Snowboarding with a “bloody disease”

Tomorrow, January 28, 2012, I get back on the ski slopes for the first time since April of 2009. But this time I’ll be going the adaptive route—first on a sit bi-ski (tethered to mindful instructors) and then, as I get a feel for the snow, a sit mono-ski (no tether, just worried instructors waiting to right me after a crash). Maybe as the season progresses, maybe, I’ll try going solo on my snowboard just for grins on the easy slopes. That’ll be as challenging mentally as it is physically.

See, I used to be an expert, double-black diamond snowboarder. For years I was hitting the steeps at Squaw Valley, going off-piste in Austria, powder surfing in the Canadian Rockies, and parachuting down the verticals of Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. After getting diagnosed in 2005, my snowboarding took a hit. Grrr. I eventually had to give up moguls—they were just too taxing. As the 2008/09 ski and snowboard season loomed, I knew my skills* were on the down slope. Now I could have sat around and cried in my beer, but what would that accomplish—other than watering down perfectly good beer? So I went for it… and I got in my first runs of that season in September on the other side of the world in gorgeous New Zealand (aka, Middle-earth).

It started out a disaster, as I was able to barely clunk down the hill. (Picture a drunken sailor … who walks the plank, plank breaks, he washes ashore on some remote island in the Pacific—saved by said plank—and then shockingly ends up at the top of the Remarkables ski area, tucked into the mountain range shown above, on a snow-slicked blue run. Truly a bender of benders. Still drunk, he straps the plank to his feet and tries to board. That’s about what it was like.) But my wife said to keep going and to stop my blubbering about looking like a drunken sailor. 

Eventually my legs cooperated, my brain remembered, and soon I was sailing again. Well, sort of. Getting to the lift was the hardest part. On one lift that served blue and black terrain only, I asked the lifties to slow ‘er down so I could skate out. Concerned they were dealing with a clueless beginner from the US who was about to get in waaay over his head, they shouted to me, “Why?” “Because I have a bloody disease,” I yelled back. The lift slowed down.

Am I nervous about tomorrow? Yeah. Am I excited? Hell yeah! With this disease—this bloody disease—sometimes you just have to roll with the punches, no matter how much they sting.

*I cannot help but think of Napoleon Dynamite whenever I use the word “skills.” And actually, yes, I do have some rudimentary numchuck skills. Not very practical, unfortunately. 

Originally published in part January 4th, 2008. Edited for clarity and expanded.


The Art of Tebowing with MS

Everyone’s doing it. High schoolers are doing it in homeroom. Colleagues are doing it to settle friendly wagers. Grandmothers are doing it in retirement homes. People are doing it at bus stops, in bars, crossing busy streets, on surfboards, in line buying hot dogs at 7-11s, you name it. Heck, even kids just learning to walk are doing it in the living room. Tebowing—the act of getting down on one knee, oblivious to any surrounding hubbub, in solemn contemplation with one hand to the forehead (courtesy Tim Tebow of the Denver Broncos)—has swept the country. Few people realize, though, that Tebowing is a tricky art for many people with multiple sclerosis.

See, Tebowing in physical therapy terms is known as a variation of “high kneeling.” And I practice it almost every day. Kneeling on one knee, I put my arms out to the sides, then forward, then above my head. For more of a challenge, I’ll use weights or bands, or even a medicine ball that I’ll pass through my legs and over my head. Then I’ll switch knees and do it all over again. Tebowing works on balance, coordination, and proprioception (helping the body realize where it is in space).

What looks laughably easy, well, isn’t when this disease has given you the smack down. If I tip over, which I always do if I’m working hard, I’ll grab at the back of the couch for support or a well-positioned chair. Fortunately if I fall I’m already pretty close to the carpet, so my failed Tebowing attempts bruise mostly my ego. Whatever. Even though I could not care less about the quarterback or his religious views, I’m still Tebowing, and that’s what counts. Are you Tebowing?