charitable donations ourselves. That’s particularly after paying for prescriptions, a medical specialist or about ten or when all our household appliances decide to breakdown at the same time. Moreover, if you have kids, you are the charitable institution. I remember my Dad telling us that: “Money doesn’t grow on trees”. “Kids, I don’t have a money tree, you know.” I don’t know whether we ever believed him. However, I still kind of believe in Santa, the Easter Bunny and the tooth fairy and given their generosity to kids worldwide, there has to be a money tree or at least a magic wishing tree out there somewhere!!

However, all this takes me back to what has almost become a cliche:

Think global: Act Local.

We can not help or save everyone but the chances are that we can help our neighbours in small, little ways that don’t really cost much such as giving people a lift, mowing their lawn and you know what I value the most: a smile and a hug. They are absolutely free and we could keep on passing them on. Well, we would be able to send and smiles and hugs right around the world if Australia, as our national anthem so ridiculously put it, wasn’t “girt by sea”. Gee, that ocean can get in the way at times!!

That’s been my modus operandi for awhile and while blogging and recent world events have extended my scope, I will still focus on the home front. After all, “charity begins at home”.

” I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”

Mother Theresa

I almost forgot to mention this but unlike Atlas,  we  don’t have to carry the weight of the world on our shoulders. The state of the world, the environment and all the people and animals in it are not our responsibiity alone. While as individuals we might be ineffective on our own, when we collaborate we can move mountains. Moreover, through the power of prayer, we can also call on divine intervention. Never under-estimate the power of prayer!! Miracles can and do happen although I must also admit that sometimes for whatever reason God seems to be deaf…just like our kids.

Here are some of the other posts I have written about compassion and tomorrow I will post a selection of posts which were part of 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion.

Brain Plasticity & Saving Two Australians on Indonesia’s Death Row: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/02/19/brain-plasticity-two-australians-on-death-row/

The Aftermath of the MH17 Tragedy: Compassion in Action!! Sowing those precious sunflower seeds: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/?s=sunflower

Emotional versus Physical healing: The Struggle To Heal The Broken Foot & the Sydney Siege: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/02/09/the-struggle-to-heal-the-broken-foot-and-the-sydney-siege/

Love of a Stranger: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/?s=love+of+a+stranger

Skiing: Back to the Mountain Almost: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2014/08/17/back-to-the-mountain-almost/

Have a wonderful International Day of Social Justice and I’ll start the ball rolling by sending a smile and a hug to you!

If you have participated in 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion, please leave a link and even a brief intro to your post in the comments here for inclusion in a follow-up post.

Love & blessings,

Rowena

Goodbye 2014- Byron Bay Lighthouse, Australia.

Goodbye 2014- Byron Bay Lighthouse, Australia.

Today, I’ve been going through my photos from 2014 and putting together an annual best of file, which has proved very enlightening. We have had so many amazing experiences such as sailing, skiing, going to the Sydney Writer’s Festival, trips to Palm Beach, wondering around Sydney’s Surry Hills. Yes, my health brought us stress but the chemo has worked and while there are still ups and downs as legendary Australian bushranger Ned Kelly said just before he went to the gallows: “Such is Life”.

So after much reflection and despite the very bad things that have happened, for us personally, we have pronounced 2014 a “jolly good year!”

Now, we launch into another New Year…2015 The UN Year of Light…with the usual optimism that a new year brings about a new beginning. That’s right. We all start off the new year with a perfectly clean slate without so much as a smudge.

Love & Blessings for the New Year,

Rowena, Geoff, Mister, Miss, Bilbo & Lady xxoo

PS The photo was “prepared earlier” at Byron Bay Lighthouse, Easter 2014.

Oh Christmas Boot!

Oh Christmas Boot!
Oh Christmas Boot!
Your tinsel shines so brightly!

After breaking my foot the other night, there weren’t going to be any fancy high heels for me this Christmas. Oh no! As my witty daughter pointed out, I was off to the “Bootique” instead.

This boot might be kind of grey, clompy and unattractive but I’ve never been so happy to see a boot before in my life. It was almost an instant fix… a miracle cure. I still took painkillers for a couple of days but wearing the blessed boot made a huge difference. I can walk around and I’m not going to have a near-death experience tripping over myself on a tangle of crutches. As you could imagine, if I could break my ankle on a relatively flat stretch of grass,I would have killed myself on crutches!!

Being 8 years old, our daughter wanted to sign my boot. Even though I didn’t have a cast, that’s what you do when you’re an 8 year old kid whenever one of your friends breaks anything. You have the fun of signing the cast while the other kid endures all the pain.

MIss decorating my foot with love.

MIss decorating my foot with love.

So instead of signing my cast, my daughter and I set about turning the boring grey, boot into a Christmas tree. She wrapped it in red tinsel and added decorations. While we were snapping away taking photos, I even threw a Santa hat over my foot. Yes, we were really getting into the Christmas cheer. Just had to wait til the kids went to bed so Geoff and I could get stuck into our box of Lindt dessert chocolates which were conveniently on sale before Christmas. Last night, there was also a glass of chilled Moscato! Now, we’re really living it up!!

Carpe Diem: Seize the Day!! It's are rare occasion that I'm able to wear heeled shoes but I wore these fabulous beauties to my cousin's engagement party at Circular Quay.

Carpe Diem: Seize the Day!! It’s are rare occasion that I’m able to wear heeled shoes but I wore these fabulous beauties to my cousin’s engagement party at Circular Quay.

What I particularly liked about our creative and Christmassy makeover of the boot, was that we were taking something bad and perhaps not turning it into a positive but certainly turning things around. Turning sadness and pain into a smile, a laugh..even if it’s only for an instant. As you have no doubt found yourself, laughing at adversity and bad luck is strangely healing…even when we hurt! It might be a cliche, but whatever doesn’t kill us, does make us stronger and I’ve been through much worse than the broken foot! This means that if and when we break a foot, we can still get up on stage and perform. We can push through the pain to see our children stand up on stage and sing, dance, play their guitar, before we collapse in a screaming heap. I’ve been home all week and the kids have now been dispatched to their grandparents but we are okay. We’ve acknowledged the bad stuff and worked through it. Laughed and poked fun at misfortune and we’ve kept going.

The kids were so loving and sweet. Mister brought me over a foot rest but Miss decided to be the foot rest herself.

The kids were so loving and sweet. Mister brought me over a foot rest but Miss decided to be the foot rest herself.

