I have always hoped that one day I will discover a ‘hidden talent’. Something that I’m just naturally good at, that I don’t have to work at or try hard to conquer. Because I’ve never been very good at sport I’m always hopeful that this talent will involve something sporty. Perhaps that’s why I’m always so eager to try new things – something surely has to be my sport!?
At school I was always one of the last in long distance running, I knocked over all the hurdles, and I could barely pick up a discus let alone throw it any kind of distance. Our PE teachers weren’t the most inspiring bunch. They wore huge hoop earrings (nothing wrong with that-but for sport?) chewed gum and made fun of anyone that wasn’t dating a footballer.
Let’s just say they weren’t the most committed of teachers. In fact, I think we spent pretty much a whole year taking cover lessons in a classroom, doing word searches and dot to dots. I saw sports lessons as a great chance to catch up with my friends, and felt a little hard done by when I had to actually do something physical.
That’s not to say I didn’t exercise. Dance lessons after school almost every day of the week took care of that. But actual sport, no thank you. As I got older I started to wonder what I was missing out on. I thought perhaps it was time I gave sports another chance.
I Want To Ride My Bicycle
At 16 I had my heart broken for the first time (but certainly not the last). Luckily, or not so luckily for her I guess, so had one of my best friends. It was the beginning of a long, hot, summer holiday and while most people were off doing whatever in love 16 year olds do, we were spending hours on the phone to each other listening to Westlife, feeling sorry for ourselves and comparing notes on our in depth games of Sim City. It was the worst of times, it was the best of times.
Our parents decided that their phone bills didn’t need to be quite so huge, especially as we lived in the same small town. We were forced to leave the house, and in an attempt to reach each other faster we re-discovered cycling. We would cycle, and cry, and cycle, and talk, and slowly but surely our hearts started to mend and we started to get a little more adventurous. We would venture out of town, to other small towns. We would cycle to the cinema, or to the shops. We suddenly found freedom, and we loved it. Until we decided to cycle to Reading.
Reading is a 40 minute drive from our home town, down some pretty fast roads. These were the days before google maps existed, and as 16 year old girls we certainly hadn’t thought to take a map. We just started to cycle one day, saw the signpost to Reading, and off we went. We were used to cars beeping at us (good looking young girls that we were), but these beeps were a little angrier than usual. Especially as we cycled clumsily around a four lane roundabout.
The trip was a success, we made it to Reading and back again. Just. After cycling for hours and getting hopelessly lost, our love of cycling slowly faded, and then we found alcohol, and the rest is history.
Run Forest, Run
Years later I decided to try running. There’s nothing complicated about it, you can do it any time, and it keeps you fit. Perfect. My sister was (is) an incredible runner and seemed to get actual enjoyment from getting hot and sweaty. I was hopeful that it ran in the family, and as I don’t do things by halves, I signed myself straight up to a half marathon.
It was torture.
I trained for several months, running through the woods in the dark most mornings, pulling off my blackened toe nails and dosing myself up on painkillers for the aching muscles. October came far too quickly, or slowly, I’m not sure which. Not only did I discover that Basingstoke half marathon is one huge hill, but it was also the hottest day of the year. I was running up hill slower than the people walking. I was not a natural runner.
So I tried tennis, and basketball, and climbing. I tried archery, and swimming. I tried surfing and dinghy sailing and ice skating. And you guessed it, I wasn’t a natural at any of them.
Learning To Ski
Then I met Adam, and he desperately wanted a girlfriend he could go skiing or snowboarding with. He tried to play it down, but I could tell he was as hopeful as I was that I’d be a natural. I knew he had visions of getting me on the slopes and us charging down them together, racing each other and laughing about how easy the super steep black was. So stubborn as I am, I made it my mission to be good at skiing, knowing full well how awful my track record with sports really is.
As a kid I’d been to the dry ski slopes and slid my way down a few times. How hard could it be. I just had to go down. And I have to be honest, I think I really aced my first few days skiing. I could turn and stop and get to the bottom of the slopes. I had a private lesson on my first day and was overjoyed when my instructor took me on a red run, and started to teach me parallel. I was really enjoying learning to ski. Maybe this was finally a sport that I’d be a natural at.
