Facing fears and doing it anyway: What I learned from Martin Luther King, Jr. and downhill skiing

You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sometimes those first steps are the hardest, but, ultimately they can be so rewarding! I offer my experience learning to downhill ski as an illustration. When my son and daughter were little, we lived in Reno, Nevada, just a short drive up the Mount Rose Highway to some of the most beautiful skiing in the world.

Their school offered a ski program. Stefan and Alyssa wanted to learn how to ski. Living someplace as beautiful as Reno with access to downhill skiing, it just had to happen. They started young, in kindergarten and early elementary. Driving ski school was a blast! The children’s excitement was infectious! It was both relaxing and thrilling to spend the afternoon watching them gain skills. I loved watching them bomb (ski straight down as fast as possible) harder and harder hills. One day I watched my son bomb, a mogul filled hill. The run he took was very steep and straight down the center. He was flying! I decided then that I had to learn how to downhill ski.

Three realities had kept me from skiing before. I have a fear of heights, a vertigo level fear of heights. I’m not a fan of speed, and I want to see where I’m going at all times.

The leap of faith necessary to bomb a hill when I couldn’t see what was over the rise was really difficult for me.

My learning to ski was not a smooth process. I took lessons. I bought my own gear. For years, I was content with long, gently sloping green runs (the easiest) where I used drag lifts or t-bars to pull me up the hill, with my skis on the ground.

One afternoon, my son invited me to take a blue run with a couple more advanced elements that he thought I would find beautiful. He told me the run had a panoramic view of Lake Tahoe. But to get there, we had to ride an open air ski lift, our feet dangling high above the slopes, not really my comfort zone. So after gritting my teeth all the way up the mountain and getting off the lift, I was faced with a hill that I could not see around or over. Stefan said, “Don’t worry, mom, You just have to get past this part. It’ll be fine. You’re gonna love it! The view is spectacular!”

I couldn’t get beyond the fact that I couldn’t see where I was going. I mean, the hill in front of me had a slight upward grade, and then just disappeared. I tried to walk to it. I tried to pizza ski to it. The snow was too deep. If I was going to ski this run, I had to just go for it. Ultimately, I just couldn’t do it. It didn’t help that we waited until the end of the day to try this. I was tired. I ended up taking a ride of shame with the ski patrol down the hill. On the upside, that ride allowed me to see what actually was on the other side, to see the run that I would be taking if I could get the courage to do so.

I’m one of those people that never wants to give into fear. I’m also one of the people who recognizes that if I have an opportunity and don’t take it, it may not come again. Stef skied to the bottom of the hill, afraid he was going to find me sad and dejected, or at least embarrassed for having ridden down with the ski patrol. I wasn’t any of those things. I was ready. “Let’s do it”I said!Stef just looked at me and smiled. We rode that terrifying lift back to the top of that mountain. I took a deep breath and just went for it. Together Stefan and I skied down one of the most glorious runs I had seen to that point.

I never did become a super skier like many in my family. I still don’t like going too fast and I’m not all that big on heights. I still like to see where I’m going. That day I did face at least 2/3 of my fears and took the first step off the ski lift and into a beautiful run.

Taking the first step didn’t change my fear of heights, my discomfort with speed, or my desire to always know (see) where I’m going. But it did teach me to work through my anxiety and do it anyway.

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