Second Chance

December 20, 1988, remains a gray day in my mind despite having been warm and sunny; an end I had no idea was coming and most definitely a beginning. Like the start to many ski seasons of my youth, an artificial strip of white pumped through snow guns lay like a carpet on the brown that still told the Fall’s story of dirt and fallen leaves. That morning our coach said to take two runs and meet at the timing shack to set a Slalom course, but he wasn’t there, so we headed to the top for one more. I searched for the feeling I’d had at the end of the previous season when everything made sense and confirmation that pushing myself to the point that I wanted to quit in dryland training all fall and then moving beyond I’d created space for a new narrative and the possibility of success that had always eluded me. I needed to know that I could hammer myself into something formidable before I left the comfort of youth to forge my own life. The snow had turned Spring soft by that third run. I tested a new pair of Giant Slalom skis. As I dropped over a little knoll to the hollow and cat track that funneled us to the bottom half of the race hill my ski popped off ending sequential memories even though I remained conscious. Falling in the middle of the trail, hitting nothing but the ground, I pulverized two vertebrae, broke a bunch of ribs and a collarbone, sustained a concussion, and began a spasm of panic, worry, and condolences five days before Christmas.
In the hospital, barely able to stay awake for more than a few moments, I was allowed to rest easy knowing that my family would walk through fire for me. A week or ten days in, alone for the first time, I had an Epiphany. “If this is as bad as it can get—as close to death as I can come without dying—then I don’t have anything to fear. I’ll never be intimidated again.” As I’d needed to hammer myself into something formidable, I clung to my image as the Phoenix rising from the accident, but comfort brings complacency and those insidious undermining thoughts--the intimidation. Trauma had catalyzed clarity, a reminder that strength came from the moment-to-moment commitment to be healthy, to find solutions, and to believe in myself enough to offer a glimpse at the depth of my unique power.

Mark Twain said, “The two most important days are the day you’re born and the day you find out why.” I celebrate December 20th as a second birthday. Why, is to remind myself and others of the power that I saw from that tragedy.