Free to Be

Freedom.

It’s a loaded word. Those simple seven letters are charged with so many meanings and packed with countless implications that we often don’t recognize. For example, thanks to various current events in the United States, the mention of that seven letter word may have you thinking this is going to be a political post…. don’t worry, it’s not.

Of course there’s nothing inherently wrong with something being loaded – it’s just the way it is. I mean, I sure love me a good loaded baked potato. After all, is there really any other way to eat a potato? I think not.

So if I’m gonna talk about freedom but not in the environment of politics, what environment is this little contemplation going to reside? Well, a pretty cold one. With a lot of reasonably soft, fluffy, white snow.

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Yea, an environment like that.

Over the last week I was off traveling (again), and this time instead of going to a warmer climate like Florida, I was in the much snowier climate of South Dakota. See, I wasn’t kidding when I said I was going to spend the next few months “playing” before I had to actually grow up, become more of an adult, and start medical school.

Why South Dakota? An amazing event called Black Hills Ski for Light (you can check out their website/program here). It’s an event I was introduced to during my year as Ms. Wheelchair America 2015 and I had such an amazing time that I attended the following year (2016) and since I loved it just as much (if not more) I went back for even more fun this past week. 

I find it remarkably challenging to describe what a week at Ski for Light is like and how those days (and late nights) spent in Deadwood, SD with friends who feel more like family fly by so quickly. Taking a “big picture” look at Ski for Light, you would see a week where individuals with visual and mobility impairments of a wide variety are able to go downhill and cross country skiing, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing with the help of an army of selfless volunteers. Taking even the tiniest step closer, that picture becomes infinitely more vivid. A pixel here is filled with laughter over another face plant into the snow, a pixel over there smells of the aroma of delicious food cooked daily by smiling volunteers at the cross country site, and another pixel there depicts the friend you haven’t seen since last year’s event but you talk to each other as though you have never been apart.

img_20170121_134323_016It has been just Mom and I who have flown out to the event the past two years, but this year little sister Lindsey was able to join us. And we drove. All 12+ hours. Yea, lucky Lindsey (actually, she was pretty lucky… Mom and I did all the driving while she sat in the back seat, read books, and watched Lord of the Rings. I’m certainly not complaining, I just found it really entertaining). It was really cool to watch Lindsey experience the “Ski for Light Family” Mom and I have been talking about for the past few years in addition to watching her learn how to cross country ski (something she really came to love). It was also really cool to not be the newbie at something.
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I’m certainly no pro when it comes to snow related activities and Ski for Light in general, but after three years you do figure out what you enjoy most and where you want to spend your time. I’m not much of an adrenaline junkie and never truly skied before my injury. I’ve tried downhill skiing post SCI and I’m glad I did, but it’s not really my thing. I appear to be more of the “it’s-only-fun-if-it-hurts-and-you-question-your-sanity-in-thinking-this-was-a-good-idea” type. For example, take note of exhibit A: I race marathons. So with that in mind, I spent my time cross country skiing.

You know, cross country skiing is certainly one of those things most would probably consider to be a lot of work. I can’t even tell you how grateful I am for the help of some amazing individuals who went with me on my skiing excursions to provide the occasional assistance on some of the less than pleasant inclines (seriously, I heart all of them).

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There were quite a few times I completely biffed over into the cold snow, definitely some sweating and raised heart rates involved, and I can’t deny the presence of sore muscles in my back I didn’t even know still worked. So why in the world would I bother? Why do I feel the need to trade my lime green wheels for skis?

Freedom.

Yea, we’re back to that word again. Having lived that majority of my life in Wisconsin and attended college in Minnesota, I’m no stranger to snow. Yet, since becoming a wheeler, snow and I aren’t always on the most friendly of terms. Sure it looks pretty, but when one lacks the ability to simply trod through knee deep snow banks without thinking twice, snow becomes a bit of a barrier. When I say “a bit,” I mean it can seem like trying to get from Florida to Hawaii without a boat or plane. You try to go forward and your wheels spin, you wiggle yourself backwards and you hit an icy rut and again they spin. It feels pointless to even try and you’re simply trapped — and you’ve traveled less than a foot. Facepalm.

For me, that sit ski changes everything. It lets me go places I didn’t know I still could and normally can’t. It allows me to see sights away from the hustle and bustle of the busy world, hidden around a bend of snow covered trees. Honestly, I think it’s the closest feeling a human could have to walking on liquid water here on earth (that’s the only example I can think of to let you “walkers” relate to how remarkable a feeling it is!). That freedom, that ability to move and go places, go to beautiful places both physically and mentally when you’re surrounded by a stunning winter landscape… is such a blessing.

It’s easy to forget how something so simple
— simple as a winter excursion into the woods —
can be so special.

So meaningful. So beautiful.

So freeing.

Thanks Black Hills Ski for Light for the reminder 🙂 

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2 thoughts on “Free to Be

  1. Joni Martzahl says:

    You inspire so many. I watched the news that also shared the experience of a man who was visually impaired, at Ski for Light. Glad you were able to enjoy the outdoors. It keeps our spirit alive!
    Blessings, Joni

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