My hatred of downhill sports started when I was eight years old. My parents had just dropped me off at my grandma’s house so they could get an anniversary weekend away. I sat on the porch of her canary yellow home, and strapped on my new rainbow-clad roller skates. The neighborhood kids had gathered at the top of the street’s steep hill, and I quickly struggled up the slope to meet them.
We were child adventure seekers. Each young soul would push off from the top to begin their block-long journey down a cracked and broken side walk, gaining speed each second, crashing into some unexpecting neighbor’s grassy yard with a fall. We screamed, wobbled, tripped, and mostly laughed.
We were addicted. Over and over again, we’d make the long trek uphill in skates to only crash down it again minutes later.
It was Fall in Missouri. The leaves had changed colors, locusts had left their hollow alien-looking cages on the trees, and then there were these:
They were everywhere. Sweetgum tree seeds.
As I started my tenth time down the hill, I was confident. The wind blew my pony tail behind me. I giggled as I flew over the ramp created by tree roots pushing up slats of cement in the sidewalk. Then, my skates encountered the deadly sweetgum balls in their wheels. I fell hard and straight onto my bent wrist.
Suddenly a crack. Scream. Crying. Kids rushed to my side as I rolled on the ground in pain. Grandma ran out of her white screendoor, and my forearm had a new ramp of its own—a broken bone trying to push its way out of my skin.
My parents were called back from their romantic trip. I was taken to an ER. I can still remember the moment of excruciating pain when the doc rebroke my arm into place and then made some weird jokes as he gave me narcotics- an attempt to make me forget it all. I then returned to my grandmother's home. She attempted to soothe me with a warm cup of cream of celery soup that mixed with cold orange juice, stress, and narcotics, only worsened the evening.
At least I thought my cast was cool, signed by friends. I experienced the childhood joys of a broken bone experience: the inner cotton started to smell from exposure to moisture that had seeped in through the garbage bag's greatest attempts to keep shower water out. My elementary school pencil made a great utensil for scratching all the hidden parts of my hand- accessible through my thumb hole and unseen for weeks. Then came the day of removal. I remember the saw and the strange sensation of my arm floating as it was released from its six week chamber. The skin was white and flaky, the hair was dark, and my bone was healed.
I may have been healed, but that experience affected me. I didn’t want to roller skate any more. I didn’t want to do any downhill, speed sports ever again. When I was in university, I was determined to break my fear in order to be a part of Minneapolis’ trendy roller blading crowd. I took what little money I had, and bought some used skates. Nearly every weekend, Nick would take me out around the city and lakes so I could relearn the art of skating.
I am a determined girl, and I knew I could kick this fear out of my life. But then would come the concrete hill again. I would stand at the top as it stared me in my face. Nick would skate down and up, down and up, showing me how to brake and to enjoy the ride.
Ten minutes of excellent, encouraging step-by-step demonstration usually ended with Nick, standing at the bottom of the hill, laughing at me as I side-stepped it all the way down the hill and glided once again on to flat ground.
After a year of trying, I sold those stupid skates. Why torture myself?
I would rub the bump still left under my forearm’s skin from the break, and assure myself it’s ok to not conquer everything.
Then I moved to Estonia. As my Norwegian friend says, “Kids in Scandinavia come out of the womb with skis on them.”
And we were invited to join their family for skiing during our children’s winter ski break from school.
Yesterday, I stood on top of the beautiful slopes with those wicked ski boots digging into my shins. I looked down the mountain, and when all of our Norwegian friends were out of sight, I whispered to Nick, “This is pure torture. Just torture.”
Of course, that was followed by my quick, reassuring smile to my kids ensuring them they were about to have the time of their lives learning to ski.
I would have been happy just standing at the top of the hill, observing my kids and Nick enjoy the slopes. But, then our Norwegian friend came and insisted he could teach me how to ski. I hesitantly followed him down the hill to resist public shame. And, to my disbelief, I never fell. I learned how to turn and stop. And, on the tenth time down, I think I actually caught myself relaxing and enjoying the blinding white and breeze as I hit the bottom.
Today, I sit alone in a cozy cabin on the slopes in Lillehammer, Norway (a part of my vacation deal with Nick- one day of skiing with him, one day for reading/ writing next to a fire place in the cabin for me). At breakfast this morning, our friend Oystein looked at me with smiling eyes, “Olivia. I can see it. You are made to be a great skier.”
We pretended to be serious for a split moment, then just laughed.
We all have those broken things from our past that show up and try to dictate our future. When we stand in front of a concrete hill of challenges, we rub our scars and remind ourselves that there is no way we can ever be truly healed. There is no way we can close our eyes and actually learn to enjoy the ride of something that has caused us so much pain.
There is nothing easy about it. Scars only remain from extremely hurtful experiences. Even our body was not strong enough to make its remnants completely disappear.
But, we make a choice to press on. We press on so our kids will not inherit our fears and missed opportunities.
We press on because we have friends by our side. They have enough courage for both of us, and they have a different vision of who we are supposed to be.
And although the first few hundred times may feel like torture, once we overcome the hurt and fear, we can finally relax and enjoy the ride. We can become like kids again – giggling, just feeling the breeze in our hair.
But, we’ll be better than the eight year old version of ourselves. We aren’t just wreckless; we know the pain and consequences of the journey well.
Instead, we become overcomers.
We can finally teach others the art of letting go of the past.
We drag them up the hills, with us, and watch them fly.