Ski for Light part 4

If this years Ski for Light event is like most of those in previous years, tonights aprez-ski entertainment will be a talent show. Dont groan. Its one of the many happy surprises we uncover during this magical week.

who does that beautiful soprano voice belong to? When I met her out on the trail yesterday, she seemed so shy and quiet, and now heres this big sound that so confidently fills the room. Whos that playing Chopin on the piano? Seriously? You mean that tall man who introduced himself as an attorney? Can attorneys have such an emotional and tender side? The truth is that when we offer an opportunity for folks to let their hidden talents shine, we open another avenue for enriching our lives. Because we dont go around bragging about this talent or that, our acquaintances know us only by what is evident in a casual conversational exchange. When the empty stage is presented, its an invitation to share a gift. Sometimes, in lifes other settings, the stage is already cluttered with the same people who have starred there before, week after week, or year after year. We often take the path of least resistance, that is, what we know, and ask the same old person, time after time, to MC a program, chair a committee, be the spokesperson, lead the singing, or otherwise occupy the spotlight. Sometimes, we need to step back and invite someone unknown to take the stage. The result can be startling. In other words, it can be a who knew? moment. To all the new Ski for Light performers tonight, I say Break a leg, only not really. Youll need it for skiing tomorrow.

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Ski for Light Part 3

Cross country skiing? Oh no, thats way too much work, is the stock answer when I seek out possible skiing partners. I tried downhill skiing once, but that was enough. Im not into terrorizing myself. When I attended my first Ski for Light, SFL, in 1986, I discovered that trudging up a snow-covered hill and reaching the top was exhilarating. When I zoomed down the other side and managed to still be on top of my skis, it was thrilling. When my skis found their rhythm as I strode across a meadow, the slapping sound of the skis, along with the rhythmic shussing sound comforted my soul. Sometimes, I would stop, and just listen to the quiet. One year in Colorado, I marveled at how I could actually hear the snowflakes gently landing on my shoulders, like a whispered secret. The secret was the joy of cross country skiing, and it was something to be shared.

Today at SFL, dozens of people, some of them for the first time, will share in that secret. Blind men and women who for many years havent taken a step outside their homes without the aid of a cane, a dog, or a sighted human guide, will bend their knees, plant their poles, and push off across the snow, independently, but with the calm assurance of a guide just beside them or just behind them, cuing and coaching, helping them to navigate through a crowd of skiers, stepping into their skis and preparing for a good run through the woods. Some will be fearful, not sure they can balance, not sure they can get up if they fall, afraid they wont have the stamina to climb the hills and even wonder why theyve invested so much time and money in learning a sport that most people would not associate with people with disabilities. But at SFL, the motto is, If I can do this, I can do anything.

Once weve tasted the Ski for Light experience, that motto keeps ringing throughout our lives. Its not just a sense of freedom of movement that we feel as we double pole down a slight decline, a sense of accomplishment when we cross the finish line at the race on the last day, or the discovery of our own strengths, but a combination of all of these. After SFL is over and weve put away our skis, we find ourselves turning to other challenges with a new positive attitude. Suddenly, it becomes much more important to us to be more active, to develop more healthful diets, and to seek out other ways to stay fit. We become cyclists, runners, hikers, backpackers, sailors, roller bladers, and leaders. We know that we can do just about anything, because If we can do this, we can do anything.

On the Monday night, after the first full day of skiing, the guides are invited to introduce themselves at the microphone at dinner. Over 100 people, whose careers are as varied as teachers, doctors, foresters, firemen, farmers, mail carriers, and any number of other occupations, one by one reveal that they keep coming back, year after year, at their own expense, not just for the skiing, but for the people. You see, that motto applies not to just the blind people, but also to the guides. What a challenge they are asked to meet. How they love that challenge. The guide introduction ceremony is very emotional for me. Where else on this earth will I find so many sighted people who get it? Here are people who understand that we are people first, that we are not helpless, that we have a sense of humor, that we are not amazing, not heroic, but just other winter-lovers who want to get out in it and play. This is the one opportunity that this can happen with the dignity and grace that doesnt happen anywhere else.

Ski for Light, Part 2

Would you like a wheelchair, the ticket agent at the airline asks when I tell him Ill need assistance to the gate. I dont think so, I think sarcastically, Im going to be cross country skiing for a week. This might be the way Id start this post if I were traveling to Michigan for the annual ski for Light event, which I will not be doing this year. I always have stories of travel travails, but today, Im just imagining the unfolding of the day.

People with disabilities, from all over the world, mostly visually impaired, will be flying into a small town in Michigan, independently, for a week of experiences that will drastically affect their lives. I remember vividly my first Ski for Light, SFL.

