When you’re a kid, trying a new sport or hobby is what you’re expected to do. Parents layer you with all the right gear and say all the right things with such forceful enthusiasm that you may have once joined the chess club, tried your skill at figure skating, played soccer, volleyball, or even spent time in a dojo.
Fear and hesitation accompany all new endeavors, especially one as cruel as being led into ballet class as a pudgy preschooler. But a child is easily manipulated. Parents use their confidence and determination to wield their child into new experiences and then act as if this is the natural order of things.
Therefore, I channeled all the cheers my parents blindly heaped on me when I was a child clarinetist playing in the back row of the band and decided to try a new sport.
At 46 years old, I’m neither light on my feet nor especially agile anymore. But I am athletic, with thick thighs and a competitive spirit. No problem.
I borrowed some cross-country ski gear from a co-worker, even though I wanted to buy new, top-of-the-line stuff instead. I hoped that looking the part would put me in the right mindset, or simply make me look like a great skier. My husband was the voice of reason reminding me of my fairly new ice hockey gear still sitting in the garage, resting next to my featherweight mountain bike. Point taken.
One afternoon, I threw the borrowed gear into my car and headed off toward the nearest track. Since it was mid-week, I was confident no one would be out there with me, except a few retirees with bad vision. Staying fairly incognito would serve me well for the time being.
My warm-up was 20 minutes of twists, bends and four-letter words trying to put the boots into the skis. Eventually, a passerby noted that the skis and boots I had on were not compatible with one another. As I trudged back to the car to swap boots, I decided that whoever coined the term “ignorance is bliss” never had cold, sticky snow jammed in his boots.
Teetering on quitting before even starting, I finally clipped in with boots too large, pants too tight and mismatched gloves. Wiping beads of sweat from my brow, I looked up toward the sun, took a deep breath, and finally set out on my mission to try a sport I never considered before my aging knees told me I should.
What happened next was breathtaking. I listened to the silence in the snow. I saw deer grazing in the distance. I even told myself I was making those graceful sliding movements, like the kind you see from a biathlete on television. I was in the zone, as they say, when all is right in the workout-world.
Then reality slapped me in the face, or maybe it was a twig, I can’t be sure. In a moment of asphyxiated horror, an apparition of skill, sinew and perfectly braided hair came out of nowhere leaving me in the dust. I was the T-Rex trying hard to make my way up a small hill and she was the Mini-Cooper who quickly sped by on my left. I was upstaged within milliseconds and then thankfully she was gone.
I was winded when I finally approached the crest of the hill. To my dismay, a steep descent was waiting for me. With no way of stopping, I continued to pick up speed and braced myself for the inevitable. For a brief moment before I fell, I thought I was invincible.
I held on to that delusion for the five minutes it took me to get back up from the ground while wiping off my bruised ego and retrieving the sunglasses that flew a few feet from my heap of exhaustion. Then I slowly skied the last mile back to my car, peeled off my gear, and smiled.
I’m a beginner, and that’s hard for me to admit. I don’t dress the part or have much confidence in my ability. And at a time when I’m retiring from the sports I grew up doing well, trying something new requires embracing humility and the discomfort of living in a valley of uber-athletes.
I’ll try not to be smug as I’m being lapped by the same individual over and over again, but please don’t hate me for it. I’m just trying to stay vertical.
Andrea Chacos lives in Carbondale, balancing work and happily raising three children with her husband. She strives to dodge curveballs life likes to throw with a bit of passion, humor and some flair.