My Heart and The Mountain

When I was a little girl, my dad taught me how to ski. I remember sitting on the lift with him, doing a pizza wedge down the mountain, and then “teaching” my best friend to ski when we got a little bit older. (To this day she claims that I basically abandoned her at the top of the mountain without giving her much instruction! Whoops!)

We grew up in California, so when we were in high school my best friend and I set about teaching ourselves how to snowboard. I don’t remember ever taking any lessons. What I do remember is renting equipment and then falling down all day long, but loving every second of it. I remember being so sore after a day of snowboarding that we would do “the icy hot dance” by rubbing icy hot on all our sore muscles and then dancing around the room while it burned.

Eventually we got better at snowboarding. We went more often. We bought our own boards. Then I met the man who would someday become my husband and the father of my children. I taught him how to snowboard too. (Apparently I did a better job with the actual instruction this time around!) We all went snowboarding together. Both my future husband and I have winter birthdays, so our celebrations would almost always take place on the mountain.

The first year we moved to Colorado we were so excited to have such easy access to world-class skiing. We bought season passes and went as often as we could, even though I was an extremely busy law student. I remember bringing my books and reading in the lodge just so I could get a few runs in.

Then I got diagnosed with RA. I was only 25 years old. I was so fatigued that just the thought of putting on all those layers and all that gear and dragging my snowboard to the bottom of the lift seemed too exhausting, let alone having enough energy to get safely down the mountain. I was in so much pain that I couldn’t bear thinking about doing something that might make it worse. And I was completely terrified that I would fall and hurt myself, inflicting some kind of additional injury on my already messed up joints. So my snowboard sat unused in the garage.

Five years went by. We got married. We had our first baby. And I worked really hard on getting my RA under control and learning to live within my limitations. Then, for my 30th birthday, my mom flew out to Colorado to take care of our eight-month-old son and we went snowboarding for the first time since my diagnosis. Putting on all that gear and getting to the bottom of the lift was exhausting and I was extremely nervous on my first lift dismount and my first run. But my body remembered. And it was actually fun! We got to snowboard twice that season.

Now two more years have gone by and we’ve had another baby. But this weekend I was finally able to go snowboarding for the third time since my diagnosis in 2008. My RA has been flaring really badly recently, and I just switched to a new biologic that hasn’t started working yet, so it felt like a completely crazy thing to do. But opportunities to take a break from my two little kids don’t come up very often so I went for it! My husband watched our boys and I went snowboarding with three other mamas.

Since I have been having such a hard time lately, I wanted to save as much energy as possible for the mountain. We decided to make use of my handicap parking pass so I could spare my ankles and wrists a long walk carrying a heavy snowboard. When we showed my pass to the lady at the booth, she took one look at us and asked “Do you have a handicapped person with you?” Though I’ve been waiting for something like that to happen, it was the first time someone had given me a hard time for using my placard. It made me feel a little bit discouraged starting out, but I knew I needed to save what little energy I had for the mountain. My pass is supposed to help me and I know I shouldn’t feel guilty taking advantage of it.

I was only planning to do two or three runs, but after taking some medication to help manage my pain I ended up doing more like seven runs. Having the weight of the snowboard hanging off my bad ankle on the lifts was quite painful. Buckling my bindings with my sore fingers and wrists was also really difficult. But actually zipping down the beautiful mountainside on such a gorgeous sunny day was simply amazing.

Three days later I am definitely still paying for the choice I made. I am hurting a lot. It’s been really hard to stand on my ankles and using my hands and wrists for anything at all has been quite painful. But honestly? I can’t say I completely regret it. My body may have said no, but my heart said yes!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (13)
  • Connie Rifenburg
    4 years ago

    What a beautiful story of joy! Loved reading it. Thanks for taking the time to write your experience! I am amazed when I read of you young people who are caring for children, husbands, and homes. I’m not sure I could have been as brave.

  • Mariah Z. Leach moderator author
    4 years ago

    Hi Connie ~ Thank you so much for the kind words. It’s nice to think of myself as brave! But really I can’t imagine giving up my life and family just because I have a certain illness. They make it worth it to push through! I hope you are well! Hang in there!
    ~Mariah~

  • Karen
    4 years ago

    Hi, I use my handicap tag at the ski areas. Sometimes I do get to ski and sometimes I am only hanging out. But, by using the tag I can get back to my car to change out my oxygen tank, get my cane, curl up with the heating blanket and rest. There have been times I just make it back to the car and wait for my hubby to get there to undo my boots!
    Copper is very easy to use your pass. You can park in center village and get to things easily.

    I have learned that I need to stay on groomers. I cannot go off in powder or trees with my family. If we do a black run, I am done for the day. I also have learned to slow down and enjoy the idea that I am in the mountains and that is a positive thing. I cannot ski two days in a row. My oxygen just cannot recover. :~( Not too mention my body. :~)

    There are a few other things I have learned how to do to help myself still ski. And the pain that comes with it was well earned.

    I rarely use my placard in COS for shopping. Seems like when I do really need it there are no places open. Thankfully I do have grown boys to help when needed.

  • Mariah Z. Leach moderator author
    4 years ago

    Thanks for sharing your story, Karen! You aren’t kidding that sometimes getting the boots off is the hardest part! I’m also glad to hear your grown boys help you – hopefully mine will help me someday too!
    ~Mariah~

  • Michelle
    4 years ago

    Incredible story. Thank you for sharing. I am sure many of us can relate to pushing through to acheive or experience something that will bring joy, even at a cost. I always say that this disease forces us to learn how to prioritize in smart ways. So glad you had a great experience. Wishing you all the best!

  • Mariah Z. Leach moderator author
    4 years ago

    You have a great point about learning how to prioritize! Wishing you the best as well!
    ~Mariah~

  • chris
    4 years ago

    That is wonderful!! Glad you were able to enjoy sometime doing what makes your heart happy:)

  • Mariah Z. Leach moderator author
    4 years ago

    Thanks! I hope you can find something that makes your heart happy too!
    ~Mariah~

  • Carla Kienast
    4 years ago

    I’m so happy for you. We give up so much of what we love dealing with RA (and dare I say as moms?). I’m delighted that you got to get out on the mountain again.

  • Mariah Z. Leach moderator author
    4 years ago

    You are so right, Carla! Thanks for the support!

  • Wren moderator
    4 years ago

    I think that’s just great, Mariah. I went skiing in the Alps a few years after I was diagnosed. I don’t remember hurting much while I was up on the slopes, learning to ski, but your essay here reminded me about the other parts: carrying the heavy skis and poles to and from lifts, buckling boots and securing the skis on them, and all the other, myriad small ways we must use our hands and bodies on the ski slopes and everywhere else. I remember plugging up the drain in the shower at night so the shallow shower pan would fill with hot water I could soak my dreadfully aching feet in. It only occurs to me just now that I could have asked our hostess for a basin, instead …
    I’m so glad you went. And I hope you’ll be able to go again at least once before the season ends! 😀

  • Kayla Gallo
    4 years ago

    Good for you girl! Dealing with the constant war waging on in our bodies is an everyday struggle, so if you can find something you love that takes your mind away that’s an amazing thing and you should hold on to it. You may pay for it later, but sometimes we need to grit our teeth and push back so we can have those amazing moments to look back on. I’m glad you had such a good time and I hope you start feeling better soon! 🙂

  • Mariah Z. Leach moderator author
    4 years ago

    Thanks, Kayla! I think it was worth it. ~;o) I hope to get a chance to go again this season!

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