Maggie Neal Doherty

From the Sidelines

In Stories that make up a life on April 1, 2012 at 6:43 pm

In early March the US Telemark National Championships were held at Gunstock Mountain Resort in the quaint Lakes Region of New Hampshire. For Cole and me, it would be our first experience skiing on the east coast.

For Cole, the 2012 championships proved to be his career  best , placing 8th overall. He skied incredibly strong and made impressive improvements in his Achilles’s heel of tele racing — the jump. He skied, skated, and jumped notably well over four days of racing on little snow and lots of sunshine (also, not to mention, Cole did not have many days of training prior to flying east).

For me, this year’s race was a completely different experience than what I experienced last year in Steamboat. While Cole and my teammates gunned for the title, I humbly watched from the sidelines.

My own Achilles’s heel is a longstanding streak for injuries sustained during the month of February and this year proved to be no exception. On a bluebird day on the Big Mountain while skiing groomers with good friends, I took a good fall and landed hard on my right side. Not wanting to look like a goon and fending off embarrassment from my gaffe, I ignored the ache in my ribs, continued my way down Inspiration, loaded Chair One, and attempted to make my way down the backside of the mountain. Half way down the bumpy run, it became difficult to breathe. The pain in my ribs were sharp. It felt as if my entire rib cage and shoulder blade were shoved about a foot further into my body.

On the chair ride back to the summit, I vocalized my pain and Cole directed me to the ski patrol shack at the summit. Guided by a patroller, I was downloaded off Chair One and sent promptly to the urgent care clinic. A series of X-Rays determined that my ribs were bruised, perhaps cracked, and my scapula had “about a B-Cup’s worth of swelling”.

That exact quote was deftly delivered by my doctor. He seriously compared the lump on my scapula to a breast. I would have laughed much harder but it hurt too much.

The nurse, after scanning through my records, pointed out that I’d been admitted to the urgent care clinic for three ski related (or dare I say, induced) injuries during the month of February since  2006. She looked at me and offered that perhaps I should not ski during February. Lovely advice that I will not heed, no matter the bruised ribs, torn shoulder or broken wrist.

In one fell swoop (pun completely intended), I realized my ski racing season was over before it even started. I would not be able to attend the World Cup series in Steamboat the following week and it would be a long shot to recover and train in time to make a go at Nationals.

Last year, while training I partially dislocated my left shoulder but I was still able to heal and compete in Norway at a World Cup race series and finish in third place at the US Nationals. This year, a much longer recovery period was in order. Also, with my full-time job, training had been completely and utterly thrown to the back burner.

I was upset, annoyed and angry. I also came to the realization that I possessed a raging accident prone gene. Although early in the season I had eschewed my concentration from racing to working full-time, I was still saddened that my race season had come to an abrupt end on what seemed like an innocuous ski run down Inspiration.

Luckily, work kept me occupied. I focused on physical therapy, a weekly activity I’d been participating in all winter for other injuries in my neck and shoulder. My winter season was directed to healing my body in all of its imbalances. I didn’t understand how my own body could be so beat up, down trodden, and kicked to the curb.

I wanted nothing to do with the National Championships after my rib injury. I told Cole to go without me. We’d save money — one less plane ticket, registration fees, hotel reservations, and lift tickets to purchase. Without competing in one single race this season, I felt so utterly removed and separated from my teammates. I wanted to focus on work — who actually says that? — since it offered me my most immediate distraction. I wanted to forget about racing and move onto life with the symphony and reengage with my writing self in preparation for grad school. I was ready to throw in the whole speed suit towel. As I typed out an email to the USTSA Board of Directors explaining my injury and how it wouldn’t allow me to compete at Nationals, I thought of how dramatic the changes in the last year had been. Last winter the complete and utter focus was on telemark racing. This season, I followed the journey of my teammates through the channels of the Internet and YouTube and cried when two of my teammates, Madi and Zoe, made it to the podium at the World Cups in Steamboat.

The Board, while concerned for my injury, encouraged me to attend the National Championships and hoped I’d volunteer for the race. Cole wanted me to come as well. So while he packed up his race gear, speed suit, and wax equipment, with a scowl on my face, I threw in my race jacket that hardly saw any use this season into my dufflebag.  I kept telling myself that I’d go to the race, cheer on Cole, and that I’d hardly blink an eye about the actual race. I’d put the racing experience out of my heart and mind.

Nice try, wise gal.

Arriving on the east coast and hugging my teammates in the hotel lobby, I realized that I foolish to think that I no longer cared about the sport. It was a tough nut (it was actually more like a shard of glass) to swallow to watch the racers take the course, navigating through the gates and skating to the finish. As a gate judge, I watched every single competitor race. A huge New England contingency of telemark racers showed up to compete against the US team. I stood on the sidelines for four straight days in my team jacket, watching, judging, and cheering. The first two days were the most difficult, and I choked down tears as the women’s elite division took to the course the first. It was a lot harder than I anticipated to be a mere bystander than a racer. I desperately yearned to slide through the course during inspection run among my teammates, visualizing my line, and I wanted nothing more than to enter the skate section — my strongest discipline in the race. But my body was not going to allow me to slide through the start gate and wait for the signal, “Racer ready? Three, two, one – GO!”

Prior to heading east to Gunstock, I told my co-workers that I’d formally bow out from racing at the Championships, using the venue to say goodbye to my friends and teammates, leaning on my well worn excuses of injuries, age, job, and graduate school. But  from the moment I gathered with the team at the base lodge, slapping hi-fives and catching up on the past year, I realized that my biggest fault was not that my  body is prone to breaking frequently, but rather I possess a nasty and debilitating  habit of giving up. I may not ever have a year like I did in 2011, competing in three different countries on the World Cup circuit and ending the year with a bronze at Nationals, but it still doesn’t mean that I don’t absolutely love chasing blue and red paneled gates on a free heel.

And my lame excuse that I’m getting old is completely unfounded as Charlie Dresen, aged 48, took home the gold in the men’s division. I may be getting older but that doesn’t mean I’m any less fast.

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