It just would have been nice to have had a hassle-free Christmas this year after going through chemo last Christmas and spending Boxing Day in hospital. After all, as much as you can put a positive spin on a chemo Christmas, it’s still what it is. As much as that chemo saved my life and brought us hope at a very dark hour, there are still many, many other places I could have been. Yet, that’s okay. I am always thankful. The chemo didn’t hit me as hard as I’d thought and instead of being in a cast this Christmas, I have a removable boot and I can get my feet wet. This is a very significant point when you’re spending summer at the beach.

In other words, I can acknowledge my gripes without becoming another Grumpy Cat.

Whatever happens in life, we have to keep moving and keep turning our bad luck into our funny stories, jokes and anecdotes. That, along with my faith and knowing that God is with me no matter what…these are the things which sustain me along the road and give me hope.

By the way, I must admit that I’ve felt mixed emotions eating Lindt chocolates after the siege. I live near Sydney and Martin Place is at the heart of our city…particularly now as it overflows with floral tributes, tears and love for the hero hostages who lost their lives in the siege. Is it okay to enjoy a beautiful Lindt chocolate when those precious people lost their lives in the Lindt Cafe? Shouldn’t I be more noble, self-controlled and simply go without?

I have given this a bit of thought and decided that it is okay to both eat Lindt and give Lindt this Christmas. It’s not that I believe in just getting on with it but I think it’s okay. You can’t blame a chocolate for such evil…only for the usual temptations of over-indulgence. Perhaps, this is being presumptuous, but I don’t think the hostages would want us to stop buying Lindt on their account. They were all lovers of Lindt which is why they were in that cafe in the first place. I also have to admit that I have terrible willpower and what with my broken foot and dreadful cough, there’s no better remedy than chocolate…especially Lindt!!

After breaking my foot, I’m particularly hoping a chocolate a day will keep the doctors at bay…especially before Christmas!!

xx Rowena

PS: It is a strange irony that I managed to ski at Perisher for 5 days without falling over and yet broke my foot simply walking along the grass at school.

Skiing down the mountain at Perisher in August 2013.

Skiing down the mountain at Perisher in August 2013.

Skiing Like A Banana

Just to recap, I am skiing down at Perisher with my husband and two kids. While the rest of the family are good skiers, I have a muscle wasting disease which also affects my lungs as well as a neurological condition. I have joined the Disabled Winter Sports’ Association (DWA) and am having daily lessons with a private ski instructor who has adaptive ski training credentials. Last year, I managed to ski down Perisher’s Front Valley and after subsequently being severely ill, I am trying to ski down the mountain again…turn my mountain around. This is my personal challenge and it’s definitely not a piece of cake!

Welcome to Day 3.

I was seriously intending to tackle the mountain today but I was feeling quite unsteady on my feet and giddy getting my ski boots on. I was also a bit short of breath. Decided to play it safe and spend another day on the magic carpet…the beginners run. Don’t want weird medical stuff happening out there on the mountain. No nasty surprises.

At the same time, this being day 3 and I was still on the magic carpet, I was starting to wonder. Was I playing it too safe? Why couldn’t I just catapult myself out there and do it? I knew I could do it so what was holding me back?

In retrospect, timing is everything. The time has to be right and like an egg about to hatch, the chick inside has to be ready to come out. A yolk is never going to survive. It’s way too early and it has to wait.

Of course, this kind of thinking goes quite against the grain in our modern fast-paced automatic world. Everything has to be instant…immediate. When there isn’t the time for things to ripen naturally, we blast it with chemical sprays or other accelerants and make it happen now…ready or not.

I can’t operate like that. I have to take it slow…inch by painstaking inch. Being slow, isn’t something that wins you many medals. At least not upfront but the rewards are there in the long run. You are still standing to collect your medal at the end of the race. Just ask Winter Olympic Gold Medal Skater, David Bradbury.

I christened myself the “Queen of the Carpet” half in pride, as a bit of a joke but there was also an undercurrent of sadness. I wanted to be a real skier and get out there on the big slopes. Get out of the nest. Surrounded by kids and parents wielding cameras, iphones, ipads and anything they could to capture their little darlings for eternity, I had clearly outgrown the nest.

At the same time, I was working hard on my techniques and was developing the skills that would get me down the mountain upright on two skis feeling positive about the experience instead of being scared out of my wits and or crashing all the way downhill and vowing never to ski again. For me, having that positive experience is way more important than collecting notches on my ski pole.

However, although I was merely going up and down the beginner’s carpet, I was focusing on improving my techniques and was really improving. It was a definite case of slow and steady wins the race but I was still in the nest and to win the race, you have to compete.

I don’t know what most skiers aim to achieve at the snow. Whether it’s a matter of actually learning how to ski and understanding what’s involved and working on your technique or whether they just want to get down the mountain anyway they can… as long as it’s not in a box.

It probably depends on how long you’re staying and whether you’ve caught “the bug”. We go down for 5 day blocks and find that really enables us to not only pick up where we left off last year but also to extend ourselves. Skiing is a dangerous sport and even if you’re being cautious, you can still get mowed down by someone else and pay the ultimate price.

This more cautious approach is quite different from skiing down a run and ticking it off your list. Our son told us that one of the boys in ski school had gone down an advanced black run and he was very impressed. However, when we quizzed him further, it turned out that the boy fell down the whole way and that didn’t count.

So here I was on Day 3 back on the magic carpet yet again but this time with my new instructor, Mark.

After living and breathing through my big toe yesterday, today Mark was teaching me to ski like a banana. Of course, I didn’t have to dress up like B1 or B2 from Bananas in Pyjamas. All I had to do was lean over my downhill ski like a banana.

I’m not too proud to admit that I found all this banana talk very helpful. It was something I could picture immediately and understand. At the same time, leaning over my downhill ski felt all wrong and back to front. After all, shouldn’t I be leaning uphill, away from the slope? Leaning downhill made no sense at all. Wouldn’t I fall over? Then again, I’ve never been good at physics.

In addition to learning to ski like a banana, Mark introduced me to the Eiffel Tower, this time as a how NOT to ski. This is where you ski with your legs wide apart and you’re body is in an A-frame, like the Eiffel Tower. Instead, I needed to ski with my legs together keeping my skis parallel.

There was motive in all this Eiffel Tower and banana talk. The plan was to improve my turning so I could use turning to stop and slow down instead of relying on snowploughing, which is really tough on your legs. Considering that my legs experience noticeable muscle weakness, I particularly need to be strategic and take advantage of any strategies I can to save my strength. That’s not simply being lazy but strategic. However, skiing without snowplowing felt like riding a bike down a steep hill without brakes…unnerving if not outright terrifying. However, my skiing had improved and it was time to leave the brakes behind and move on…onward and upward!

At the same time, leaving snowploughing behind felt really strange because it’s really hammered into you as a rank beginner. Like many other skills, you often have to unlearn what you know to progress to the next level…as strange as that might feel at the time.

