Last month, I was fortunate enough to be selected for the New Dimensions Scholarship, offered by the Adaptive Sports Association in Durango, Colorado. It is offered to "people with a physical disability and/or progressive disease who regularly participate in athletic activities, are able to travel to Durango, and are new to disabled skiing or snowboarding."
The scholarship includes an all-expense-paid trip and four full days of skiing. Lucky me, right?
The first day is set aside for equipment and clothing fitting; and, considering my many physical challenges, I fully expected for this part to take the better part of the day. But my two expert instructors had me dressed and ready to go by 10:30am!
While I was hoping to come down the slopes standing on two skis, there was no guarantee. Other options include ski bikes (a type of bicycle with skis for wheels and two additional skis on your feet that are used for balancing) as well as mono skis and bi skis.
Here is Ginger, my new friend who has Multiple Sclerosis and is skillfully riding a ski bike.
And here are my new friends Reggie and Jake, both of whom have paralysis and some mad skills on bi skis.
While I was able to get up on two standard skis, I wasn't able to go nearly as fast or nearly as far up the mountain as my counterparts.
But ski I did; and I surprised myself by doing it successfully before lunch on the very first day! At this point, you are probably asking, "How, on Earth, was she able to do that?"
Well, as is the case with most of the things I do, I had a lot of help! On that first day, I had one skier in front of me, one behind me, and sometimes even one whose job was to hang out around me and protect me from out-of-control skiers and snowboarders.
My amazing instructors (Susan, Brian, Paula, John, and Adele) had been doing this for many years, and they quickly and easily connected a strap to the tip of each ski. With those tethers, they were able to steer me like a horse! In addition, they dressed me in a child-sized emergency vest so that they could slow my pace or even stop me if I started to fall! Here is a picture of me with my tethers - while I do look a bit unbalanced, I was all smiles!
I had full confidence in my helpers. In fact, I loved and trusted them so much that I am now convinced that all those 80's love songs were written about adaptive ski instructors!
Here I am with my two main instructors, Susan and Paula.
Another "strap" I needed that most skiers don't need is the one we used to hold my left leg (the prosthetic one) while I was riding the chair lift. Since my prosthetic is only attached to my residual leg by suction, the increased force of gravity could easily have won the tug of war with my body - meaning my prosthetic leg and its ski could have fallen off, down into the mountainous woods or even on top of an innocent skier! Not ideal.
So, to prevent that from happening (and to protect the entire mountain!) my instructor had to literally lasso my ski and then hold the strap very tightly - not easy when the winds picked up, but it proved be be a fun game ;).
With each hour of each day, my instructors used the tethers less and less. By Day Two, I got to take off the emergency vest. And I even went short distances without tethers. (They call that "independent skiing," but that's just fancy talk for "skiing without any adaptive equipment" or "skiing like a normal person.")
On Day Two, I mastered the skill of getting on and off the chair lift. Except for that one time when my arm slipped off, I lost my balance, fell, and really freaked out the college-aged lift operator. Which made for a great story that night at the brewery. Who else can use that for an excuse as to why she fell while skiing?
On Days Three and Four, I continued to improve. I was able to ride the bigger, higher, and longer lifts all the way to the top of the mountain. Aside from the prosthetic problems that landed me at the Hanger Prosthetic Clinic in downtown Durango, everything went quite well. My muscles remembered how to ski from TWENTY years ago. What a miracle!
As the days quickly passed, my team of instructors used the tethers less and less. On my fourth and final day, we were able to unhook all of them. And I got to ski, free from all of the adaptations and devices that were helping me to ski more normally.
Check out my big smile in the following video:
Just like Pinnochio, I "got no strings!" Just like Pinnochio was a "Real Boy," I became a real skier! I regained my athletic confidence as well as my self confidence. I re-learned how to appreciate and love my body. I rejoiced in all that my body can do and all that I can do. Instead of wallowing in the fact that my body is mostly man-made, I recognized my spirit, my heart, and my soul that have been there all along, just waiting to be realized.
Both in spite of and because of the people and the things that assist me along the way, I am Kristan.
I am Kristan. I am a wife. I am a mom. I am an athlete. I am an amputee. And, now I am a skier.