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(c) 2014 Sherman Lambert

(c) 2014 Sherman Lambert

When I moved to Colorado, many cars sported bumper stickers containing words such as “Native” and “Transplant” within mountains that mimicked those on the Colorado license plates. Often it was easier to encounter people, such as me, who had moved to Colorado than those who were born here. However, I ended up marrying a true Colorado native—how much truer can you get than someone with two grandparents whose families homesteaded around Arapahoe, Colorado? If you know anything about southeastern Colorado, you’ll know that anyone who proved up on a claim in that harsh, arid land was committed to staying, plus you realize there are no mountains anywhere near there—mountains on the license plate or not.

Despite my father-in-law’s early upbringing near Cheyenne Wells and later Yuma, Colorado, he chose to raise his own family in the metro Denver area where the mountains are closer. My husband Sherman and his brothers were taught to ski at a young age. Although Sherman broke his leg on his first outing, he kept going back for more—skiing that is, not broken legs. He skis with that confidence that comes from learning to ski at the same age he was learning to read, just as our kids do.

I, the transplant, do not. I’m not much of a risk-taker so I’m guessing I’m especially the kind of person who would have benefitted from learning to ski when I was much closer to the ground. Instead I waited until I’d reached my full-grown height, even if I wasn’t quite old enough for my driver’s permit when I began to ski.

I remember that first ski trip to the mountains of Colorado. My days were spent learning how to move slowly down a snowy mountain on two boards without hitting the ground too often, but at night when I tried to close my eyes to sleep, I could see myself flying down those same slopes, as well as bigger ones. My heart rate would soar as if I really were skiing instead of lying in my bunk bed until the utter physical exhaustion of the day’s work would shut down my visions—until the next day. I was still a little afraid, but was hooked anyway.

I learned to ski right before my first track season, the year when I discovered running and realized there really was an athlete within me. During high school, each year that I returned to the slopes, I returned a stronger and more confident athlete, willing to learn a little more.

Still, I remained a skiing immigrant. I didn’t ski to challenge the mountain, but to be on the mountain. To look out and down upon a world far below me, to smell the evergreen-scented air, to discover what my body could do—in my own non-risk-taking way. To feel as if I were flying, if only for a few moments here and there.

Almost three years have passed since I last skied with the innocence that I could rely enough on my body while skiing to relax into that flying sensation. I had worked hard to lose weight and regain strength and endurance and was in the process of recovering from years spent helping my mother to her final rest. That mid-April ski trip on a day that rivaled the best snow of any season reminded me just how good it felt to fly.

Then a couple weeks later my body crashed. Oh, my wings were clipped all right by that bulging disk. Thank goodness I had been through a lot of focused exercise and treatment before we skied again the next season, but fear of losing what abilities I’d regained kept me from soaring.

Last year at this time my pain was gone, but my endurance was still quite reduced. My running was just in its infancy days, as was the strength that running always gives my lungs and legs on the ski slopes. Fear was still my companion on many runs although I didn’t experience any major problems that suggested my body wasn’t up to skiing.

Fear definitely was behind why I went back to the physical therapist for a tune-up last spring after only one day of pain—I might have been willing to go back to therapy but I definitely wasn’t willing to go back to reducing my activity level. My PT set me up with some “lifetime” therapy exercises which have now been tweaked again due to some ongoing sleep difficulties. Pretty much every day I do the exercises because I fear not being able to do what I want more than I fear doing the exercises.

Monday, when the chairlift dropped me at the top of the slope, I stopped only to get my bearings and then took off. Never mind that the short slope we’d planned to visit for the first run of the season got closed off before we could get there. I skied on by and never looked back. My work over the last year seems to have chased away my most recent reasons for fear. Not until I got tired much later in the day did I feel any level of fear—at that point I just chose to slow down and rest more often and the fear went away.

I’d been climbing up this mountain for so long that I’d almost forgotten how good it felt to soar—but when the fear flies away, that’s when this transplant feels as if I am flying down the slopes, just as I first did almost forty years ago when I closed my eyes at night. Once you know that feeling, you never forget it even during all those years when the only wings spread are those spread in your heart. When you think about it, skiing really is the epitome of “falling with style” while believing you are flying.

I believe, once again.

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