On Saturday afternoon, at the beginning of low-angle rescue training at Whitetail, the patroller leading the training session found that the kit full of ropes and pulleys and anchors used for low-angle rescues hadn’t been packed up properly.
“I would expect this to always be packed properly and ready to use,” he told the group. “But things are never how you expect them to be, are they?”
In January 2011, I never expected I’d tear my ACL on my first day of ski-and-toboggan (S&T) training, and that I’d spend the season limping around the ski-patrol clinic in a blue windbreaker rather than learning fun skiing stuff with my husband and my friends. I never expected I’d end the season jealously coveting their red jackets instead of earning my own.
I never expected I’d spend March learning how to make my quadriceps muscles on my injured leg work again after surgery, or that I would spend weeks in physical therapy working on agility drills intended to make me less afraid of one of my great passions in life.
I never expected that I’d get to ski on the Fourth of July, only two days after I was medically approved to ski again, and never expected that I would totally forget about my knee for hours at a time, thanks to diversions such as crazy, costumed skiers partaking in mid-summer snowball fights.
I never expected that I’d carefully coordinate my ski-patrol training for December, clearing my work schedule for a couple weeks to let me crank out my training early in the season, only to experience the warmest December on record, leading to Whitetail’s latest-ever opening day.
I never expected I’d then join this year’s candidate class in their regular, every-Saturday training schedule, and that I’d leave Steve alone in our new home in Virginia Beach for most of January to accommodate that schedule. I never expected that I’d spend weeks working on frustrating, seemingly simple drills intended to work out all my bad habits, like sitting in the backseat during my turns and pole-planting at all the wrong times, before getting to touch a sled, and that I’d spend hours on rainy weeknights working with a team of generous, talented instructors to master those drills. Also unexpected: The way I’d have to overcome my own perfectionism and impatience along the way.
I never expected that this more-rigorous path would be so rewarding, and that mastering those simple drills would so drastically increase my confidence in my skiing, and in myself. I never expected that running a sled would feel so natural and simple—thanks, of course, to the fact that I spent weeks mastering those drills.
And I have to be honest and tell you that I never expected that I’d get my red coat last Saturday. I spent the morning learning to run a sled through the bumps, which you do by guiding the toboggan through the troughs of the moguls while you slide forward and backward through the troughs on your skis. I picked it up fairly quickly, and got great feedback from the instructors I was working with, so I knew I wasn’t far off. Still, it was a happy surprise when my name was called with two other patrollers, and I got to trade in my candidate jacket for a bright red patroller’s coat. Also a surprise: The fact that Steve had purchased a vest for me months earlier, and had even gotten me an NSP nametag and pin to put on it. The best part: The real victory was mastering the skills, and overcoming all the obstacles that stood in my way. In the end, the coat was just icing on the (red velvet) cake.
Oh, and one more thing: I never expected to respond to my first wreck as a full patroller while playing with my friends on Whitetail’s expert terrain on Sunday. A 10-year-old boy had hurt his lower leg while taking a spill during a ski lesson, and his instructor called for help after they skied to the bottom of the trail. I’ve responded to lots of wrecks previously, but never with the ability to pull a sled after providing medical attention. I’d expected—or at least hoped—that my first one would be simple and straightforward, on Whitetail’s easiest terrain. Instead, it was on a part of the hill that required a snowmobile to pull the sled (along with a patroller in the handles) across a flat stretch between the expert terrain and the clinic. It was totally not what I expected—but it was totally fine.
When I started my OEC (ski-patrol medical) training in August 2010, I couldn’t have imagined things would go down the way they did. So it’s true that things are never how you expect them to be. But I choose to believe they happen exactly as they’re meant to.