This past weekend marked the one year anniversary of breaking my wrist. Hooray!
I never got the hang of skiing or snowboarding in adolescence. I had always wanted to give it a shot - but the expense, my embarrassment at being a total novice, and my fear of great bodily harm prevented me from ever really trying. (I'm also an incorrigible student when it comes to anything requiring practice to gain basic ability - especially with athletics. I want to be capable at the onset and despise being bad at things - it's something I'm trying to work on to become a better version of myself.)
It was my move to California (and proximity to Lake Tahoe) that finally gave me the access and motivation I needed to get started with skiing or boarding. My first year, I took a lesson during a spring weekend getaway, and that was that. The following season I got a bit more serious - multiple lessons and a season pass - in an effort to get ready for a trip to Colorado.
That's where things took an interesting turn.
If you can't tell from the photos above (shot on film by a friend), Copper Mountain was BEAUTIFUL. I was with a group that knew what they were doing, having boarded or skied for most of their lives. My runs came nowhere close to the magnitude of those pictured above, yet on an early tumble I still managed to do something to my ankle. It recovered at the time, but worsened as I rode through the morning. I bowed out by lunch, and spent two days icing and elevating with a puppy on my lap.
When our last day rolled around, I didn't want to leave without trying one last time. Against better judgement I shoved my foot in my boot and was off...until I immediately smashed my wrist.
Hoping to avoid the embarrassment of another false alarm (I had my ankle checked out the previous day) I skipped ski patrol and made my way down with the afflicted hand hiding in my sleeve and it's glove around my neck (think a less gruesome version of Jaime Lannister in Game of Thrones Season Three). The clinic staff was thrilled to see me again and it ended up being a real bitch to get my rings off. It turned out I also tweaked by shoulder, and by the following day I'd lost the ability to effectively use both arms.
Still, it all seemed fairly manageable until my surgery. I thought I had a decent pain tolerance. I thought that I was pretty, tough - resilient even. Well, I thought wrong, and it was a humbling and horrible reality check.
I was a whimpering mess. Dressing myself was impossible and sleeping was unbearable - though my boyfriend at the time became pretty skilled at washing and brushing my hair for me. (If you're reading this - thanks again for that.)
I got a bionic wrist out of the deal and have healed nicely in the year since, but the experience made we wary as hell when it came to snowboarding. Concerned friends and family members assumed I'd forego winter sports altogether. My replies were always along the lines of "we'll seeeee" and "maybe I'll switch to skiing" - but on the inside I was anxious and uncertain about ever riding down a mountain again.
That is, until this past Thanksgiving. My mom and I were in Tahoe for the holiday, and we stopped for gas on an early morning drive out. A huge storm had rolled in, and a car in front of us was full of boarder bros with the biggest smiles on their faces. I realized that I was extremely envious - and it was a wakeup call regarding how much I still wanted to have downhill mountain adventures and to be competent on a board - even though the reality of trying again scared the shit out of me.
I spent the next few weeks itching to head to the mountains, and contemplating whether or not it was worth risking another injury. My answer (which was, yes, turns out it's totally worth it!) came by way of the ridiculous views at Heavenly in South Lake Tahoe, where I decided to (very tentatively) test the waters again.
Now that we've taken care of the WHY I gave it a second shot (gorgeous views and the potential for exhilarating mountain experiences) let's dive into HOW I got back on the board.
I'll admit, I was totally freaked out by how suddenly and effortlessly the wrist smashing went down. I wasn't going fast (like, at all) and the fall was a total surprise - which meant that moving forward, I was totally convinced that I could (and would) catch an edge at a moment's notice and snap my arm in two.
There's only so much you can do equipment wise - but I found that wearing wrist protection was extremely helpful. It allowed me to stop obsessing about my wrist at every turn, and made space in my brain to think about things other than injury and disaster - like how the whole snowboarding thing actually works.
Once I decided to give snowboarding one more try, I found it was really important to:
1. Set reasonable goals. There were no delusions of grandeur, or even the expectation that I'd have a basic skillset once I got up there. The idea was to show up, start slow, see how it felt, and go from there.
2. Give yourself an out. If I got to the top of the hill and decided "holy shit, no no no no no, I don't want to do this, OMG, NO" then that would be that - game over, you tried, it's not your thing, and no big deal.
3. Surround yourself with supportive, patient people. When it came to feeling comfortable back on a board, who I was with turned out to be way more important than what was on my wrists. Being new at something can suck - toss in fear of injury, running into other riders, and/or plummeting off a cliff, and you could have a recipe for a meltdown. (I've been there while boarding - it's not pretty.)
I made my comeback on the slopes with a group that had years of experience and an ease with winter mountain sports. That being said, my lovely friend Liz made it her mission to rehabilitate my attitude.
She was patient, encouraging, and fun - one part cheerleader, one part snowboarding sensei. Sure, I had some bumps (and falls, and bails) along the way - but her willingness to start slow while I got my bearings (and got over my uncertainty and terror) made all the difference, and allowed me to relax and build up my skills throughout the day. Perhaps more importantly, I started to finally feel comfortable and in control.
So there you have it - my thoughts on snowboarding after surgery. I'll leave you with this photo of cotton candy clouds on the drive out from Heavenly, and some parting words of gratitude.
Thank you to: the staff of Copper Mountain who took lovely care of me as my fingers were swelling up and I tried really hard not to cry; my Colorado hosts who had to sleep through my whimpering; Dr. Payvandi and Don Torrey from Sacramento Knee and Sports Medicine who made me as good as new; Sutter Alhambra Surgery Center for introducing me to the absolute dream that is Dilaudid; my bf at the time who brushed my hair and dealt with my post-surgery state; my roommates who planned a spectacular Sonoma Coast trip to force me to rejoin the living; and most of all, thanks to President Obama, who forced me to get health insurance. One month prior to my accident I was an uninsured freelancer - lucky for me I got on the good 'ol exchange, because this fun surgery adventure would have (quite literally) bankrupted me otherwise. So seriously, #ThanksObama.