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!

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