Being Thankful After Loss

FullSizeRender.jpg

I suppose I'm a few days late on my post, but Thanksgiving (the being grateful part, not necessarily the eat-til-you-pop part) is a way of being that I aspire toward as much as possible, so consider this the start of a movement.

The last few years have been particularly brutal for me. I've experienced more consecutive loss than I ever imagined possible, I've felt less control in my life, more confusion, and less hope. Losing my father was by far the worst experience of my life. It did, however,  help to put the other "losses" of my life into perspective. Honestly, sometimes, the greatest loss is the quickest way to make you realize what you do have. As someone wise once said, if you can't learn to be happy with what you have, you will never be happy once you get what you want.

FullSizeRender (1)

The Depression

Early in the fall I found myself in a deep depression. For weeks I had inescapable feelings of worthlessness and self-doubt. Feelings of missing my father and needing him more than ever completely overwhelmed me. In hard times like this I am so grateful for sports, not just for the endorphin and adrenaline-releasing aspects, but for the lessons I've learned through competing, from setting goals and failing (not succeeding) to reach the desired outcome.

Everyone talks about how valuable participation in sports is, and there are many tangible reasons that partaking in physical activity is beneficial to one's health. I don't think "experiencing failure" is one of the reasons mentioned often, but of all the things sport gave me, resilience was by far the greatest gift. If we aren't exposed to failure, we cannot prepare for it, we cannot become comfortable with it, and we cannot let it move us forward.

A competitive halfpipe run takes somewhere between 30-45 seconds to complete. and in that time I probably make a million decisions. If I make a mistake, there is no time to dwell on it, if something happens that is out of my control, I cannot sit back and feel bad for myself, I need to recover and move forward, adjust my plan along the way. It was one of my strengths as an athlete, I never gave up on a run, I always finished if I was physically able, attempting to get the highest score I could, even in the face of a mistake that I knew would cost me the win. After years of this practice, I would so seamlessly adjust in the face of adversity that many people didn't even notice that I had made a mistake.

The Loss

After losing my dad, my attention had been shifted to all that I had lost, not just in losing him, but all of the disappointment in my ski career and its impending end. This put me in a downward spiral, spinning out of control. I was forgetting to just continue moving forward, even if I would need to change course again, even if it was a mistake that would need to be corrected later. Instead I just let the thoughts of what I didn't have and of what I had lost and what I would lose in the future pull me into the darkness.

In life, we are tortured by time. We have so much TIME to think about what we should be doing with our time, that we drive ourselves crazy. I think that's the nicest part about sports: they're time-bound. Your win or loss is in a finite moment and then you move on. Adapting this into my daily life has been much harder than applying it to sports, but lucky for me I have some pretty amazing people in my life who help get me navigate these murky waters.

What I Have

Once I shifted my mindset from what I no longer had to making the most of the scraps in front of me, my scraps started turning into something substantial. Soon enough, I was guided in a new direction. I was able to see how I wanted to be living my life, and I was much happier because I was now focused on all that I did have: my health, a supportive fiancee, an incredible family held together through love that deepened when we had to say goodbye to my father in April, I had a roof over my head, I was in school, I was still finding ways to pay my bills and I was alive.  I remember thinking in the final days of my dad's life, that the only positive about the discomfort he was in was that it meant he was still here, his heart was still beating, I could still hold him in my arms. I'm glad that he is finally at peace now, but when life gets hard, try to remind yourselves that the pain you are experiencing simply means you still have a fighting chance to create the life you've always wanted.

This holiday season I am so thankful for all I have, for this community built around the written word, for skiing, for my family, my dogs, the mountains, bicycles, fresh air, hot chocolate and love. It keeps the world goin' around.

FullSizeRender

UA ColdGear Infrared Vailer Jacket | UA Storm Queen Pant | Hestra Fall Line Mitten | RAMP Sports Shebang | Salomon X Pro 120 Boot

 

My Father, A Dynamic Man

IMG_1532.jpg

IMG_1489 Dad was a dynamic man, a man of few words who always managed to teach so much. He was a man of great intellect—a genius, or gen-yi, as our family would say. I always knew this about my dad, but that aspect never defined him.

When people asked what my father did for a living, I had a routine answer. I was careful to delicately and slowly allow all of the pieces to surface.

“He’s a professor.”

“Oh. Well, what does he teach?”

“Computer science.”

“Really?! Where?”

“Um, at Yale.”

—Awkward silence—

On paper and without knowing him, my father’s résumé made him sound unapproachable, like he must exist in a different realm than the rest of us. This, of course, couldn’t be farther from the truth. What defined Dad were not the specific lectures that he gave, or the programming languages that he wrote, but the love that he shared, and the belief that he had in each and every one of us. My father was not just a mind and an ego, but a heart and an adventurous soul.

One of the greatest memories that I have with my dad was a mountaineering trip that we went on together with two of his colleagues. I was 12. The trip took place in April of 1999—we climbed Forbidden Peak in Oregon, which involved traveling on glacial terrain. I recently looked up some information about the peak to refresh my memory and laughed at what I learned. The website suggested taking 3 days to make the climb. We did it in two.

The hike in to the base of the climb involved some stream crossings and ultimately landed us on an open glacier with Forbidden Peak towering above. We found the surface of an exposed flat rock about 20’ by 6’ and made that our base camp. We pitched tents on the hard slanted rock because it would be warmer than pitching a tent on snow. In the morning we woke before the sun to begin our summit. It was my first time using an ice axe and crampons and the first time I’d been tethered to someone while “hiking” in case one of us was to slip. I’m not sure that my 110-pound self would’ve been much help to my dad then, but it certainly made me feel safer. The final approach to the summit was an exposed ridgeline with 1,000’ foot drops to either side; I can still generate the butterflies that I felt in my stomach by just thinking back to that view. Standing on the top of that mountain, breathing in the thin fresh air and feeling the warmth of the sun on our face made it all worth it.

But things got interesting on our way out and we came to understand why they recommend taking 3 days to complete the route. As the snow warmed up during the day, it melted into the streams that we crossed the previous day. Those streams had turned into raging rivers by our exit that evening. I remember being passed from shore to shore by my dad and his two friends, one of them would stand in the middle of the river on a semi-stable rock and would transfer me from one river bank to the other. We didn’t get back to our cars until well after dark, but we did something others may have said was impossible. We improvised.

Most fathers wouldn’t think of taking their daughter on such a trip, most wouldn’t imagine their 12 year-old would be up for it, but dad didn’t see me as a young incapable girl, he didn’t look at what I couldn’t or shouldn’t do, but at what would be possible. He saw me as his equal, even at that young age.

Dad believed greatly in human potential. He got you to understand the world better by encouraging you to try a little more, to push a bit harder, to take a leap of faith and attempt something you’d never done before. He facilitated our learning by motivating our trying. This was true whether it was computer science, soccer, lacrosse or jazz.

He lived this philosophy daily as he battled a terrible disease and tolerated relentless side-effects to his treatments. He just kept on trying. I was in awe of his perseverance and courage; I was baffled by his ability to remain positive and to remain kind, to his doctors, nurses, aids and all of us, at least most of the time.

My dad was my hero. Not because of how smart he was, not because of his accomplished career, or for being coach of the year, but because of his ability to love deeply and to share his zest for life with thousands of others—to prove that success in life is so much more than what society lets on. Success is about living passionately, cherishing the little things and reveling in the beauty and light that surrounds us.

My father’s death has left a great mark on my heart. But so too, did his life.

IMG_1532

FullSizeRender