I’m wiped. I’m emotionally exhausted. I won’t elaborate upon why, but will say only that by the time I got to Whitetail on Saturday for my first day of ski-patrol training since tearing my ACL a few weeks ago, I was a big, walking breakdown—think Natalie Portman’s Nina in Black Swan, wearing ski boots instead of ballet slippers.
Until I actually got to the resort Friday night, I was in really good spirits about the knee. I was keeping it in perspective, reminding myself that life would be easier if all our problems could be solved in a 45-minute outpatient procedure. I felt like I’d come to terms with the fact that my ski season was over, and felt OK about the fact that I will be finishing my ski-and-toboggan training over a few days at the start of next season rather than finishing it this year with Steve and my other classmates.
But when I got there, reality hit me, hard: Every Saturday, my candidate classmates will get to learn cool new stuff that will improve their skiing and bring them closer to bringing patients downhill in a sled. I will either let them pull me around in the sled or work in the clinic. And in March, once my candidate classmates pass their ski-and-toboggan test and get their red coats, I’ll still be wearing the silly blue windbreaker with “candidate” emblazoned on the front. They will be patrollers; I will not.
Once the self pity and envy descended, they hung over me the rest of the day like some horrible cloud of polluted sleet and ugly emotions. Here’s what I’m trying to keep in mind to stay above the cloud:
I will run my own race. I’ve been here before—not in terms of injury (see the wrist I broke on my first and last day snowboarding last year, and the surgery that followed), but in terms of being mentally tough through periods of disappointment. Longtime readers know that the 2009 Marine Corps Marathon was a traumatic race for me, as my reasonable goal time disappeared into a muck of gastrointestinal distress. I had to first accept that my goal time wasn’t going to happen, then pick up the pieces and try twice as hard as I expected to just to finish the race. My mantra became “run your own race,” because I had to abandon all comparison—to other runners, and to what I thought I deserved. And that’s just what I have to do now. Fair or not, I have to accept my new reality. And I have to conjure extra mental toughness just to finish my training. My classmates will finish their journey soon, which is cool for them; but it has nothing to do with me. I will continue on my own path, with my blue coat, which I will wear with pride.
I will laugh. OK, fine—pride isn’t exactly the right word. But I will wear my jacket with good humor. Candidates are affectionately called “Smurfs” because the jackets are so absurdly blue, and so obviously intended for hazing rather than warmth. One of my classmates decided we needed a mascot, and he brought in a stuffed Smurf. No matter how long it takes me to get back on skis, I won’t be the only one on the mountain in blue while I wait.
I will focus on what I *can* do. No skiing for five months post-surgery=big bummer. But I get to start physical therapy five days after surgery, and get to start swimming two weeks after. I’m going to turn my focus to training for the 4.4-mile Great Chesapeake Bay Bridge Swim on June 12.
I will take care of myself. On Saturday, I went directly from Whitetail to a party at a runner-friend’s house, where my other runner-friends consoled me and distracted me (it’s hard to feel too much self pity while lip-syncing to Madonna).
I will force the positive. I’m revisiting all my favorite motivational quotes, such as this one from Helen Keller: “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”
I will look forward, not backwards. I can’t un-tear my ACL. I can, however, put all my energy and emotion toward my recovery. Surgery is scheduled for Friday morning. It can’t come fast enough!