We all have to graduate and leave the nest.

Indeed, that was the next thing on the agenda. How was I going to get down the mountain? Instead of skiing down Front Valley like I did last year which is fairly steep and very scary, the new plan was for me to try Happy Valley. I’d never been down there but at least the name sounded right. The plan was for me to get towed across to the Quad Chair. Get off at Mid-Station and ski down Happy Valley and then take the Happy Valley T-Bar back up to Mid-Station and then for me to somehow get my skis back down without me while I take the Quad Chair back down as a foot passenger.

The usual thing is to ski down Happy Valley and take the Happy Valley T-Bar up and then to ski down Front Valley. This was too much for me in one hit and so we needed to cut a few corners. However, as you can see, there’s a small hitch to the plan…

How do my skis get back down without me?

Hmm, interesting challenges ahead.

That night, the family went out for dinner and I asked Geoff and the kids for their advice. We had quite a long family discussion about how I should proceed. As much as I had outgrown the beginner’s magic carpet, it was quite awkward to get me to the next level…to take on mountains other than Front Valley.

Decided to have a chat with them at the booking desk tomorrow to see what they recommend. Despite all my procrastination, I really am needing to leave the nest and venture onto some “grown-up” slopes.

Moving onward and upward…I hope!

Beware of the Big Ski Toe!

“…the wind began to moan and groan:

away off in the distance she seemed to hear

a voice crying –

“Who’s got my hairy toe?

Who’s got my hairy toe”

So there I was out on the magic carpet on Day 2. Initially, we were going to ski across to the quad chair and head over to Happy Valley. However, my lesson was at 3.00 and so I’d done an hour of practice that morning and my legs were tired and almost out of action. That meant that we stayed on the carpet to improve my technique instead.

While this might seem less challenging than taking on the mountain, it was hard work. We were almost moving in slow motion to improve my technique and my muscles were working hard. Ursina addressed this directly. By working on my technique and how I positioned my weight and my body, the aim was to ski more efficiently. In particular, the plan was to snowplough less and to use my turns to slow me down which put much less pressure on my legs. Of course, I felt quite awkward trying to get my body and my brain to work together when they were both feeling equally awkward and jerky. I really had to switch my brain into high gear and it was jolting in protest all the way.

Not unsurprisingly, I’ve never been an athlete and aside from my violin lessons (yes, playing the violin is physical as much as musical), I haven’t given much thought to which body part you stick where to maximise performance. I’m not that into physics or how things work either. I just like to press a button and everything goes! It just goes!!

While I had been a bit apprehensive about having a different instructor, the lesson went really well and I was comfortable straight away. Indeed, I had 3 different instructors during the week and this turned out really well. They were all adaptive ski instructors, which means they are specially trained to teach people with disabilities and serious illness. Yet, what I found particularly beneficial was that each of my instructors had their own perspective or box of tricks and this really helped to consolidate my technique and I improved so much. Of course, it was also very beneficial to have private lessons so we could work intimately on my technique one-on-one. This meant that we were focusing on exactly what I needed to change to improve. That’s the benefit of having a private lesson and thanks to the special rates for DWA members, the lessons were half price. I also found that while each instructor had their own approach, they briefed each other really well so my lessons fitted seamlessly together, building up my performance brick by brick. I was really impressed at how it all came together and so was Tom when he came back. I wasn’t an expert but I was in the flow.

Confession time. I'm heading up for a hot chocolate not to ski.

Confession time. I’m heading up for a hot chocolate not to ski.

Getting back to my big toe, when was the last time you seriously thought about what your big toe was doing? I mean, don’t you just shove a sock on it and hide it in a shoe?!! Okay, so I admit that I occasionally cut my toe nails and might scream and hop about when I drop something bang right on top of it but otherwise my big toe is the very much neglected thing at the end of my foot.

That all changed in this ski lesson where I had to focus all my energy on putting my weight on my big toe.

Well, I’m sure my lesson involved more than my big toe but that was the focus. I know she explained the theory at the time but now that I’m back home in front of my lap top, the explanations aren’t coming back to me. That’s probably because I filed it somewhere under “physics” and I’m much better with things filed under “p” for “photography” and “poetry” instead. There’s actually a lot of physics involved in skiing. However, I’ll cheat and consult my in-house physics expert. I promise to keep the physics lesson short and sweet. That way neither of us will turn into geeks.

Actually, Geoff was otherwise occupied watching the last lap of his car race so I resorted to Google.

Just as well I did Google those big ski toes. Turns out that you only put your weight on your big toe to turn. If I hadn’t checked that out, you could have been skiing turning round and round in eternal circles getting dizzy. Obviously, I am not a certified or otherwise ski instructor. I’m still an awkward, fumbling beginner. Now, I remember that I had to straighten myself up in between turns and have my skis parallel. I think that’s how it went. As I said, physics isn’t my thing and I have a memory like a goldfish but I still remember that verse from primary school:

“Who’s got my hairy toe?

Who’s got my hairy toe”

For some strange reason, every time my instructor mentioned my big toe, I heard those words echo in my head.

No doubt you’ve heard this poem/story at school or beside camp fire. As much as this haunting verse used to scare the begeebies out of me, I absolutely loved it…especially the ending where the narrator shouts out: “You’ve got it!!!” and you totally leap out of your skin and then laugh your head off. For some strange reason, there’s something about scary stories that makes kids laugh. Weird!

Anyway, enough of big toes, hairy toes and scary monsters.

I still had to get myself off the magic carpet and down a mountain.That’s been my challenge all along.

Not only getting back up that big, bad scary mountain but also skiing all the way down.

The Australian Alps

The Australian Alps

That’s right. Turning my mountain around for a second time. I was getting close. So very close and yet…

My goodness!

I could feel one hell of a headache coming on!!

The ski journey continues…

xx Rowena

Dipping My Toe in the Snow.

Wow! After more than seven long hours of driving and spending our first night in Jindabyne, we arrived bright and early in Perisher, otherwise known as “the snow”.

As I looked around soaking it up, I felt like I’d landed in a huge tub of cheap, whiter-than-white, vanilla ice cream. You know the stuff that’s pure white and not one of the better, creamy vanilla ice creams. The snow was deliciously thick and the skiers out on the slopes looked like those miniature figures you stick on top of birthday cakes. All we were missing was the candles, a match and Happy Birthday!

The weather wasn’t the best on our first morning. It had rained a lot the day before and the mountain was shrouded in mist. You couldn’t even see mid-station, let alone the summit. Visibility is a good thing when you’re skiing. By midday, the mist had lifted clearing the way for azure blue skies, which we enjoyed for the rest of the week. It was serious beach weather and all that was missing was the water. However, despite the balmy sunshine, it was still only 6-8°C out there and definitely NOT bikini weather…even for our daughter!!

