Valentine's Day... How did I get here?
I'm in the Seychelles with Alice. It's been quite a journey over the last week. One week ago today, during warmup for the third Downhill training run (after the SG race) I crashed (again) and hit my head/hurt my left knee. I was taking a free-ski run on my SG skis after taking a warmup run on the course (which was bally, rutted and generally awful) when it happened. I actually debated whether to take that third warmup run (after a free-ski/drill run and then the one in the course)...normally I don't do more than two warmup runs before a race for multiple reasons: energy conservation, replicating what I do on a training day, etc. But this day was different. I had crashed hard in the World Championships Super-G race two days prior and had some pretty deep bruising, whip-lash, and a few very sore/compromised muscles. So, I wanted to make sure everything was working well before jumping into the Downhill training run that day. I actually felt surprisingly good in warmup and was having a lot of fun free-skiing when it happened.
And, damn did it happen fast. I approached a roller, poised and ready, but seemed to have hit a pile of snow between the two warmup courses. I caught an edge and went flying, face first.
That moment of uncontrollable panic right before you crash is such a peculiar moment. There is an inexplicable beauty, a stillness about it. It almost feels like letting go. You no longer have control and, although you know the outcome likely won't be pretty, you almost understand something in that moment that you never grasp at any other time. I can't tell you accurately what that is now, but it feels like you're suspended in time. A glimpse between input and reaction...A mysterious insight of sorts. A realization of what it means to exist and a simultaneous release of the attachment to that.
And then you hit the ground. I managed to land directly on my face -- probably at a speed around 80 km/hour. So, that was fun. But actually...it was more like nothingness. I don't remember hitting the ground or how my body tumbled or flailed, as I was knocked unconscious for about 30 seconds. As opposed to rag-dolling, I'm pretty sure I hit the ground from a significant height and basically stopped all motion upon initial impact with the snow. I certainly got the wind knocked out of me, but am convinced I took the brunt of the impact with my face; I woke up moaning and extremely disoriented. Waking up from a period of unconsciousness is definitely one of the scariest things I've experienced. Especially when you look down to see blood in the snow. And when you don't know where you are or how you got there... Luckily, our team doctor Jeff was next to me when I came to, and seeing someone you know is incredibly comforting in a moment of complete confusion and disarray. I managed to piece together some of the parts and eventually remembered who I was, where I was, how I got there (at least vaguely), and...that my left knee hurt. It felt like my calf had torn off the bone (thankfully it didn't, at least not completely), and my joint was pounding from a hyperextension impact. That's an interesting moment as well...when you realize you're injured, at least somewhat substantially. It takes a lot of presence and composure to deal gracefully with that moment. I'm not sure I quite accomplished that, but I did become very practical and somber... Wellp, there goes my World Championships. And probably the rest of my season. And, who knows what else?
It's funny to imagine acceptance and despair coming hand in hand. Worry and relief. Fear and contentment. When you know there's nothing you can do to change the situation, you do the only thing you can: hope for the best and count your blessings. Enjoy the ride to the hospital; use the opportunity to take a restless, blissful nap.
The moment before you hit the ground and the moment after you realize you're injured are distinguishable in many ways, but also similar in the sense of surrender. Before impact, there is curiosity and fear, but also hope and stillness. A conscious submission. After crashing there is resolve. Depending on the pain and body sensations there is often curiosity as well: what does this pain mean? What is wrong with me? Will I remember everything later? Will I be able to ski race again? Will I want to....?
The doubt and fear and worry come rushing in, but if you're able to stay present and surrender to the moment, to the pain, there can also be stillness and hope. And every moment thereafter, until the doctor comes to your hospital bed tell you the outcome, is an internal battle between what is and "what ifs."
After hearing about my knee's damage: broken (but non-displaced) tibial plateau, bone bruising on both lateral and medial sides in my joint, strained and torn calf, and potential ligament/cartilage damage (or potentially just an arthritic knee joint), I was somehow relieved. Once you've endured enough injuries, you know when there is something really wrong at the onset of an injury. The first two major injuries in my career (a broken pelvis and, 18 months later, a torn ACL) I was completely clueless: I thought I had minor strains and bruising at the time, but I've learned so much since. I knew this time, right when I came to, that I had done some sort of serious damage to my knee. But to learn that it would probably not need surgery was definitely comforting.
To be honest, though...I was more concerned about my head. I've had quite a few concussions in my time as a ski racer, and I realize how delicate my brain has likely become from all of them. I truly value my intellect (though it may not be superb), and want to maintain at least a somewhat cerebral life of thinking, awareness, critique and amusement until my dying day. I know the trauma I've put my brain through may thwart these intellectual dreams, and I fear that potential greatly. So to take another hard blow to the head really scares and unsettles me.
Since my crash, I've been sleeping a lot. I've been thinking a lot, too... Thinking about my future, about my plans, about what's best for me. I feel like I still haven't tapped into my true potential in skiing, but I also realize that to do so involves taking more risk. So, I am torn. I was starting to feel so good on my skis again, after a terrible beginning to my season. I was feeling hopeful, confident, and...I was having fun! I was truly enjoying skiing again.
It's hard not to think about what could have been. Where things could have gone, had I not injured myself again. But, now it's time to take care of me. Time to be here, now. Focused on healing, thinking things through. There's no point in ruminating over what happened, why it happened. I am working on being grateful for the health and support I have, and gracefully moving through this time of healing. Slowly and deliberately considering my next steps. Regardless of what the future holds, I am at a point in this journey where I have to stay true to myself and take wonderful care of my body and mind.
Margaret Hasley said, " In some circumstances, the refusal to be defeated is a refusal to be educated." So I will take yet another opportunity to learn and grow...to heal these wounds to become my greatest self. I have no regrets. It is time! Onward...
defeat (after my crash in the SG race)
adventures to and from, here and there, home and away, around the world--through my eyes, lens, and mind