I had been hearing about this opportunity to learn to cross country ski for several years on the radio reading service. In 1986, I felt the time was right for me to take the risk on this adventure, and from the moment I stepped off the plane, I was enchanted. An SFL volunteer met me at the gate and escorted me to baggage claim. I was then shown a seat in a waiting area where other SFL folks were waiting for the chartered bus to take us all to the hotel in Duluth, where, I discovered, they really know the meaning of winter. Immediately, a kind woman, a sighted guide it turned out, who was originally from Norway named Brit, pronounced Breet, greeted me warmly and welcomed me to SFL. I could tell already that despite my fears and doubts, I was going to like this. SFL was a place where strangers embraced one another, treated blind people as equals, and spread the excitement and joy of winter sports.

Sunday, the first official day of the SFL week is packed with activity anticipation, and surprises. During the day, before most of the participants arrive, first and second year guides are out on the trails with their guide trainers, learning and reviewing how to guide a blind person on skis. They learn such terms as track right, and step left, and Sit! which is the most important command of all, used only when its necessary to avoid injury.

Later, as the buses arrive, full of happy and eager skiers, guides are there to assist in carrying bags and finding rooms, orienting totally blind people in their hotel rooms and around the hotel. Meanwhile, guide trainers are huddling to make final recommendations for matching skiers with guides, in preparation for the announcement that evening after dinner. Skiing skills are not the only criteria considered. Size, weight, and age, along with goals for the week are part of the equation. One skier might want to ski 20 K each day, while another one might want to be able to complete a 5 k course by the end of the week. Although there is a race on the final day, goals are agreed upon by each skiing team, and if those goals arent compatible, switches can be made.

The first nights dinner is noisy with exuberant greetings of old friends from previous SFL weeks, welcoming of new blind and sighted skiers, and rowdy Norwegian toasts for a great week. The idea for SFL originated in Norway, so there is usually a group of Norwegians who come all the way from Norway to share in the fun. Others come from as far away as Japan, France, Australia, Canada, and England.

The highlight of this day is the after-dinner ceremony. Each blind skier stands up in turn, introduces himself, and the name of his guide is announced. This information is kept secret until this moment, so everybody, guides included, is in suspense. Who will I guide? Who will be my guide? Oh, wow. I get to ski with him this year? Thus begins a week-long relationship that will enrich and affirm their shared love of skiing.

Ski for Light Part 1

Its frigid out there, and I hear theres some snow, but I wouldnt know, because Im house bound for a while. Each time I open the door to let Pippen out, I feel the cold on my cheeks and fantasize about skiing. Somewhere, there are people out there, basking in this wintery beauty, gliding across the snow, and loving it. If I werent recovering from recent spine surgery, today is the day Id be traveling to participate in a cross country skiing event called Ski for Light.

www.sfl.org

I first got involved in 1986 and have missed only 3 of the annual events since then. Once you experience the joy of learning to ski and the kinship in sharing the sport with like-minded folks from all over the world, youre hooked for life. Its hard to describe in words what happens at SFL, but if I take you along while I imagine what Id be doing over the next week, you might get a peek at the magic, from my perspective.

Today, Id be traveling to Shanty CreekMichigan in time for the first meeting of the guide trainers. At SFL, blind skiers are paired up with sighted guides to ski in machine-set tracks that wind through forests, climb and descend hills and valleys, run alongside creeks, and wander over prairies. The sighted guide warns the blind skier about turns in the tracks, changes in elevation, and any other information needed, like a track being washed out, a skier down ahead, or a low hanging branch. A good one will also describe the scenery, and for new skiers, coach and instruct. And he does all this just with words as they ski side by side but without touching. Most guides are experienced cross country skiers, but few are experienced in guiding blind people on skis or even inside a building. Thats where the guide trainers come in.

Before the new guides arrive on Saturday night for this weeklong ski, the guide training teams , meet on the Friday night to plan the training session for first and second year guides. Each team of one sighted skier and one blind will lead a group of 5 or 6 new guides through guiding techniques and reviews of skiing techniques that they will be using during the week. Some brand new guides are apprehensive about being responsible for the safety of a blind person on skis. Others are eager and excited about the challenge. All are there to share their love of skiing. Tomorrow, the guide trainers will ski the 5 and 10 k course and make note of where there are good places on the trail to review uphill and downhill techniques with their new guides. They practice teaching these techniques to each other and remind each other of what has worked well with teaching a new blind skier. For instance, some blind skiers like to use the clock method for making a turn, as in, The tracks are turning now to about 10:00, and some prefer a more casual direction, as in slight curve to the left.

On the Sunday, the new guides will go out to the ski area with the guide trainer groups and practice guiding one another with blindfolds on. The blind guide trainer in the team skis with each new guide and evaluates his or her guiding skills. These evaluations are considered when the matching of guide/skier teams are determined and announced Sunday night.

I love arriving on Friday night, because at that time, the group is relatively small. There are board members, guide trainers, and a few folks who come early just to get in some extra skiing. By Sunday night, there will be over 200 people, so its fun to reunite with old friends and drink a toast to the coming week, a week that will change all our lives, in one way or another.

