A friend once asked me, “When do you feel at your very best?” The answer was easy. “Every single time I get up on a slalom ski.” So here I go again. I can’t get enough.
In seconds I’m traveling behind the boat, still trying not to think too much. When to turn? When to turn? I wish there pre gates on this course. Now? No wait, ok, now. Oops, too late. Oh well, just turn and go. Darn it, missed the timing again. Doesn’t matter. I’m still having the time of my life. At the end of the course, I pullout next to the boat and my driver husband asks. “How was it?” There is only one answer: “Great!” Yes, I was thinking too much. I will work on that.
Later at breakfast, one of the guests at the lodge asked me if I was training for competition. “Do you do this for competition, or just for the joy of it?” I couldn’t blame him for asking. After all, he had seen us get on the water for the second morning at 7:00 am with obvious plans to spend the rest of the day doing the same thing. I thought back to my morning on the course. I beamed the answer back: “Just for the joy of it!”
As a new skier and almost 50, I’m nowhere near ready to compete. This sport that has me completely and totally hooked has also surfaced the same habits that have been with me my whole life. Speed is scary, don’t go near the edge, stay in absolute control, you can think your way through anything, good enough is good enough. Now, here I am giving more time, energy and attention to “ski practice” than anything I’ve ever taken up, where speed is good, edge is the name of the game, letting the ski turn as designed seems out of control, feeling is better than thinking and good enough is never good enough. How did this happen to me?
After being around slalom skiing for many years and happily choosing to just get up and hold on, I mentioned to a ski coach and friend one day that I wouldn’t mind learning to cut on a water ski. I just don’t want to fall. This request was motivated by continuously watching my friend Lori zip back and forth behind the boat, whooping it up like this was the most fun she had ever had. Like the woman in the restaurant scene in “When Harry Met Sally”, I wanted what she was having. My friend answered with 10 words changed my life: “I can teach you how to cut without falling.”
Soon, I was practicing behind his boat and feeling like I was moving at the speed of light. (I wasn’t.) Ski schools followed. I did fall occasionally, and survived. Daily skiing led to more daily skiing led to more ski school and a quest to run the course.
My progress has been gradual. Every step forward has been followed by a tiny step backward. At first, going around buoys seemed so foreign, sometimes I would unconsciously stop myself short (much to the chagrin of my coaches, who could see that I obviously should be going around those buoys). While I want to progress to running more and more buoys at faster and faster speeds, I have to fight my strong commitment to staying “safe”. So I take baby steps.
While I am slowly progressing, this sport is great for dashing my self –delusions. When I’m behind the boat, it feels like I am moving at the speed of light, with a spray as high as a mountain and my shoulder touching the water. Then I have someone take video for the sake of my “training.” Without fail, I watch myself and think “Who is that slow woman and how did she get behind my boat?” Obviously, I still have a lot to learn. And that, as it turns out, is the name of the game in water skiing.
Since this sport has gotten its claws into me, I’m seeing a backwash into my life. Learning in all venues has become the norm. The newfound strength in my body has translated to strength in difficult situations. I’ve been more willing and able to help my husband carry heavy things around versus calling in another person. My husband has rekindled his passion for the sport. Our morning ski runs are precious times together. My daughter has recently joined in the action, driving half an hour over the mountain twice a week to get her ski fix. Our family trio cheers each other to reach new levels. Annual Mother-Daughter trips to Coble Ski School are now a spring ritual. The friendships I have with the other women on our lake-ski addicts like me-are some of the deepest and strongest I’ve ever experienced. My willingness to take risk-albeit still measured-expands as my confidence behind the boat grows.
Perhaps the most profound insight has been that no matter how good you get, there is another level of performance just out of reach--quite literally when it comes to water skiing. My old viewpoint that there “must be a there there” has given way to understanding my life’s journey as something that will always provide a new level of challenge, just as water skiing will always provide a higher speed or shorter rope length.
Where is this passion for the sport taking me? Who knows? All I know is that I will be on the water tomorrow, just for the joy of it.