Skiing through adversity.

By Wendy Clinch •  Updated: 02/02/18 •  6 min read

No one goes through life unscathed. And while we all associate skiing with fun times, we can’t escape bad ones just because we’re on the slopes. Real life is out there, and it can intrude on us, wherever we are.

Everyone handles adversity differently. Some of us stop skiing, either permanently or temporarily. Take me, for instance. My daughter had health issues when she was little, and I ended up not skiing for about 17 years. It was just too……complicated. Then again, I wasn’t as into it as I am now, so it wasn’t something I even thought about much.

There’s no right or wrong answer for what you should or shouldn’t do. But studies show that exercise — and that includes skiing — can have a key role in reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression. And spending a day outdoors as the snow drifts slowly down, standing on a mountaintop taking in the views — all can bring a feeling of peace that cannot be denied.

I asked a few Ski Divas about the role skiing played during difficult periods in their lives, and here’s what they had to say:

Ski Diva #1’s husband passed away at the same time she was battling breast cancer:
Skiing was a great help after my my husband, Michael, died by helping me clear my head. When you ski, you can’t focus on anything else. So I never stopped. I knew Michael wouldn’t have wanted me to. The first time I skied the women’s Olympic downhill run at Snowbasin was bittersweet. I told my coach that I wished Michael was there to see it. “He did,” he said. Since then, my coach and his wife have become dear and valued friends. They’ve walked me through the years after Michael’s death, helping me use skiing as a way to face my fears and accurately assess that I can do this.

I also battled breast cancer eight months before Michael died. We caught it very early on a routine mammogram. I had a lumpectomy and radiation, which wrapped up just before Christmas in 2011. That had no impact on my skiing. However, the follow-up medication, Tamoxifen, was a nightmare. When combined with my underlying polycystic ovary syndrome, it wreaked havoc on my health. Together they slowed my metabolism way down and initiated an accelerated menopause with its attendant issues. I also suffered nearly all the side effects of Tamoxifen, the worst being 24/7 joint pain. This made skiing much more difficult; between the joint pain and the weight gain, it’s been a real struggle. But this also kept my stubborn/determined streak going.

To me, skiing represents overcoming adversity, not only in my life, but in actually learning to ski. I’ve never been a particularly athletic person, so being able to ski, and do it well, is a constant reminder to me that I CAN. That reminder is essential to me.

Another thing: when I’m on the mountain — when I’m really in synch with its contours and the snow — there’s a feeling of being one with a force outside myself that is truly powerful. I get a sense of timelessness, that I’m one person on one day in the eternity of this mountain. And at least once each day I stop somewhere that reminds me of Michael, and I give thanks for his life and that he introduced me to this delightfully addictive sport.

Ski Diva #2 went through a divorce:
To be honest, after the divorce, all I wanted to do was ski. But I think anxiety and stress caused me to struggle. I had panic attacks like I’d never had before, on terrain I’d skied comfortably just the year prior. Skiing was helpful primarily because I also worked on the mountain so I met lots of new people, including the guy I’m dating now. So even though I was struggling, I was also rebuilding a network of friends who share my passion for skiing!

I think the overall picture of the past year or more was that I went from being on almost a manic high, to the lowest of lows, which I’m still struggling to come back from. It created a lot of fears that I didn’t have before –primarily financial — that affected my entire life, and still do. It’s been pure hell at times. Having been out of the job market for ten years, then trying to reestablish myself in a business can be daunting for anybody. I’ve also found a person who’s had the patience to bear with me while I muddle through and try to find security and happiness again. The fact that he’s a lifelong skier who loves to ski with me has definitely brought joy back to the sport for me!

Ski Diva #3 endured the death of a parent:
My Dad died during ski season. It was sudden and unexpected. He had a massive heart attack, and it blew a hole right through my world. He’d always been extremely healthy, and though I knew intellectually he wouldn’t last forever, it was still very unexpected. Dad was the one who started me skiing when I was a kid, and even though I suffered the typical teenage angst, we still managed to connect when we were on the slopes. I skied a few weeks after he passed, and I couldn’t help but picture him out there with me. Sure, it was difficult, particularly at first. Enjoying myself — being happy — almost seemed wrong. But I knew he’d want me to ski, and I had so many happy memories of skiing with him that it seemed to help. He was my biggest cheerleader, and even seven years later, when I have doubts about my abilities, I can hear him say ‘you can do it!’

Thank you, ladies, for sharing your stories.

Finding something that can get you through a bad time is a blessing, and if skiing can help, then I’m all for it.

I wish you all peace, strength, and hope.

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