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adaptive sports association

Independence

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Independence

I recently traveled to Durango, Colorado all by myself for an entire week! The Adaptive Sports Association awarded me with a skiing scholarship that included an all-expense paid trip, and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. Many people couldn't believe that, as a triple amputee, I had the courage to ski. (See previous post about my trip here).

Though skiing took courage, the scarier part of my journey was leaving the comforts of my home and family, as well as the assistance of a nurse or an adult who was quite close to me (mostly Brook, but sometimes a friend or family member).

Since my amputations, I have traveled to Ohio, and even to The Bahamas. I've gone through airport security gates, and I even swam with dolphins!

But I have never stayed at home alone for any length of time, nor had I traveled anywhere without an accompanying family member.

For two years now, I have almost completely depended on my dear husband Brook. His caring smile and twinkling green eyes were the ones that greeted me when I came out of the coma. After 100 days in six different hospitals, his were the strong arms that retrieved me from our car, carried me across our threshold, and wheeled me around our house.

Brook learned to gently bathe me (rather than scrub me like a car), and to slowly detangle and brush my hair - even and especially when it fell out in clumps from the sheer trauma that my body endured. He even blow-dries and styles my hair these days, and he does a surprisingly good job, I must admit!

Brook has prepared most of my meals, and he learned to feed me only the smallest of bites. 

Initially averse to blood, guts, and gore; Brook has patiently changed all of my bandages and could now pass for a skilled wound nurse. He has accompanied me at doctor's appointments, and he paced outside the surgical suites during all six of my amputation and revision surgeries. 

Brook still puts on my prosthetic leg each morning, helps me dress, and assists with my shower. 

Brook is my constant source of emotional support, encouragement, and companionship. Those that were present for our wedding day back in 2001 can vouch for us - we have always had a very strong and rare love. 

And it probably comes as no surprise that, since my illness, we appreciate one another like never before.

So, it follows that leaving Brook behind when I went skiing was, at best, difficult and, at its worst, incredibly scary. 

There were only three weeks between the day I was awarded the skiing scholarship and the day my plane departed. That small window of time worked in my favor, as more time to consider would have meant more time to reconsider.

The night before my trip, I did start to doubt my decision to go. My thoughts began to spiral down the hole of "what if's."

What if I can't get my (prosthetic) leg on each morning? What if I can't get my ski pants on?
What if I can't get my ski pants off? What if my hands get snow on them and break? What if I can't get in the shower? How would I even turn on the shower? What if I can't get out? What if I had "over-sold" myself in the application? What if I had exaggerated my independence?

Several other things were contributing to my self-doubt as well: 

First - Even when I had hands and feet, I was not a risk taker. Nor would I be categorized as adventurous or spontaneous. I have often joked that I could be spontaneous next Tuesday from 2-3, if only someone would give me the options ahead of time.

I went to a college that was only three hours away. A very "safe" move. Then I moved back to Charlotte and lived here for a couple of years before enrolling in a graduate school that was located less than two hours away. Not risky.

Today, I live only fifteen minutes from the house where I grew up. I live right near my family, and I depend on them greatly.

Second - While I am very talkative, I am also quite reserved in new situations (I have always been too scared to live in new places); and I didn't know one person in Colorado.

Third - Because I became friends with him on FaceBook, I have never actually met the amputee who recommended ASA Durango. I scoured their website, and I could not find a prosthetist or physical therapist on staff. Then I asked my expert friends at Hanger Clinic here in Charlotte, as well as at Active Charlotte Alliance; and no one could officially vouch for them.

Let's review.

 I was supposed to be leaving my home and my peeps

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 I was flying across the country

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 I wasn't sure that I'd be able to safely shower when I got there

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 I did not know anyone

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 I did not know anyone who knew anyone there

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 Big RISK.

Especially when it is considered that I am not a risk taker...

But accomplishments are bigger when the challenge is great. And one definition of courage is to be afraid and do it anyway. Sounds like a motivational poster with a picture of a big mountain, huh? So, I jumped onto that plane.