Sun shining through the Snow Gums, Perisher.

Sun shining through the Snow Gums, Perisher.

While our kids went straight to ski school and my husband headed out to the slopes as soon as he could get the rest of us organised, I’d booked an adaptive ski lesson at 11.30 and had a bit of a wait. I am a member of the Disabled Winter Sports’ Association and I receive lift tickets and ski instruction half-price. We also received some much appreciated financial assistance under the Flexi-Rest program.

My instructor helping me on the Magic Carpet last year. I didn't need that hand this year. Could get up the carpet myself.

My instructor helping me on the Magic Carpet last year. I didn’t need that hand this year. Could get up the carpet myself.

I was stoked to book a lesson in with Tom, my ski instructor from last year. Tom is a specially-trained, adaptive ski instructor. He’s mean on two skis but I’ve heard that he’s also a legend in a sit chair. While it’s an achievement to be able to ski at this level, it is such an inspiration to see someone use their physical strength and expertise for good and to help people who are experiencing a few extra challenges, achieve their dream of skiing. This not only takes exceptional skiing ability but also a detailed understanding of the subtleties of so many different disabilities, treating people with respect and knowing when and how to encourage while bearing real and potentially risky limitations in mind. I was going to say that this is a gift, a talent but it’s no doubt taken a lot of hard work, a good set of listening ears and a real passion and empathy for helping people with disabilities to reach their potential.

I can’t tell you what this has meant to me and our family. It really is a terrible thing when you can’t go on a family holiday and do things together. That one member of the family is shut out and excluded when with a bit of patient, qualified assistance, they could be taking part. While I always appreciate a bit of “me-time” and having a break, it’s quite something else to be shut out of family activities. Through Tom’s help, the bird was set free from her cage and truly able to soar!!

Last year, Tom actually skied backwards down the mountain for me. That’s right. Tom skied backwards down the mountain so I could ski forwards feeling safe yet encouraged. This was much the same way as you see a parent encourage their toddler to walk beyond their first few tentative steps. How many people can say that anyone’s done that for them? Not many, I’m sure!! But Tom did that for me. Being a ski instructor, skiing backwards down a mountain wasn’t a big deal for him but it made a huge difference to a completely freaked out, panic-stricken me. There I was gobsmacked, perched on the very edge of the world holding my breath as I looked down, down, down. Perisher Village had shrunk into nothing more than a handful of dots. It was such a long, long way down and I was held in the very grip of fear. Indeed, I was frozen to the spot until I fell over. As much as I wanted a skidoo to come to my rescue, Tom went backwards down the steepest part at the top of the mountain holding my hands to encourage me down. I’m surprised that he wasn’t needing to dangle chocolate in front of me to lure me down, I was that frightened. At the same time, I desperately wanted to pull off this challenge. It had been in the pipeline for an entire year and I wanted to ski down this blasted mountain and turn my personal mountain around. I wanted to ring that victory bell!!!!

So having reached the bottom of the mountain, you can understand why Tom is my hero and has earned my respect. Oh please! I’m not some shameless, gushing cougar. No, I’m a skier! Tom and I discuss life, philosophy, writing, books and of course skiing while we’re out on the slopes. You do get to have a bit of a chat while you’re on the magic carpet. It takes awhile to crank you up even a small slope.

So there I was (along with Geoff who wanted to see how I went) a year later meeting Tom for my lesson on day 1. It was great to catch up but at the same time, I was apprehensive. How was I going to go after getting through pneumonia, a flare up of my auto-immune disease (which attacks and destroys my muscles by the way) and chemo? This savage trifecta might have knocked me down and tried its best to wipe me out but I’d got up again. Not just on my own strength but because effective treatment is available and also through the power of prayer. God wasn’t sleeping on the job either.

When it came to getting back onto the snow again, that’s where having a qualified instructor really made a difference. Left to my own devices, I wouldn’t have known quite how to get myself back onto the snow. However, Tom had me moving my legs back and forwards to get used to gliding and we did a few other bits and pieces and my ski legs almost came straight back to me. I was pleasantly surprised and somewhat amazed.

In no time at all, I was back up on the magic carpet and we were both seriously impressed. I had pretty much picked up where I’d left off last time. I was fairly smooth aside from some serious jolts and wobbles getting on the magic carpet. We did some snowploughs, turns and once again he drew the `S’ in the snow with his pole to illustrate turning. It all went so well…almost uneventful, which was pretty hard to believe after everything I’d been through. Last year, Tom even had to remind me to breathe on my first couple of days. Talk about progress!

It turned out that Tom was going to be away for a few days and so I’d be having some different instructors. I was initially very wary because Tom knew me so well and I hate having to explain my issues over and over again. Tom had also been quite literally my tower of strength last year. I am quite tall and when I fall over, it can be quite difficult for me to get myself up again even on land let alone on slippery skis in the snow. I knew Tom could do that. It really helps when you know someone knows you in this way and can help you.

Yet, while Tom and I are great mates, it was good for me to go with the other instructors because they each brought something new or emphasized a different element and so I developed quite a lot of depth to my skiing. It also meant that I came to rely more on my own strength and appreciate that it was me and not just Tom that was bringing about my success. I was practicing for an hour every day in addition to my lesson so I’d made quite a commitment to improving my skiing and was working as hard as I could. While practice might make perfect and it is tempting to try to get value for your ski pass, I do have a “smaller engine” and I really had to pace myself to get through the day. Two hours of skiing for me was my limit.

Close up a snow gum. They are so tenacious, enduring often extreme conditions yet so beautiful.

Close up a snow gum. They are so tenacious, enduring often extreme conditions yet so beautiful.

While my first day of skiing went exceptionally well, I hit an unexpected snag. Someone took my skis. Everyone stacks their skis on the racks provided and given that it’s mostly hired gear, you can understand people getting their skis mixed up. However, I had been using Geoff’s own poles and these were clearly labelled in not one but three places. At first, we spotted a pair of similar skis near where I’d left mine and thought there had been a mix up. Night skiing was on so people were still hanging around at the end of the day waiting to go out again so there were still quite a lot of skis out there. Soon those skis had been claimed and things were looking bad. Geoff rang through to the ski hire company and fortunately, someone had dropped my skis back to a ski hire place in Jindabyne. It turned out their skis were a different colour to mine on a different rack so you’ve really got to wonder what they were thinking. There I was with all sorts of memory issues from chemo brain yet someone else mixed their skis up and took mine!! You could say it takes brains.

