Life is a microcosm of skiing. For some of us, everything has relevance to the slopes.
In late October, 1986 the egg-sized meningioma that had been developing within my spinal column was removed. CT-scans were just starting to be used; MRI’s were in the future. X-rays did not penetrate the vertebrae to reveal the silly little cell that had decided to go off on its own. Crowding my spinal cord, it distorted the information about what was and was not happening within my body. As I gradually lost abilities over the almost year it took to discover the growth, my symptoms were random to the point of making me look like the world’s greatest hypochondriac. Until I was seen by a neurologist at Lahey Clinic, who knew from the minute I stood up in the waiting room when he called my name that there was some kind of neurological disorder.
I missed that year of skiing. We had been avid part-time skiers, going every weekend and many Wednesday Two-Fer Days at Wildcat. That winter I was learning to walk. And crawl. All movement from my shoulder-blades down had to be relearned. (I am still in the process.)
Five years later, when I was hired as a ski instructor at Sunday River, I still had no proprioception with my left foot. I knew neither where it was nor what it was doing. I could not rely on it to be in the proper place when I needed it.
Sunday River and I had a mutually beneficial relationship. I could teach, they knew what needed to be taught. Although not a great skier, I loved the sport. This seemed a great opportunity for me to become competent. What I didn’t know as I attended the hiring clinic and the six weeks of training before becoming an official employee at the mountain was how much this activity would shape the rest of my life.
Like many addictions, it began slowly and moved imperceptibly to demand more and more of my time and energy. Not all participants in the sport, not all instructors, become enmeshed in the fascination of how and why long thin devices interact with varying surfaces and gravity. For some, understanding and perfecting the ability to put the understanding into practice becomes an obsession. Added to my personal determination to master the activity itself, was the thrill of teaching others to move toward achieving their potentials.
Despite my learning and determination, for years I struggled with certain moves that intellectually I understood, but physically did not seem to be able to accomplish. For all those years I practiced diligently, did a variety of off-slope exercises to improve my strength, and still suffered not only the agony of defeat, and also the agony of injuries. Defeat and injuries made me work harder to master my craft.
Skiing ultimately led me to the resolution of my problem. Well, to the door leading to the resolution. Or, maybe, as in tai chi it is the door to the garden gate that leads to a windy path that leads to the door to the resolution. A few years ago at an annual training week, I learned about Functional Movement. Although I bought and studied Gray Cook’s books, it was evident that I could not put FM into effect by myself. My quest for a physical therapist or personal trainer trained in the program has been long.
Throughout that time as well as before my discovery, I was taught and worked to strengthen my legs and my core. I have done thousands of crunches, squats, and lunges. I have ridden bikes, both real and stationary, climbed stairs at various speeds, run and power walked. I have studied the books, and I have, finally, found a competent physical therapist who understands the importance of the Functional Movement concepts.
My intention this summer was to become pain-free and in good shape for the coming ski season. What I have been doing is learning Primitive Patterns: rolling over, crawling, bridging, developing the transverse stabilizers. We are far away from the traditional leg, buttock and core exercises I had been performing. Perhaps I will someday approach a level of competency and ability to resume the strength training I used to consider preparation.
Currently, I feel straighter; I feel as if I am standing on each leg equally; I can turn my head and my upper body farther than I have been able to turn in years. In a very basic way, I feel my body is better. The pains and lack of strength are still there, but I am confident that when I am able to resume strength training, it will be on a much firmer foundation.
Exercisers often quote Nietzsche, “That which does not kill me, makes me stronger.” Gray Cook has a much different take on the idea. “The only practice that’s worth anything is practice that doesn’t rehearse continual, unmanageable mistakes.” He continues, “What doesn’t kill you may make you stronger, but it can make you stronger in the wrong direction…If you’re squatting wrong…it can make your hip flexor spasm stronger…your sway back worse…your rounded shoulders harder to bring back.”
A couple of weeks into my new regime I realized my life could have been much different had I only understood decades ago what I understand now about movement. There is no one at fault, because everyone, including myself, involved in my recovery did the best they knew at the time. However, given my drive, my ambition and my willingness to put in hours of work, if only I had first been able to relearn the Primitive Patterns I had mastered as an infant, ‘I coulda been a contenda.’
My question today is, do I have enough time left, now? I know I will not stop trying.
Think snow…but not quite yet!