Experience This

I find airports to be fascinating places.

Just think about it, when else in life are you likely to interact with or encounter the myriad of individuals you run into or walk past as you rush from terminal to terminal? People from different countries, from cities you’ve never heard of, or from walks of life you’ve probably never even thought about before. So many “life experiences” all located in one geographical conglomerate.

Kind of cool right?

I was in an airport last week (first time since April 2015 — I guess its been a little while) when Mom and I headed out to Deadwood, South Dakota to participate in Black Hills Regional Ski for Light. If you’ve been following me for some time, this event may ring a bell. It was something I had the opportunity to participate in during my reign as Ms. Wheelchair America and had an amazing time (I wrote about it, so here it is if you want a reminder). Naturally, having left the TSA agents in Rapid City with a nice little memory thanks to an awesome souvenir they didn’t find as awesome as I did (Side note: don’t put painted red dowels taped together with an obviously fake fuse from the Crazy Horse blast crew in your your Mom’s checked bag) I thought maybe we should do a “take two” and see how it would go this year.

I have to say, going back as a “commoner” was a whole lot of fun. For starters, I had such a great time last year that I invited some of my wheeling buddies along. I had gotten a selfie stick for Christmas and they were less than thrilled with my plan to take a selfie together. Granted, I roll my eyes at those stupid sticks too but man, when it comes to fitting three wheelchairs in a picture, it worked pretty slick. Although the dude on the right in the picture will tell you I’m terrible at using the thing (and he wouldn’t be wrong).

IMG_20160125_193135We would all ski during the day, either downhill or cross-country, and then hit up the saloons at night. I actually played at a blackjack table this year and did smashingly well. Meaning, I came out on the plus side of the $20 I put in. My winnings are pictured below…

20160202_132443Yea, 50 cents positive. So clearly, I am the epitome of an amateur when it comes to gambling and/or bar life. Although, I have now officially been in a bar after midnight — we won’t talk about the fact that said “first post-midnight bar experience” was with my mother.

It’s all about experiences sometimes, right? And I think that’s what makes the week at Ski for Light so special. It isn’t just the experiences you have as an individual, but it’s all those experiences you hear and learn about from the other individuals you stop and spend the time to talk with.

Ski for Light is for individuals with both mobility impairments and/or visual ones, so it becomes this really unique community of 100+ people (plus 200+ volunteers) that experience life in a way different from what many consider to be normal.  While I can generally relate to others who use a wheelchair, having the opportunity to learn from someone who sees the world in a different way, literally, is something I cherish.

Things are so different, and yet there are quite a few similarities. One of the ladies I came to love last year shared about one of her first experiences downhill skiing blind. First, I need to point out how much courage that has to take — I can see everything and you are much more likely to find me at the cross-country site.

THIS is my kind of skiing...THIS is my version of skiing…

Anyway, as she rode up in the chair lift she turned to her guide and said, “Man, I feel like I should have a big sign that says “blind skier” or something on it.” Her guide chuckled and responded, “You do.” Being able to laugh at yourself and your situation, that’s something I can certainly appreciate.

Other times, things occur that cause you to puzzle over a proper response, and even after it happened you continue to puzzle. I got to chatting with another participant who I just loved getting to interact with, his laugh is one of those laughs that can make any glum day a good one. He told me a bit of his “sight story” – visual impairments occur on a massive spectrum – and shared that he is only light sensitive and has been since birth. I had an “ah ha” moment and realized that meant he had zero idea of what I looked like and gave him a mini verbal description of Sam. That’s kind of a strange thing to do — I’m generally not very self-conscious, but when you try to describe your physical self it’s hard to not be.

Anyway, the next morning he heard me talking in the lobby, came up and said, “Hey Sam! You’re lookin’ good!” To which I responded, “Thanks Nick, I think that’s a compliment coming from a blind guy…”

Experiences like those are ones I’m pretty grateful to have had and are certainly ones I won’t be forgetting anytime soon.

I’ve learned so much from the experiences of those individuals with visual impairments and just from talking with them. They experience the world in its purest form, not simply seeing beauty, but feeling and perceiving it a level I can only imagine. I think the world becomes a much deeper and maybe even “more real” place when you are no longer distracted by a seemingly hostile glance that was really nothing, or don’t have the means to become obsessive over some superficial and meaningless appearance.

I don’t know, the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced
they see the world much better than I do.

Oh, I should say that Mom had a much smoother flying experience out of Rapid City this year. We both even got “TSA Pre Check” which was highly shocking. It’s a huge gift as a person with a disability because then all you have to do is get your hands tested and don’t get the full on be-more-intimate-with-me-than-I-would-be-with-a-boyfriend pat down session. They tested my hands and of course, they alarmed the system so I had to go through the romantic pat down anyway.

Oh well, I’m thinking that was probably karma for what I put Mom through last year…or Rapid City Airport just has something out for me….

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