Skiing Again: An Adaptive Skier’s Return to the Slopes

judy berna and sons adaptive skiing at Park City Utah

Author Judy Berna, and two of her sons, on one of her first ski days…ever! Photo Courtesy Judy Berna.

brave ski mom logoFrom the BSM: In December 2012, I reviewed Judy Johnson Berna’s book, Just One Foot. I didn’t realize it then, but Judy had been away from skiing for a few years

This past season, she got back on snow. The challenge of skiing again surprised her. Here’s what she has to say about getting back out there

Enjoy! (And, Merry Christmas. Enjoy the blessings of the season!)

Skiing…Again

In 2004, I had my left foot amputated. It had never worked well and when I finally made the decision to replace my deformed limb with something that worked better, skiing was at the top of my list.

On the first anniversary of my surgery I took my first ski lesson in Park City, Utah. Their Ability Center kept me on the mountain for two amazing ski seasons. I went from being afraid to get down the little slope to the chair lift, to feeling confident, as I swished down the highest green slope on the mountain.

From Skier to Spectator…Again

And then we moved to New York. Yes, there is snow in New England. But I didn’t have easy access to the same adaptive equipment I had borrowed in Utah. My skis were loaned out to my children. We rarely got to a mountain and when we did there just wasn’t a good opportunity for me to ski again. I spent five years watching my husband and kids ski from the lodge.

Waiting and Wondering

Then we moved to Colorado. I was excited to try skiing again, but also tentative about making the leap and signing up for my first ski lesson in almost 6 years. I’ve aged some in 6 years. My real foot has deteriorated some in 6 years. My muscle tone is not the same as it was 6 years ago, when I was working out all the time. Would I still be able to do it?

Pushing the nerves aside, I gave myself pep talks. “This will be great! I’m getting back on the mountain with my husband and the kids!” I told myself.

I signed up for a lesson in January. It seemed so far away. Maybe I’d be ready once the New Year rolled around. Time flew by and suddenly my lesson was imminent. My husband took the day off from work to support me and learn how to best help me on the slopes. On a sunny day with dark blue skies, we headed west, to Winter Park.

The Day Arrives

We arrived an hour early, just to scope things out. Winter Park has a large adaptive ski program, the National Sports Center for the Disabled, has their own ski and boot rental booth, where their experts fitted me with bindings and outriggers. For those of you not familiar with adaptive ski equipment, outriggers look like ski poles but have small brakes attached to the bottom. I am unable to make a ‘pizza’ motion to slow myself down. The socket on my artificial leg doesn’t allow me to move that way. So having brakes at the ends of my arms is a huge relief.

On Snow…Again

Then we were off to the slopes. My instructor had years of experience and buckets of patience. I thought I would remember the basic skills, making slow on the bunny hill. But as soon as I clicked on my skis I felt like I’d never skied before. I consciously tried to bring back the feeling of control on skis. I’d done this. Many times. How come my body and mind had forgotten?

My instructor, Steve, refused to let me be discouraged. We spent some time at the bottom of the slope, just moving around with skis on my feet. It slowly came back to me and then it was time to head up the magic carpet.

A Magic Carpet Ride

This was my first experience on a magic carpet. I’d always taken a lift to the bunny slopes in Park City. It seemed so ‘kiddy’ to be riding a conveyor belt on the snow. I had to get over the feeling that most of the four-year olds around me were better skiers than I was (knowing it was true).

The first run was rough. I had no confidence. I truly could not remember how I’d ever skied. Nothing felt familiar. Soon though, I realized my right turn was going to be solid. I totally trusted my left leg and could easily remember how to move it, and push it, to make a clean right turn. The irony is, my left leg is my artificial leg. Most amputees find the turn that uses their prosthetic leg the weaker turn, because they don’t trust it. I had the opposite experience. Because it is titanium, and strapped down tight, I trust it fully.

Surprising Weaknesses

My right leg, my ‘real’ leg, was the one I didn’t trust. This was probably the biggest shock of the day. My real leg was not as strong as my prosthetic one. This was not true when I skied in Utah. The years have made my right side weaker than I ever suspected.

Yes, I’d been working out at the gym in the months leading up to my Colorado ski début, but not nearly as hard as I had worked out when we lived in Utah. In those years my leg was brand new. I was excited about all of its possibilities. I rode a stationary bike hard and lifted weights several times a week. But I guess I got so used to having this new leg, that I didn’t push my body as hard anymore. I had gotten soft and didn’t even realize it. And it was showing on the slopes.

We spent most of the four-hour lesson just going up and down the bunny slope, sharing that magic carpet with smug preschoolers. I tried a long right turn, then a long left one. Then we’d do the opposite. Some runs were encouraging, some were very frustrating.

Even though I wasn’t as confident as I had hoped on that sunny day at Winter Park, I’m not giving up. I came away from that afternoon knowing exactly what I need to do to get back on those higher green slopes. It might not happen this year. The weeks keep flying by and before I know it, the snow in my yard will be but a memory. But I live in Colorado. I’ll be a skier. Next fall when I buy our family’s season passes, I’m getting one with my name on it.

It’s All Up To Me

author judy johnson berna

Photo Courtesy Judy Johnson Berna.

Learning to ski comes differently to every person. When there is an artificial limb in the mix, it can be challenging. Challenging, but not impossible. Not impossible, even for this old mama who spent her life dreaming of flying down snowy slopes and finally got her chance. This time next year I’ll be a confident skier again. It’s all up to me.

Judy Johnson Berna is the author of Just One Foot: How Amputation Cured My Disability. She is also a core writer for Wired magazine’s Geek Mom blog.  

 

© 2013, Kristen Lummis. All rights reserved. Any use or publication of content, including photos, requires express permission.

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