That night, Geoff logged in and check out our ski stats. While my altitude metres were pretty woeful and that included my trip up to mid station as a walker to get my hot chocolate, I did actually score the most lift rides for the day. That’s the advantage of taking the magic carpet. It’s short and sweet.

The easy way to get down the mountain.

The easy way to get down the mountain.

As pleased as I was with my progress, the mountain was still looming ahead. How would I work up the courage to get down the mountain again?

I still didn’t know.

Stayed tuned for further installments!

xx Rowena

The Snow…An Australian Story.

Before I launch into a grand account of our ski trip, I thought I’d better introduce my overseas guests to what we Australians call (please pause and wait for the drum roll)…

“The Snow!”

No doubt, it comes as no surprise that we get very little snow in Australia and snowing itself is a rare, very exciting and even memorable event. Indeed, each and every snowflake is precious… so very, very precious!!

 

Most of our snow, at least on the Australian mainland, is concentrated in the Snowy Mountains, which are part of the Great Dividing Range on Australia’s East coast south of Canberra. As most of our snow falls in this region, it is colloquially known as “The Snow”. You see, there isn’t much snow anywhere else apart from the odd freak dump and that usually isn’t skiable. It’s only good for snow fights and bragging rights. Yes, snow is so rare in Australia that being able to say you’ve touched or even seen real snow is something for kids to show off about.

This lack of snow also explains our comparatively poor performances at the Winter Olympics. Although we first competed in 1936, we didn’t receive our first medal until 1998. As a nation of sporting champions, that speaks volumes. We simply don’t have sufficient access to snow to participate en masse, let alone compete.

Mount Kosciuszko01Oct06.JPG

Mt Kosciuszko looking like a an innocuous garden-variety knoll. Should we enhance Australia’s tallest mountain or perhaps we should adopt a mountain some place else? I’m actually wondering whether the magic carpet is actually steeper than this old fellow…

The Snowies culminate in Australia’s tallest mountain, Mt Kosciusko, which is something of a national embarrassment as far as tallest mountains are concerned. Looking more like a pancake than a jagged mountain peak, Mt Kosciusko clocks in at 2,228 metres above sea level. Obviously, this makes “Kozzy” little more than a pimple on the side of Mt Everest, which stands at a towering 8,848 m.

Yet, despite being so vertically challenged, some bright spark has decided to re-brand the Snowies as “The Australian Alps”. As a marketing person myself with considerable imaginative flair, I can appreciate a bit of hyperbole. However, when it comes to describing the Snowies as “alps”, somebody seriously needs to get their eyesight checked. Although our alps do have snow in winter, they’re nothing more than big hills. Actually, dressing our Snowies up as “alps” reminds me of a pre-pubescent teen strutting around in an F-cup bra with sport’s socks shoved down their front. For better or worse (depending on how steep you actually like your mountains), it’s going to take a lot more than a pair of football socks to turn the “Australian Alps” into anything like the kind of mountains Heidi calls home. No, that would take serious earth-moving equipment and even more dirt than you’d find in a British tabloid.

Don’t get me wrong. Personally, I’m more than happy with our Snowies. As the saying goes, more than a handful is a waste and I certainly found even our relatively gentle ski slopes Everest enough. They are what they are. We don’t need to call them Alps just to attract tourists. After all, not every skier wants to fly before they can crawl!

Welcome to Perisher!

Welcome to Perisher!

While there are a number of different ski resorts to choose from in both New South Wales, Victoria and also Tasmania, we ski at Perisher resort, which has a huge mass of lifts and trails sprawling in between Guthega, Blue Cow, Smiggins and Perisher itself. Most of the time, I stuck to the Magic Carpet although I skied at Blue Cow about 12 years ago and absolutely loved it. I have also skied down Perisher’s Front and Happy Valleys. I have never skied in Thredbo but understand it has steeper slopes and hence doesn’t have quite so many young kids or rank beginners on the slopes. While I met a few people who flitted between Thredbo and Perisher, we find in easier to plant ourselves at Perisher. We save money buying 5 day lift passes in advance online and we get ourselves lockers for absolutely everything so we’re not lugging stuff to and from the car every day and can juggle things like cameras, snacks and walking shoes while we’re out on the slopes.

Geoff who is obviously a much better and more experienced skier than me, loves Perisher because there is so much variety and you can ski around the resort trying different runs and says there is so much to explore. There are also 47 lifts, which makes a huge difference in being able to access a real variety of different runs. I imagine that this would be very desirable to more advanced skiers who don’t share my love affair with the magic carpet down below and actually venture out.

Snow Gums at Mid-Station, Perisher.

Snow Gums at Mid-Station, Perisher.

What the Australian ski fields might lack in altitude, we more than compensate for in beauty and unique character. You see, our snowfields are home to the snow gum, a very tenacious yet beautiful tree which somehow manages to thrive in very adverse conditions and is so different to the firs you might experience overseas. I have to admit, however, that I didn’t take in much of the scenery while I was out skiing. I was too focused on my instructor’s skis and was deliberately not looking down. I didn’t want to freak myself out!

Close-up of the beautiful colours running through snow gum bark . What a beautiful palette!

Close-up of the beautiful colours running through snow gum bark . What a beautiful palette!

I don’t know if this is unique to our ski fields and we were also lucky with the weather but even in the very depths of winter, we can have deep azure blue skies and glorious warm sunshine. It is hard to believe but it was so hot and balmy we could have been at the beach. That is, as long as we had our ski gear on. Of course, it cooled down significantly after sunset but by day we had some truly glorious weather!!

Kangaroo eating a carrot, Jindabyne.

Kangaroo eating a carrot, Jindabyne.

If you are looking for skiing kangaroos, I haven’t come across any as yet but I have definitely seen critter prints in the snow which might suggest they head out after dark. There are certainly plenty of kangaroos around the ski fields. Where we usually stay in Jindabyne, there are resident mobs of kangaroos which we’ve hand fed before heading out for a day’s skiing. They’re a real treat.

Yet, although seriously outnumbered by just about every other sport in existence, Australia too has its mad, completely obsessed skiers. However, in Australia this obsession with skiing itself is almost superseded by a fixation with the snow reports and how many centimetres and hopefully metres have fallen. This is a very serious business and every skier tries to time their ski trip at precisely the right moment to experience optimum conditions. However, there seems to be no pattern from season to season. It’s all pot luck. This feels like a serious gamble when you have to fork out big money for accommodation months in advance and there are enough short seasons where you could easily blow your dough. Yet, these wrangles with the weather are no different to booking a summer beach holiday where there’s the usual threat of rain.

Even the Cheshire Cat was out there!

Even the Cheshire Cat was out there!

While I have been talking about skiing, I must admit that there is another creature on the slopes and I’m not talking about all the cows, giraffes and other onesies lolling about.

