Celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day is about compassion, freedom, kindness, and love not only to others, but to yourself as well. Today in Mount Hood, on the Teacup Lake Nordic Ski course, I was able to say hello to my personal freedom and show myself the absolute love I deserve by enjoying something I have always been passionate about– Nordic Skiing.
From the moment I clipped into my bindings, I felt free from all the autoimmune diseases and mental battles. From the pulse my arms felt from the tips of the poles digging into the snow, I felt the ability to express my desire to move forward. Each glide on my skis I felt like I was moving at the speed I had so desperately wanted for years– that North Country speed.
I felt free from the parts that I hated so much about myself– the parts that made my life a living hell sometimes, the parts that set me vastly apart from the person I used to be and wanted to be. Those parts of me are my own immune system.
I have always been an athlete, but Thanksgiving of 2015 this changed; I saw this athletic, competitive part of me dissipate. My world flipped upside down due to poor health. Until this January, I had yet to say hello to the person I once was– the person who never let her Rheumatoid Arthritis get in the way of her goals and dreams.
It’s been a long two years of my Rheumatoid Arthritis continuously flaring. Along with the harsh treatments for RA, including high chemotherapy for an RA patient in combination with biologics, my body has been experiencing reoccurring strep throat and double ear infections (and several tapers of antibiotics). If that wasn’t enough for one little lady, I also was recently diagnosed with Psoriatic Arthritis, Idiopathic Insomnia, severe Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and Depression since that one flare up on Thanksgiving in 2015.
You’d think that I’d have the upper hand of learning how to cope with autoimmune disease or new diagnosis’ seeing as I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis at 13 months old.
However, I’ll let you in on my secret– I am never comfortable with my poor health.
Frankly, there’s always something new to face, which makes the mental battle that much worse. Prior to “being super sick” I used to be extremely athletic.
I played soccer from age four, I played field hockey, softball, track, and basketball– you name it, I’ve done it. Athletics were a great way to cope with my depression from a young age after losing my mother. My dad used to tell me to “put all of your anger and sadness into that ball” and to “pound the pavement. Dig your soul into that field”. I did. Every time; I did. So when winter came along in middle school and I wanted to stop playing basketball, my parents urged me to do something.
What we found that winter was that I was exceptional at was Nordic Skiing.
I remember joining the team because at the time I was on the girls varsity soccer team and all of the girls decided to do “Ski Meister”, which meant you had to compete in both Alpine Skiing and Nordic Skiing. While I already did Alpine, I figured I’d try and be cool like the older girls and try this whole Nordic Skiing thing– which was essentially cross country skiing.
The first race I ever had was in the 8th grade. While I didn’t qualify to compete, the coach thought I should have some races under my belt, regardless.
The first race I ever had I placed fourth in the state. After that, my coach got me sponsored with Fischer in the 9th grade. That felt pretty damn cool.
Frankly, I didn’t love the sport at first. In fact, I had to fall in love with it. The only reason that kept me coming back was because I loved running on the soccer field and I was able to transcribe the idea of “pounding the pavement” onto the ski track.
With every push of my ski boot and swoosh of snow from the ski blade, I was able to wipe my mind clear of all the built up, teenage emotions. With the open track, I was able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Being on the open course made me feel free, like I could do anything.
We found that I mostly could. My scores were amazing. This sport became a way to understand how to cope with my emotions in a different way from running. Most importantly, it built my confidence.
Today I became that 8th grader again, competing in her first race. Throughout the course, I recognized that ability to work every day to become better. With each glide, I enjoyed the ability to passionately cope with my emotions by leaving them behind me on the track. I felt confident on the track today because it was something so positive that I was incredibly familiar with, unlike the chronic illnesses that I understand so well. With each herringbone, V2, or V1 form, I felt a part of me that I have not in years. That part, I know now, is happiness.
I am so happy that I was able to show myself where I can find that self love again.
So I ask you this, Spoonies, where do you find your freedom, self-love, and passion?