And here is where I landed.

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And it was a risk well worth taking. My host mom put my (prosthetic) leg on every morning, and she helped me get on my ski pants and boots as well. But, other than that; I took care of things, as my three-year-old would say, "all by myself."

I picked up my suitcases and put them on the scale at the airport check-in desk. I even grabbed them off the baggage claim turnstile when we got to Colorado. I ran and caught my connecting flight. I dug in my bag and found my boarding pass when it was time. I opened, refilled, and closed my own water bottle (after the security checkpoint) so that I was not challenged by the refreshments served on the flights. And I even buckled my own airplane seat belt!

When we got to my host house,

I got my own little self settled in my room. I unzipped my own suitcases (even the cheap one with the broken zipper). I plugged my own chargers into and into their corresponding devices. I plugged in my own hands. Yes, they are battery-powered and need to be plugged into the wall to charge every night. And I negotiated the eating utensils at my host home as if I'd been using them for years.

In case you were wondering...I was able to shower independently (though my hairstyles were atrocious!)

These details are many, and it may seem arduous and monotonous (and silly!) to list them. But these tasks are bragging points in my life. If you had told me two years ago that I would be able to perform them, I would have told you to "stop with the crazy talk." 

So you may think it's impressive that I skied down a mountain, but I am more proud to tell you that I did all the things necessary to get up that mountain.

My 12-year-old son may have said it best: "Mom, I feel like you came home with a newfound self confidence." Or it may have been my prosthetic technician, who told me I was "wearing that ski trip."

6,532 feet. That's the elevation of Durango, Colorado. 

But I gained a whole lot more height.

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 I am a Skier

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I am a Skier

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.

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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.

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See Kristan Ski!

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See Kristan Ski!

A few months ago, my virtual friend Ian Warshak told me about a program in Colorado that helps people with disabilities learn to ski. He said they were accepting applications, and he sent me the website for the Adaptive Sports Association in Durango. This remarkable organization uses athletic pursuits to enrich the lives of those with disabilities while spreading a message of hope and showing the world all that we are ABLE to do. Their mission is right up my alley, huh? 

ASA Durango offers out-of-state scholarships to athletes with disabilities that include an all-expenses paid trip - airfare, lodging, meals, and four days of skiing with a private instructor. Um, yes please!

On a whim, I applied. I had no idea what my chances were, but I figured there were a lot of people in the whole country that would love to go. So I filled out the college-like application, forgot about it, and went about my too-busy life. 

Then, on a Sunday afternoon, I was driving home from running some errands, and I got a phone call that popped up as a Colorado phone number.  I thought, "Who do I know from Colora..." Before I could finish my thought, I remembered my pending application! The super-duper nice woman who was calling said she had a few questions for me! She asked, I answered; and, by the end of our conversation, it was fairly clear that I would be going to Colorado!  

That was two weeks ago, and I am leaving for my big trip tomorrow, Monday January 11th.The quick turnaround really threw me, but it is probably for the best that I not have more time to anticipate and become apprehensive. 

Going somewhere alone, without my husband who takes cares of me, is an adventure all its own! Brook puts my leg on every morning, he buttons my clothes, and he makes my heaven-blessed coffee. What will I do without him? I think I am more scared of the independence than the actual skiing! 

My itinerary is that I will fly straight into Durango, Colorado, and I'll get in right after lunch. I'll use the afternoon and evening to adjust to the time zone and altitude as well as get to know my host family. This husband, wife, and 12 year-old son open their home every year to the program participants, and I can't wait to get to know them. I'll stay with them for five nights. On Tuesday through Friday I will, along with a few other people with disabilities like paralysis and MS, ski from 9 until 4; then I will relax with my new family each night. Then I'll travel home on Saturday to share my experience!

"Excited" doesn't begin to describe my feelings toward my week in the Colorado mountains. This is an adventure that I would never get to explore before my disabilities. And it will be all the more rich, empowering, and memorable because of them.

Check back here for updates and pictures. To be continued...

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