Around the age of 14 I learned to slalom ski on Lake Mojave in California. I had been water-skiing for a number of years and I was getting increasingly comfortable and ready to put another sport in my recreational repertoire. Sometimes life offers us the choice of taking on something challenging. Sometimes it doesn’t. This is one of the times I got to choose and here is what I remember about slalom skiing: Until experiencing it, I had little understanding of just how much work it takes to stay steady and rise above the water.
I had watched other people, snugly fit in their life jackets, hop into the cool water, wrestle with an unruly ski, fitting one foot in first and then tucking the other behind it. I’d watched them struggle to keep their heads up as they waited for rope, jostled in the water at the mercy of the current and the boat wake. I’d seen them grab the rope and straighten the ski, positioning their bodies directly behind the boat. And then I’d watched them call “hit it” to the boat driver and endure the pull of the boat, rising almost effortlessly out of the water as the ski would plane out and they’d fly across the lake with exhilarating freedom.
What I learned when it was me in the water is that those few seconds that seem effortless are, to the skier, quite challenging. And that the hardest moments of skiing are the moments of endurance between “hit it” and gliding across a lake of early morning glass. No matter who you are and how strong your body is, those few seconds of extreme pull require commitment, endurance and vision. You have to tell yourself that you won’t let go until you reach your goal. You have to remind yourself that you can do it and you have to see yourself skiing on that lake. Sometimes struggle is like that and when you’re in the thick of something hard, those moments where everything seems more than you can bear, you think you can’t hang on or that you’re the only one who struggles or that you’ll never move through the stretching moments you find yourself in. It’s not. You can. You’re not. You will. Believe & hang on.
Every summer when I go to Lake Powell I like to slalom ski at least once to remind myself what it feels like. I usually have to make a few attempts because I’ve forgotten, as it’s easy to do, how to hang on to the rope when every muscle in my arms and legs screams for me to let go. I ski to practice skiing, to get some water up my nose, shake it off and try again. I ski to remind myself that I am capable of enduring the pull of the boat for as long as it takes to get me up out of the water. I ski to practice steadying myself in positions I know will move me forward as the wake of the boat and the water of the lake rock me back and forth. I ski to remind myself that it’s worth hanging on because there’s nothing quite like watching the sun rise as I slide across the lake with a smile on my face, the wind in my hair and my fingers grazing the top of the water. Like most things in life, the price we pay for experiential knowledge can be steep but it’s worth the effort.