Wild Zebra Spotted on the slopes.

Wild Zebra Spotted on the slopes.

 

No. I’m talking about snowboarders or “boarders”. As a skier and a beginner skier at that, I’m unable to elaborate much about them except to say that I’ve spotted boarders parked under trees and even grazing in the middle of “ski” runs. There are significant “hostilities” between skiers and boarders on the slopes, which I haven’t bought into. I am too busy focusing on my own skis and checking up and down the slope for hazards to get into anything peripheral.

My main gripe is with the behaviour of doting parents on the magic carpet. The magic carpet is Perisher’s beginner ski run and you take the carpet up the top which is easier for beginners to manage than the t-bar or chair lift. The magic carpet is an area for all beginners, not just kids and certainly is not a reserved area for parents photographing their absolutely gorgeously cute beyond all measure little cherub with their state-of-the-art camera phones. I’m sure even royal photographers are less intrusive and don’t feel they have an ordained right to knock down learner skiers in their quest for the perfect shot. After ski school finishes, these parents gather at the bottom of the slope and I mean on the slope watching their little darlings and blocking other skiers from having a run. I was actually having a lesson during all this chaos and had three runs ruined by thoughtless parents and when you are paying potentially more than $3.00 a minute, you are understandably annoyed especially as some of these parents haven’t even paid for lift passes.

Last year, we even saw a father photographing his 1 year old toddler in the middle of the magic carpet. This was really dangerous because even beginners can pick up a bit of speed but we can really struggle to stop and have trouble controlling direction. When you see a small child in your path, your natural instincts tell you to stay away. Not to hit it. For an adult to run over a child feels really, really bad even on the snowfields and even when the child’s very own parents have put them at risk. Yet, so many parents don’t seem to share my concern about the inherent risks. For some reason they become so one-eyed about their child, that they can’t see anything else. As I said, that can be very dangerous on the ski fields and even more so in the beginner’s area. Remember this is where the rank beginners are learning and while we might be able to ski down the hill, there are no guarantees we are going to stop. Skiing is a risky and dangerous sport and as much as I love photography, you do need to question whether a shot is worth the risk. Such tunnel vision has no place on a ski slope.

There are also other activities peculiar to the “mountain”. While many might associate skiing with inhaling all that beautiful fresh mountain air and increasingly your physical fitness, smoking is an activity in its own right. I seriously struggled to breathe at times with the clouds of cigarette smoke looming in outdoor areas. Some smokers were courteous, but one bloke was pointing his cigarette away from his mates and practically stuck it in my mouth. I was young once myself and had the odd cigarette but these days I feel we all have a right to clean air.

In keeping with this healthy snowstyle, you also seem to be able to fill up on beer as early as 10.30AM which is otherwise known as “beer o’clock”. These early starts aren’t just restricted to beer drinkers either. An older guy well into his 60s or 70s sat opposite me and pulled out a hip flask of whiskey around a similar time much to his wife’s horror. If you are a wife or perhaps it’s even your own father who stubbornly refuses to tow the line, but I’m you’ll appreciate just how difficult it can be to manage a naughty husband!

My budget hot chocolate with a mountain of cream to rival Mt Kosciusko.

My budget hot chocolate with a mountain of cream to rival Mt Kosciusko.

While I might be sounding like some holier than thou prude, I wasn’t much better. Beer and cigarettes weren’t my thing but I had my own poison. No matter what, I always made it up to mid-station before 10.30AM for my budget $2.50 Hot Chocolate with its luscious swirl of thick, whipped cream and two molten marshmallows. It might not give you lung cancer but it could certainly block a few arteries. So you see, I’m not such a health freak after all!

With hedonism of all kinds alive and well halfway up the mountain, who has any energy left for the après-ski?

Sounds like a hot shower or even a long soak in the tub is in order along with an early night.

Oops! That’s right. It’s only 10.30AM and I haven’t even got started yet!

 

 

Back to the Mountain…Almost!

The interesting and often challenging thing about being part of a family is that you not only get to go on your own adventures and do your own thing, but that  your family also takes you on all sorts of journeys to places you would never, ever consider going. As a result, you find yourself stretched, pulled and even contorted in all sorts of directions you never thought possible and if you don’t snap somewhere along the way, you actually stretch and grow so far beyond your perceived limitations and you emerge your own personal super hero. I understand that you might not have seen my lasoo, but I am Wonder Woman by the way!

Quite often,  I at least, find myself thrown in the deep end, way out of my depth on these adventures. Thrashing my arms around in the swirling vortex, I feel myself about to go under and yet  I somehow find my strength and go on to exceed even my wildest expectations. Amazingly, the frightened little mouse emerges from her ordeal a lion, even if my roar is still a little soft.

Family Portrait 2012- I had serious breathing troubles climbing up the hill.

Family Portrait 2012- I had serious breathing troubles climbing up the hill.

Given my struggles with my autoimmune disease which attacks my muscles and lungs, these challenges can be terrifying and intense. However,  my fear is counterbalanced by my intense desire to be an active part of our family and be able to do things with them. Sometimes, these challenges involve relatively simple things like taking the dog for a walk, walking to the shops or being able to go the park after the school. However, every now and then some big challenges come along and it doesn’t get bigger or more terrifying for me than our annual ski holiday.

The rest of the family are mad skiers who have been checking the snow reports for a few months now and started crossing down the days to our next ski trip as soon as they exited the slopes last year as green oases were opening up and the alpine streams were flowing fast.

Enjoying a Toblerone Hot Chocolate at Mid-Station, Perisher.

Enjoying a Toblerone Hot Chocolate at Mid-Station, Perisher.

I, on the other hand, prefer traveling up and down Perisher’s Front Valley on the chairlift, stopping off at mid-station for a decadent Toblerone Hot Chocolate served with a marshmallow snowman on a swizzle stick and walking through the snow taking photos. However, there was also something about the allure of skiing which sort of drew me in…no doubt, seeing how it made the rest of the family glow!

Two years ago, we took the kids skiing for the first time. They, and of course, my husband had a mad time and came home totally ski obsessed. I didn’t go skiing that time thinking that it wouldn’t be possible. This idea was challenged when we met the para-olympic ski team training down there and they put me onto the Disable Winter Sports’ Association. I don’t use a wheelchair and so there are some things they can do that I can’t.  I wasn’t sure if I’d make it down the hill in a sit chair and didn’t think I’d ever be able to pull off conventional skiing until I met my instructor. Yet, this meeting provided the initial spark.

Thank goodness  you don't have to take on the mountain alone!

Thank goodness you don’t have to take on the mountain alone!

This spark grew into something of a determined flame.

A dream was born.

