Hitting the Slopes

For the second week in a row we left just as the sun was rising. Heading up the mountain for a day in the snow. Skiing has become more important as the years have progressed. Learning about the positive impact of the activity on CP. The hobby has always been fun to be involved with. But, like many things done during our youth, it had faded into the background. Having spent years of my life without making it up the mountain during the winter months. Every excuse in the book would enter into my mind. At the end of the day, it seemed to be fear holding me back the most. Sitting out all of those years was blamed on my fear of heights. The chairlift would be too frightening and overcoming that fear would be impossible. When in reality, there was fear of not being able to pick up skiing again. It would require a slow build to feel comfortable with skiing. Possibly relearning from almost the beginning stage. However, as strength was being gained in my body, skiing was something appealing to attempt again. There was also much to gain by skiing, I hadn’t learned until recently. Because the activity requires concentration on multiple things, it has been good for cerebral palsy improvement. It places pressure on the ability to balance and coordinate movement. Both important skills hampered by the disability. Probably most important would be how much fun skiing can be. With all the added benefit of the sport, it seemed important to take on the fear, and give skiing another chance.

Attempting to pick the sport back up again would be scary. But, there were parts of skiing that remained enjoyable in my mind. The point came where taking on the fear felt productive. Skiing again after a number of years didn’t begin glamorously. There was much time spent working back into the sport. For the first couple years, most of the time was spent on easier runs. With small portions spent trying the intermediate trails on the mountain. However, each time the challenge of a more difficult slope was taken on, fear began creeping inside. At times, it seemed riding on the bigger chairlift was the scary part. But, after getting comfortable riding on the beginner chair that wasn’t computing as the main problem. It might take time to gain comfort with the longer chairlift ride, but the ability to adjust would happen. After wondering about my true struggles, it felt having the confidence to ski the more challenging runs was the culprit. Even getting through the anxiety of riding the lift, it seemed each time the intermediate run was taken on, a fall would occur. Telling me, it wasn’t quite time to advance to the next step of skiing. This time, instead of giving up, skiing the easier runs on the mountain continued to be fun. Just getting over the fear of skiing daisy at first was challenging. As time wore on, that was becoming more and more comfortable. Providing hope that eventually my skills would advance. Meanwhile the easier runs were still giving me plenty of challenges for cerebral palsy symptom.

Balance has been one of the most challenging aspects of my cerebral palsy symptoms. It also plays an important role in successful skiing. We work on balance at seeming nauseam in the gym. Through challenging the body with more than one movement at a time. An example might be lunging while holding a ten-pound ball overhead. Another could be balancing on a Bosu-Ball while doing squats. The more activity demanded of the body, the more movement required to be thought of at one time. If Bernard can cause the brain to focus on multiple things at once, we are causing cerebral palsy improvement. This becomes a key component of the advantages cerebral palsy may experience through skiing. Downhill skiing requires all limbs to move separately from one another. While they are moving separately, the limbs and body must continue to remain coordinated. As we move down the mountain, turning to the right, requires weight to be shifted onto the left ski, while turning left, weight shifts onto the right ski. The opposite ski, or uphill ski, still requires attention to slide into line with the downhill, or weighted ski. While all this excitement takes place, the polls in our hands are best put to use. The poles often become used as the pivot point, or stability point it seems. As we turn left, the left pole can be planted, and pivoted around to complete the turn. While the same thing takes place with the right pole, as we turn back the other way. The goal would seem to be gaining a rhythm, allowing yourself to turn right and back left, working your way down the mountain. But, all of this takes concentration on multiple movements at once.