When it came to this ski season I couldn’t help but have some optimistic expectations. I skied a red run on my first day of learning to ski, surely this would be a walk in the park.
I spent the first few days taking things easy. I’d accepted that I’d need to find my feet again. But then I had a strict schedule. I wanted to be in parallel and on those reds. But it just wasn’t happening. I watched YouTube videos, and spent hours analysing what I could be doing wrong. I couldn’t afford lessons, so I just asked poor random people who got stuck on a lift with me. I got all sorts of helpful tips, but I still couldn’t do it.
A wave of panic had started to wash over me. I wasn’t a natural after all. I was just as useless at learning to ski as I was at everything else. The more I doubted myself, the worse I got. The more I watched Adam fly down the slopes ahead of me, the slower I went. For several weeks I was stuck in limbo. I wasn’t progressing, and if anything I was going backwards. Literally at times, given how slowly I was skiing. I desperately wanted to give up, but I couldn’t, so I kept dragging myself up there and giving it another go.
A few things happened after that. One, Adam’s Aunt and 8 year old nephew came out for their first ski holiday. His nephew quickly caught up, throwing himself down the mountain at speeds that terrified me and delighted Adam. Fearing he would fall and hurt himself, and that I wouldn’t be there to help, pushed me to ski faster than I would otherwise have dared.
And two, we met some other skiers. Usually I would make Adam ski down a red run first, just to check how hard it was, but I couldn’t do that anymore. I had to follow blindly and hope for the best. I would be lying of I said I didn’t find myself at the top of many a slope wondering if I could fake an injury and get stretchered off the mountain. There were many times I’m not proud of, where I stopped in the middle of a piste and counted to 10, trying to stop myself from crying. Or where I actually started crying. Because there’s nothing more attractive than a girl who can’t ski with tears in her eyes and snot down her face.
But I learnt something really important from being forced to push myself beyond my comfort zone. I learnt that no matter how scared I was, I could make it down. Perhaps not with style and grace, but no matter how impossible it had seemed at the top, I always ended up at the bottom. Sometimes still upright. Within literally a few days I found myself skiing down slopes far steeper than I had imagined possible for me. And it felt good.
The green and blue slopes that had seemed so frightening at the beginning of our time here suddenly felt flat. I wasn’t getting stuck in the thick, fresh snow or losing my balance over the lumps and bumps. Every time I was forced to push myself, I gained a little more confidence. Every time I fell I realised it didn’t hurt as much as I expected. The best thing of all was that I stopped punishing myself. I could see the progress I was making, and I wasn’t so frustrated when I had a bad day.
I am skiing better and faster than I ever believed possible, but I still find runs that I completely freeze on. Usually because I see patches of ice, or someone falls near me, reminding me that I might too. Sometimes because the slope is busy and people are brushing past me at lightening speeds. Sometimes just for no reason at all. I freeze at the side of the slope and tell Adam there is no way I can make it down. I cry. I shake. I feel like a wimp.
But when I do make it down Adam reminds me that bravery and perseverance isn’t about making it down quickly and with style. It’s about making it down even though I’m completely terrified. And I am allowed to be terrified. I am allowed to give myself a pass.
The saying one step forward, two steps back – that’s me, in all the sports I’ve tried. Sometimes I’ve stuck with it long enough to take many, many steps backwards before giving up and changing direction. The difference this time is that when I fell I didn’t have a choice but to get back up, brush the snow off and carry on. I’m not a natural at skiing but I’ve been forced out of my comfort zone time and time again, and I have found the determination to persevere, even when I’m afraid and fed up. I have learnt more than just a new sport-I’ve learnt to persevere when things get really tough. And more importantly (thanks to Adam and the friends we’ve made here), I’ve learnt to be kinder to myself when I ‘fall’, and to give myself credit where it is due.
Perhaps there’s a lesson there for us all.