I was going to turn my mountain around. Instead of climbing up the mountain like so many garden-variety adventures, I was going to do my own thing and ski down the mountain instead. I was initially going to do it as a fundraiser but in the end decided that it was too much to organise and that I was better off just making sure I reached the bottom on the mountain. You could just imagine organising some kind of huge event and then being too scared to go down and instead of being the all-conquering hero, being rescued rather red-faced by ski patrol in the ski-do.

Anyway, you’ll read in a previous post that I actually made it down to the bottom of the mountain. Of course, I didn’t feel like the conquering hero at the time. I was too busy shaking in my boots and relieved it was all over. Yet, I’d done it. I had conquered the mountain!!

However, instead of this achievement being the finale for what had been an amazing year of personal achievements, it actually signalled the beginning of a serious fight to save my life. While down at Perisher, I developed the beginnings of the chest infection which developed into pneumonia  and this pneumonia became seriously life-threatening. My lungs were almost cactus according to my specialist. The pneumonia meant new CT scans of my lungs and these showed that the scaring or fibrosis associated with my auto-immune disease had progressed and was now “established” not “mild”. This development resulted in some very serious medical appointments but then I was offered chemo which, at the time, felt like a life raft to a drowning soul. The chemo worked but it has been a long road and I’m not back yet. Lungs have improved from 43% (the worst was unrecorded) to 60% and my lung specialist was “impressed”. I don’t think he’d expected that. My muscle strength is also pretty good. Most of the problems I had relating to my auto-immune disease have improved significantly but ironically I’ve been battling “chemo brain” and have dreadful troubles with my memory and any sense of time. Multitasking of any sort is impossible. I am dependent on lists, alarms and the occasional cattle prod from Geoff, the kids or the pile of school notes.

After going through all of that and I must admit that I somehow successfully managed to squeeze my violin exam and Christmas in between it all, I am rather apprehensive about returning to the snow this year. I remember all those awful out of control feelings as my skis took off seemingly well ahead of my body and the absolute nail-biting horror of looking out from the top of the mountain and seeing the village way, way down below. I felt like I was perched on the very edge of the world about to fall off. Do I really need to go through that level of fear all over again? Isn’t doing it once and knocking it off my non-existent bucket list, enough?!!

Of course, I have replayed that horror over and over and over again as I prepare for my return to the mountain. As much as I feel like letting that fear engulf me and running as far away from the mountain as my ski boots can carry me, I’m also determined to show that mountain that I mean business. That it’s not going to get me again. I can beat the mountain and I can also take out the muscle disease, the dreaded lung disease and I am going to be so much more than a survivor. I am going to be an almighty conqueror. I’ll put in a little prayer request at this point because I need to acknowledge the one who is the wind beneath my wings. I know prayer has helped to get me where I am and I’ll certainly need it as I conquer the mountain again!

Out walking the dog preparing for our ski holiday.

Out walking the dog preparing for our ski holiday.

So I ask you to think of me as I keep walking the dog to get myself fit for this latest challenge on my journey. I have already taken so much more than the first step. I have conquered the mountain before and now all I need to do is go back. That is what it means to be brave!

I can do it!

I can do it!

I can do it!

Wish me luck!

xx Ro

PS: To all my overseas blogging mates who have real mountains to climb, you might find my angst about skiing down what could be seen as a “hill” a little petty but where I live, it is flat so even a little knoll seems significant. We can’t all have Everest in our own backyards (although I must admit, I’m sure Everest lives inside my head and challenges me each and every day as I stagger out of bed!)

PPS. I should point out that while I am more afraid of tackling the mountain this time because I have been down there before, at the same time,  I have been able to reassure myself that I am in pretty good physical shape and I can also reassure myself that because I’ve done it before, I can do it again. I will also have my instructor to help me. It’s great to know that we don’t have to conquer our mountains alone.

I am also looking forward to skiing more with Geoff and the kids hopefully beyond the learner’s magic carpet this year.

Gee…now I really am starting to sound like Wonder Woman and I might even confuse myself.

 

 

Turning My Mountain Around

Now that I have pulled off my Great Downhill Challenge, it might appear easy, achievable, a fait accompli which was never in doubt.

That is the great value of hindsight. Until I had actually skied down the Front Valley at Perisher, even I had my doubts. I was optimistic, hopeful and had put in the hard yards. Yet, the great unknown was still hovering over my hopes like an omnipresent raincloud threatening to burst. All I could do was have a go and do my best. I booked myself into a private, adaptive ski lesson and really didn’t know how things would pan out. Far from being the all conquering hero, I was 100% chicken wobbling on my skis gritting my teeth, holding my breath and staring at my feet. Thank goodness I had my instructor Tom to guide my path. That made all the difference.

My other life- having my transfusion of IVIG. It's actually quite relaxing.

My other life- having my transfusion of IVIG. It’s actually quite relaxing.

Skiing isn’t an easy sport for anyone and perhaps not a good choice for someone in my situation. I was diagnosed with hydrocephalus (excess fluid in the brain) in my twenties. I had brain surgery and had a shunt inserted which largely manages this condition, although I still have some residual symptoms. I also have a serious life-threatening auto-immune disease called Dermatomyositis (DM) which seriously affects my muscles, lungs, skin and digestive tract. I developed DM after my second pregnancy at age 35 and had experienced no prior symptoms. I literally take a dozen tablets every day to manage DM, in addition to having blood transfusions of immunoglobulin every 3 weeks. My DM is considered severe and fairly unstable. My mobility and energy levels fluctuate greatly even within a given day. Most days I have a 1-2 hour nap to get me through the day and I usually wake up feeling like a lump of stone. I can barely move.

Obviously, my medical situation turns any kind of skiing into a fairly significant challenge.

2012...Writing at the snow

2012…Writing at the snow

In June 2012, our family went to the snow using Flexirest funding. My husband Geoff and our children Jonathon and Amelia all went skiing while I stayed down below doing my writing and photography. I was enjoying the view but at the same time, I was pretty upset about not being able to ski with the rest of the family. Moreover, I’d really enjoyed MDNSW’s Adventure Camp at Nelson Bay and now found that I now enjoyed outdoor challenges and wanted to be a part of the action as well. I did do a bit of half-hearted research into skiing for people with disabilities but couldn’t find anything. Meanwhile, the afternoon before we were to leave on our big skiing adventure, the pathology lab rang me directly at home to tell me to go straight to Emergency. They thought I was having a heart attack. My CK levels were also up. Yet again, my life flashed in front of me. We hoped that the DM flare was responsible for the blood test results in which case there was no heart attack but we still had to go through Emergency. As you would appreciate, you never know how long that will take and there was also the usual concern about being admitted. Hospital was the last place I wanted to be. Fortunately, three hours later, we were given the all clear and we were still off to Perisher but my DM was back and my prednisone was also on its way up again…a double whammy!