The challenge of skiing with cerebral palsy doesn’t end with the balance required during turns. The skill of turning does seem most important, as turning becomes a major way of traversing the slope. Other than just pointing the skis straight down the hill and hoping for the best. As we work on advancing the turns, learning how to move our skis closer to one another gets challenging. Keeping them near to each other helps make turns more quickly, leading to skiing on steeper slopes. However, cerebral palsy becomes a challenge again in this instance. With my legs and feet wanting to move toward the center line in their natural state. The only way to help them from turning inward seems to have been through gaining strength. Both strength in the legs, as well as strengthening the feet. The added strength brings on more control, allowing me to become better about holding my legs apart and my feet more flatly on the ski. All of these improvements help control the skis better and most importantly help control the edges of my skis. With the speed of skiing quickening, any wondering tilt of the ski could catch an edge and send me falling to the snow. So, always maintaining focus on the positioning of the legs and feet has been vital. Those skills also translate to everyday movements. As cerebral palsy can often cause walking to be more challenging. Any experience which applies pressure on balance and control of the body could lead to more ease with everyday tasks like walking.

Even with the challenge of leg and feet position, combined with the learning of performing turns, there becomes another challenge. After making a ski turn in one direction, we are required to transition into another turn moving back. The timing of those transitions seems to dictate our ability as a skier. The more quickly we can move from one turn into the other, the steeper slope we can manage. This again appears to be another place were cerebral palsy adds to the challenge of skiing. The signaling from the brain to the muscles happens more slowly inside my body due to the disability. Often leading to an extended period of time teaching my body how to react more quickly to those signals. When moving down the ski slope, the faster we transition our weight in and out of turns, the more control we have over the skis. When there becomes a lapse in that timing, my brain telling my body to turn, and the body not responding right away. Things can get a little sticky on the mountain. Probably the major reason for spending hours on the easier slopes, training the synaptic chain to fire more quickly. The fluidity of those points of transition, moving from one turn into the next, become important, and the ability to execute those turns quickly, far from natural. When working down a steep ski slope, if the legs don’t respond on time to the signals coming from the brain, things can get pretty scary, pretty quickly. Luckily, even though cerebral palsy makes it more challenging, the timing of these signals can improve with practice and patience. The key element has been to keep practicing. Improving the skills required to participate in activities enjoyed.

After another day of spending all of the time on the easiest run of the mountain, it was time to move. We got about half way into our second ski day of the season. Following a full previous year of steering clear of anything more challenging than daisy. It was my birthday and a pretty nice day out for skiing. The clouds hovered above us, sprinkling snow as the morning wore on. But, the visibility was still pretty good. The work on the easier run was going smoothly. The timing of moving down the run began speeding up, signifying comfort and improvement. While at the same time, some emotions of boredom were beginning to take hold of my emotions. The more advanced chairlift was catching my eye as we rode up daisy, while fear could be felt with each look. Finally, courage to try took over, and the break was made for another chair. It was going to be more difficult, but the challenge of the easier run had been wavering. There was plenty of nervous energy while loading onto the new chair. The chair carried us away much quicker. Anxiety continued filling me even while unloading, wondering how this would transpire. But, I was excited and ready to take on the challenge, having led the charge to further difficulty. There were portions of steep grades on the way down. Surprising myself with how well they were handled. Without hesitation, I coasted back into line, and up the same chair again. Then again, and again, until we had skied the more challenging routs four separate times. Each trip skiing a little better. Learning to be unafraid of the mountain, while gaining confidence in my abilities. It was a profound day on the slopes. Proving to myself that patience and perseverance can lead to improvement.

The impact of skiing on cerebral palsy symptoms has really come into focus this year. Each time before training with Bernard, he has me get warm with a routine. One of the parts in the warming of the body has been lunging. During the lunge, the arm opposite the forward leg extends above my head. The movement provides a stretch during the lunge. Something Bernard has noticed during the warming lunge has been better stability. Since skiing the last couple weeks, the balance during that lunge has improved. It provides indication of how well skiing has been helping cerebral palsy symptoms. All of the factors involved in coordinating movement and working on signals from the brain helps. Adding to the functional improvements has been the fun of spending time in the mountains. This last week also brought about crossing into new territory. The day took me into more challenging terrain to ski. The challenge was desired and met with successful enthusiasm. So, even when a hobby gets lost in the shuffle as we age, there remains the possibility of it being rediscovered. Sometimes carrying a more positive impact than before.






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