Leaning Downhill

Mar

Leaning Downhill

Mar
Although I did some skiing "back in the day" because I wanted to be with my boyfriend/eventual husband, I never really loved it. Although I was moderately athletic, played tennis and volleyball, there was something about skiing I could never quite embrace.

First, my safety depended on my own two legs, and they could fail me, particularly if fatigued. Second, my center of gravity kept me from getting up easily when I fell. For you non-skiers, you must picture trying to stand up from the floor without anything to hang on to while your legs shift and slide away from you.

Third, and most importantly to me, it involves "leaning downhill." Normally, if you walk down a hill, you lean away from the slope, lest you tumble head first.  In skiing, you must lean downhill toward the tips of your skis to maintain balance and ski down the hill. If you lean back as if you're walking, you will sit down/fall down into the hill.

For me, it was the most counter-intuitive thing ever, and I simply never got used to it.

My husband, however, embraced it and loved it, and our usual annual ski trips were one of his biggest joys.

Our son and his wife moved to Park City, Utah, in October 2013, and skiing with our son became one of Tom's greatest longings. Last year, we needed to cancel our trip because of medical issues on my part and in the meantime we received Tom's diagnosis of FTD.

So here was my decision--Tom can no longer work, he can no longer drive, so much has been taken from him. My heart was breaking to think that I might need to take away one more thing.

And, it was a risk. He has slowed reaction time, problems with attention and judgment, and if someone got hurt it would be clearly my liability, because I am the person who knows the most and ultimately have the responsibility for the decision. I knew it would crush his spirit if he couldn't go, but I felt completely burdened about it all.

Enter the National Ability Center, which "happens" to be headquartered in Park City, Utah. When our son moved to Utah, he "happened" to buy his used ski equipment at its once-a-year fundraising sale. And recently while snowboarding, he "happened" to be paired on a chairlift with a National Ability Center volunteer ski instructor. He said, 'Mom, I think you should contact them."

I also sought so much advice and counsel from people, including during our caregiving chat, who were very reassuring that we were dealing with professionals. When I received the very thorough four-page application, I knew that was the case. They asked about "proprioception," a term I had never heard until Tom's diagnosis. And they were prepared to help skiers who were blind, amputees, developmentally disabled, deaf, and unable to respond to spoken instructions.

Oh.

So long story short, Tom skied in Park City the last week three days, two of them with our son present. I had asked him to visualize the day about a month ago, asking him questions like, "What is the weather?" and "Who is with you?" and "what is the view like?" And all those imaginings came to be, with a sunny (high 50's) day, Drew present, and him leaning downhill through it all.

I didn't want to ask Drew to take photos, but he took it upon himself to take a selfie of Tom, himself, their instructor, and an additional guide at the summit. He took a video as well, so I can see what it looked like from Tom's viewpoint. And, for the final run, he texted "we're on our way" to the bottom of the hill where I waited, and could see Tom's final run (for this year, at least).

We cheered, and the instructor clapped her hands high over her head and gave him high fives.

And I gave myself a silent celebration as well. He wasn't the only one leaning downhil in Park City that day. Lean away from the experience, and fall. Lean into it, and stay on your feet.