Family Portrait 2012- I had serious breathing troubles climbing up the hill.

Family Portrait 2012- I had serious breathing troubles climbing up the hill.

Almost as soon as we arrived at Perisher, we spotted the Paralympics ski team zooming down the slopes. They put me in touch with the Disabled Winter Sports Association (DWA). I heard that they had special equipment which could get me down the mountain. The Great Downhill Challenge was born. Instead of trying to climb up the mountain, I would ski down. It all seemed so much easier and I pictured the four of us smiling away as we skied straight down the Perisher’s Front Valley holding hands. That “vision” shows just how much I was dreaming. That’s not how you ski down a mountain, especially as a beginner.

As time went by, I also realised that when you draw a mountain and turn it around, you get a smile. You can even add some eyes and you have a smiley face! I loved that. However, I came to find out that turning a mountain around is much, much easier on paper than it is in the real world. Those mountains have been mountains for a very long time and weren’t designed to be moved at least by me.

Initially, I had intended to do the Great Downhill Challenge as a fundraiser but realised that skiing itself was going to be challenging enough. I also thought it would be better to try skiing first before I committed myself to any great feats of heroism. Moreover, a friend of mine had pointed out that if I staged a down the mountain event, then I’d actually have to go down the mountain. It was only when I stood at the top of Front Valley gazing over the edge in horror, that I understood what that really meant. It was a very, very long way down and I was absolutely terrified. I was quite relieved that I didn’t have that extra pressure.

My first time up the magic carpet Perisher with my instructor.

My first time up the magic carpet Perisher with my instructor.

Membership with the DWA entitled me to 50% off my lift pass and ski lessons. I wasn’t quite sure what equipment I would need and in the end we agreed that I would try a private adaptive ski lesson without equipment to see how I went. My instructor was the wonderful Tom Hodges from Perisher Ski School, who also volunteers for DWA. He has had a lot of experience teaching people with a wide range of disabilities to ski using a range of equipment. I thought I might be needing a sit chair but no. I was out on two skis and Tom who doubled as my anchor. We started off going up the magic carpet and then gently snowploughed down the slope (it was a huge hill to me at this point but in reality it is almost flat!) Tom told me to breathe. Look up and enjoy the scenery. Apparently, I was staring at my boots, holding my breath and gritting my teeth the whole way down. Gradually, my fear eased and by the end of the lesson, I was feeling quite exhilarated and was almost having fun.

Day 2 proved much more challenging. Tom with his big ideas suggested we take the chairlift up the top of Front Valley. I was keen enough. I trusted Tom and ignorance was bliss. I didn’t quite realise we were going that far up and the mountain looked very different close up especially when I was about to ski down. I was absolutely terrified, consumed by fear!!! It was such a long, long way down. I felt like I was perched on the edge of the world about to plunge to my death.

That said, Tom was very encouraging and saw strength in me which I couldn’t sense in myself. He reminded me that I just needed to do my snowploughs and turns like I’d been doing down below and I’d be fine. I fell on a tricky part at the start and Tom held my hands for a bit until I found my footing and gradually let me go.

Skiing down the mountain was much, much harder than I’d ever imagined. Rather than skiing straight down the mountain, I needed to snowplough and then put all my weight on my downhill leg to turn. This took quite a lot of force and I was needing to trust my “jelly” legs which have let me down in much more humble situations. That in itself was scary. Yet, Tom had faith in me and besides, I wasn’t going down the mountain alone. I had expert help where I was encouraged to do what I could for myself but with a safety net when I struggled. Struggle I did. My legs were sore and I was really straining to breathe. I had to stop a few times to rest, catch my breath and take some Ventolin. Apparently, I was holding my breath and clenching my teeth and my whole body was twisted and contorted by fear. Going down the mountain was so much harder than I’d thought but I was doing it. At least, that felt good!

I was certainly no picture of success but that’s what it takes to catch your dreams and finally make them real. You have to push yourself well and truly beyond your comfort zone or there is no challenge.

Somehow, I actually skied down the mountain and survived. I’d done it! I’d turned my mountain around but would I tackle the mountain again? Could I go back? I still had 3 days to go. That was my second challenge and at this point, I hadn’t skied with the rest of the family yet either. That was really the most important part of my goal…for us all to ski together. That was getting harder because the kids were no longer beginners and they were rocketing down the slopes after ski school with Geoff. They were proud of me but I was way too slow.

The next morning was a bit of a turning point. I had a nasty chest infection threatening to put me out of action. I scoffed down some olive leaf extract to fight it off and used my puffer. I wasn’t going to let a cold hold me back. We had one week at the snow. I could collapse when we got home.

My shadow taking the chairlift

My shadow taking the chairlift

I was sitting on the chairlift heading up to mid-station for my morning hot chocolate with cream and marshmallows when I experienced such pure peace, serenity and weightlessness. It was like an out of body experience where all the heaviness of my tired limbs and heavy ski boots were gone and I was just floating along like a bird freed from all restraint. Feeling so unbelievably good and that liberated, I considered spending the rest of the holiday just going up and down the chairlift instead of skiing. Take the easy way out. Why push myself when I could just relaxed and have fun?

Enjoying the view without skis at the top of the Quad Chair, Perisher

Enjoying the view without skis at the top of the Quad Chair, Perisher

However, I remembered my battle with the violin and how it took time and a lot of practice to get over that beginners hump before I could actually enjoy playing. It takes 10,000 hours of practice to succeed so how could I possibly expect to ski like a pro after just two hours? I decided to spend more time practicing where I was comfortable on the carpet before I tackled the mountain again. I practiced, practiced and practiced and by day 5 on Friday, I again felt able to take on the mountain, although this time we went halfway and did it twice. Geoff joined us the second time round and Tom did a great job capturing the moment on the Go Pro. For once, I wasn’t behind the camera.

I still had my L plates on and my instructor in tow but I had become a skier. Me with jelly legs, dodgy lungs and a shunt in my head had actually conquered the mountain or at least a small part of it. Awesome!

At 4.58 pm Friday afternoon, just minutes before the magic carpet was closing on our last day, the four of us finally skied down the magic carpet together. We weren’t holding hands but the kids and Geoff were following my lead and we finally skied down the mountain together all smiles!

Together, we had turned the mountain around!

PS You can beat one mountain but you can be sure that another mountain is just lurking round the corner. This year, I waited until we arrived home before I had my blood tests. Wise move. My Professor just called. The dermatomyositis is on the march again. CK reading of 423. Not too bad but heading the wrong direction. Let’s  hope I start going down this mountain again soon!