Over the last couple of weekends, I’ve been working on overcoming a fear. As I launched myself down a steep hill, with two pieces of plastic strapped to my feet and two poles in my hands for balance, I remembered that I really hate this kind of thing.
Successfully negotiating that first slope without falling was beyond fulfilling. I wanted to act like an Olympic athlete who had just won gold. I wanted to pump my fists in the air and scream the adrenaline off.
And this wasn’t even downhill skiing. My husband and I have been inspired to return to the sport of our Soviet childhoods and try our hand—or should I say, foot—at cross-country skiing. The old skills sort of came back when I spent three hours on skis in a forest one of the days over Christmas weekend. But I couldn’t manage to make my way downhill without ending up splattered on the snowy curbs. And don’t get me started on the trickiest part: going down a curving hill, which requires you to reorient as you’re hurtling down at supersonic speed. (Well, it’s not really supersonic, but the adrenaline and the fear make it pretty close.)
When I lived in Moscow, our winter gym class would be two hours of cross-country skiing in a nearby park. Twice a week, we’d change into sweats, pick up our wooden(!) skis and jars of special wax and head out to the park. As a 10-year-old, I used my mom’s old skis from the 1970s, which were a bit more temperamental than the plastic ones we recently rented. Even as I would build up speed, I would have to stop to clean off the snowy goop that would get stuck to the bottom of the skis and re-wax them.
By the time we decided to spend the weekend skiing with friends at Kettle Moraine Southern Unit, near Whitewater, Wis., I had regained some of my dexterity on skis. But the successful downhill evaded me still. I barely coped with the tiny slopes at the beginning of the trail. So when I got to the nearly vertical drop down which I was supposed to ski, I briefly considered taking my skis off and turning back. (I admit, I can be a wuss: I’d done that the one time my husband took me alpine skiing.) I let several people pass me as I stood at the top of the hill, watching them fly down the slope with barely any effort.
As the rest of my friends took on the massive hill, I saw some falls and some successes. I saw their speed – frightening! In the end, I decided my pride couldn’t let me just stand there any. I forced myself back onto the ski trail and gingerly began my descent. In the end, there was nothing ginger about it: I built up speed as I went down and would have succeeded without falling if only I knew how to stop or change trajectories. A friend who had skied before me had fallen at the very bottom of hill, which I couldn’t see as I launched myself down, and I couldn’t stop before running into her. No one got hurt, but it made for a big collision.
And yet, here I was, at the bottom, both of us a little the worse for wear, some snow in my boots, but having faced a fear. Now, onto curving hills!