House Arrest

Youll need to take it easy for a while, the nurse said as I checked out of the hospital. How many times have I wished that my doctor had ordered that for me? Not once after all the surgeries Ive had, a thyroidectomy, appendectomy, and 2 C-sections did anybody say I should take it easy. When was I ever going to have a good excuse for lying around the house? Apparently, the time has arrived. When I called my surgeons office today to question why my pain hadnt subsided after 7 days following surgery, I was reminded that I need to take it easy for a while. I guess they really mean it this time.

When I went to a class for spine surgery patients on the Sunday before my surgery, they talked about walking 3 times a day, but not to go up and down stairs. When I think of taking a short walk, I think of walking to the end of the block or maybe around the block, but I learned yesterday that they meant walk around the house. I guess I should have clarified the definition of taking a walk. Avoiding stairs in my house is practically impossible, as the bathroom and the kitchen are on 2 different levels. You really cant go anywhere in my house without doing steps. I would go stark raving mad if it werent for the pain meds I take all day. There is a brief time between extreme pain and dozing that I answer emails and do a little writing. I suspect that in time, the pain will decrease, and my frustration in not being allowed to resume my active life style will increase. In the meantime, Ive created a to do list for myself.

I have hundreds of music cds that I havent taken the time to just sit and listen to. Now is the time. I have a rough draft of an article I want to submit to the toastmaster Magazine, and now is the time to polish it up and get it sent. I want to compete in the next speech contest, so now would be a good time to concentrate on that. See? There are lots of things I can do from a sitting position. I just have to hurry and get them done before my next nap.

Do Not Fold, Bend, or Mutilate

Following post op instructions for spine surgery patients is a lot harder than I imagined. I came through the surgery last Wednesday with such style and grace that they said I could go home as soon as the doctor washed his hands and went out to the waiting room to tell Kara that I was free to leave. I hadnt even sat up completely before they ordered a wheelchair, pushed me out the door, and dumped me into Karas car. When I attended a class for spine surgery patients last Sunday, I was told that I would need to stay overnight at least one night and maybe 3. I would be issued a back brace, encouraged to walk 3 times a day, use a walker, and avoid going up and down steps. It was pretty scary, so much so that I thought maybe my sciatica wasnt that bad after all.

Well, it seemed we just fast forwarded through all that, and I was home in a matter of 3 hours tops. We were thrilled. I was dreading having to spend even 1 night in the hospital, so when they pushed me out the door, I thought I was home free. Not so fast, my body said.

After the anesthetic wore off, my back started to realize that somebody had done something drastic. In that class, the nurse demonstrated how we should get into a sitting position and to a standing position without leaning forward, and with absolutely no bending over. Have you ever tried putting on your shoes without leaning over? And do you have any idea how many times a day I have to pick up something from the floor? Suddenly, putting a pan of water down for Pippen seemed like a monumental task. Im not Catholic, but Ive developed a talent for genuflecting all day to perform one task or another that requires retrieving something lower than waist level. Im also doing a lot of second position plies, like when Im brushing my teeth or tossing tissues into a waste basket.

Kara was here for the surgery and the days immediately following, and she was an absolute blessing. I got really good at asking for her to bring me a cup of tea or fix a sandwich or fetch my pain pills. She went home today, however, and now Im faced with many more deep knee bends and squats. I truly appreciated Karas help, and she was a kind and tireless care-giver throughout this whole event, but now that Im on my own, Im even more thankful that she took time away from her family to take care of me. I am continually making such momentous decisions as Do I really need to put these clean socks in the bottom drawer, where they belong, or can I just leave them out? Do I really need to make up my bed? To brush Pippen? To load the dishwasher? To pick up my bath towel from the floor? We have no idea how many times a day we make a certain move until we suddenly cannot do it anymore. Leaning forward or bending creates excruciating pain. My post surgery checkup is not for another 3 weeks, but Im praying my back will forgive me long before that for letting some doctor mess with it. I had 3 prayers going into this surgery, first to live through it, secondly, that nothing would go wrong, and third, that it fixes the sciatic nerve problem. 2 of them have been answered, but now I have an extra one, that my back will eventually be able to bend and fold like before. I have big plans for a strong and supple back, like hiking, skiing, and cycling. In the meantime, Ill just practice my kneeling, genuflecting, and deep knee bends, and Ill be stronger for it.

Time Off for Surgery

Ill be taking a little leave of absence from the blogging community, so this will be my last post for as long as my daughter can keep me from running around and getting myself into trouble. I’m scheduled for spine surgery, on Wednesday, and since Ive never done this before, Im not quite sure what to expect. I have one friend who had this procedure done in the morning and walked out of the hospital that afternoon. She immediately resumed her everyday activities. Im going to use her as my role model, but just to be on the safe side, dont be alarmed if you dont hear from me on Wednesday. On the other hand, I might be writing on Wednesday after all, because the certainty of the surgery is still up in the air, if you can believe that. The authorization from my health insurance company is still pending. If they cant give me the authorization by tomorrow, Im going to have to call the whole thing off. Im trying not to have a meltdown over this.