Prairie girl meets the mountains

I’ve never been known for my grace or co-ordination. In fact, I’m pretty sure that if anyone had to choose between the adjectives of “grace” or “klutz,” I know what they’d choose. Heck, let’s call a spade a spade – I know what I’d choose too.

As a young girl, my mother had dreams for me. I was the only child for nearly 11 years, and back in those days, girls were expected to act like “girls”. Except that I was a klutzy, shy and awkward tomboy, and I didn’t like team sports. Or dresses. Or pink.

So you can imagine my horror when my well-meaning mother signed me up for jazz dancing. Granted, she was probably inspired when she caught me dancing to Michael’s Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ in my bedroom. But what she didn’t know is that I was pretending to be one of the zombies from the music video. I’m not sure how long jazz dance lasted, but I know that I didn’t finish the season. I couldn’t follow the steps, I felt ridiculous and even to this day, my face turns red when I think of myself in that silly hat and that sequined shirt.

Then there was tap dance class, and to this day, I have absolutely no idea why she enroled me in that. I was horrified by the shoes, aghast at the stretchy tights we were supposed to wear and I was utterly inept when it came to the tapping. Or the dancing. Really, I looked like a sausage stuffed inside shoes that moved three times faster than I did. Did you ever see that movie, Little Miss Sunshine? That was me, without the cuteness or confidence.

I had a cousin – the only other girl on my dad’s side of the family – just a month older than I was. The day I was born, it was like I was entered in some kind of twisted competition to see who would be the better daughter, and I kid you not, she was a ballerina. She was graceful and petite whereas at age eight, I had larger feet than my mother’s. By age 13, my father and I could share sneakers.

When we would go to Montreal to visit these relatives, my mother and my aunt would immediately go shopping to buy matching dresses for me and my ballerina cousin. My mother, bless her heart, would buy the same size of dress for me that my cousin wore, and of course, it was always too tight. “Suck in your stomach!” she’d hiss between her clenched teeth trying to pull the protesting fabric over my mid-section. There are pictures of us, side by side, in matching outfits and perfect pigtails and I am scowling uncomfortably while my cousin glows like a pageant star.

I’ve always wondered why my mother never tried me in ballet, but I’m afraid to ask because I fear she did, and it was so traumatic that I’m blocking it out.
Then finally, it was gymnastics and it surprised me more than anyone else, but I actually liked it. There might have been an unforeseen benefit to the countless times I’d walked into walls, fallen downstairs and tripped over my own big feet – I was tough, and I was flexible. Those big feet were sturdy and steady on the balance beam, and my oversized hands were magic on the parallel bars.

I was in gymnastics for a couple years, but I still kept falling down for no apparent reason – and it hurt. Eventually, at age 10, my mother took me to the doctor and we found out I had a condition with both of my knees that required some major surgery. It ended my brief affair with gymnastics, but it also put an end to my knee issues, which accounted for some – but not all – of my random klutziness.

In my adult years, physical activity for me included mostly hiking for rattlesnakes – no team sports, and definitely no ballet or tap dancing. Until very recently.

You can imagine my terror when shortly after we started dating, my very athletic, non-klutzy French boyfriend suggested we go skiing. And he didn’t just mean any kind of skiing – he meant the downhill kind. Like, down a mountain. Keep in mind, I’m from Winnipeg and most of Manitoba is much, much flatter than Saskatchewan. The only hill in Winnipeg was made by sodding over an old garbage dump and that’s where we go sledding – it’s about 100 feet and we call it Suicide Mountain. I’m so unaccustomed to elevation that my ears pop when I go upstairs, and an eight-foot ladder makes me dizzy.

After avoiding it for as long as possible, I finally relented in the name of love and found myself at Fernie Mountain Resort last winter. My sons came with us, and since they had already gone skiing with their school, they fancied themselves experts. As we went up, up, up on the ski lift, I was completely sure I was going to die before I got to the top. When I fell off the chair and my skis made contact with the snow, I really wished I had.

The mountain was gigantic, and I traversed it by repeatedly falling and tumbling. Breathless, soaking wet and sore, humiliated and traumatized, I finally landed at the bottom. I looked up at my boyfriend, hoping for tender sympathy and he said, “Ready to go again?” It seemed like pure insanity. During the second run, I managed to keep my eyes open long enough to see my sons racing by me several times. I cursed their young minds and green bones, but I managed to stay on my feet a little bit better. By the end of the third run, I was exhausted, but I had improved considerably and a small hope was born that I might one day be able to do this.
Meanwhile, the kids loved it… even my oldest, clutzy kid loved it. I decided that as a family, we were going to pursue the skiing thing seriously. And my boyfriend was a patient teacher, and very encouraging – so encouraging, he bought us a ski pass for Christmas. I had been saving, and in January, we bought our own equipment.

It was time to hit the hills again, and I was even more terrified this time. You see, in the year since I had been last, I had started working for Pincher Creek Emergency Services, and a lot of the emergencies we serviced were at our local ski hill. Despite my fear, I found myself falling down the mountain again, but I was still far better than I was the first time. That day, I did four runs and for three days afterward, my calves felt like they were on fire. But we went again the next weekend too, and that time I did eight runs, and for the last four, I didn’t fall down – not even once. By the end of the day, that first mountain seemed much, much smaller, and almost… boring.

Now, I can hardly wait to go back, and I’m so excited to have found a family activity we can all enjoy together. It’s funny – I would never have tried skiing if it wasn’t for my boyfriend. Sometimes, I think the people who love you the most can see things in you that you can’t even see in yourself.

Maybe it’s not too late for those jazz dance classes.

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