Cartwheeling, tumbling and cratering myself to confidence

Yesterday I cartwheeled, tumbled, and cratered countless times on the slopes while snowboarding. Normally, one might not be pleased with such a performance, but these mishaps were a major milestone for me. Up to this point after surgery, I have been very tentative while snowboarding. To fall so many times meant one thing: I was pushing it on the slopes and feeling absolutely wonderful.

Last year during my initial two times out boarding post-surgery, I fell a lot too. However, that was a different situation because those falls were caused by my muscles being weak. Yesterday, the tumbles happened because I was going faster, turning more aggressively, venturing onto some black diamond runs and even doing some tiny jumps (okay… I only caught a foot of air, but it was something). And most importantly, I had finally let go of some fears that had been holding me back.

During my earlier snowboarding trips this season, I was always afraid of falling. What if I twisted a weird way? Would my body be able to handle it? Though the fears were likely justified in the beginning, I was having growing suspicions that I was babying my body too much while snowboarding the last few times. So, this time I put the trepidations aside and went for it.

As I zipped down the slopes, I not only had some little tumbles, I also managed to squeeze in a few of my most dreaded fall types. One of these was an edge-catch going at a slow speed on a catwalk. My healed butt incision survived the resulting sling-shot slam on to my bum and back just fine. I also did a great snowboard nosedive into fresh powder. My body twisted as it came to a sudden stop, but weathered this graceful move as well as it did during the countless times before surgery. In the late afternoon, the sky clouded up and the light became flat, and I couldn’t see the ungroomed terrain beneath my feet well enough to gauge my speed. I soon found myself in a vertigo-induced cartwheeling fall. Yep, I came away from that one unscathed too.

Getting up from one of my many falls.

By the end of the day, my legs were so fatigued that I could barely link my turns. Doug and I had caught the first (well, about the 20th chair–we were in line) and last chairlifts, and except for a short lunch break, had snowboarded at a hard pace all day long. The conditions were phenomenal and it was just like the old days when we would do countless laps up and down the mountain, not wanting to waste a minute of time on the snow.

I sometimes think back to the time when I was sick with Ulcerative Colitis, and how it felt like my body had betrayed me by attacking itself and causing me to become ill enough to lose my colon. It has been extremely difficult to build up trust in my body after that. Even though I have recovered and regained my health, I still find myself with the unsettling feeling that something else could go wrong. Without trust in my body, it is very difficult to overcome fears that could prevent me from reaching my goals, not only in sports, but in life as a whole. I desperately need to believe in it again! As I put myself through the wringer on the slopes yesterday, I finally felt strong signs that my post-surgery body is working hard to regain my confidence.

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10 thoughts on “Cartwheeling, tumbling and cratering myself to confidence

  1. Heidi, great to see you back on the slopes! I know from your snowboarding video that you are quite skilled. I skateboarded parks and pools and skied Colorado’s best like mad in my youth through college, but snowboards had yet to grace the slopes then, so I never got to try them. Gimme a lesson someday?

    I can relate well to the lack of body confidence as I pursue a slow but determined path back to mountain biking, which was my dear and near daily sport for 15 years before I fell ill and lost my colon. I’ve been riding again since this January and am up to about an hour on the trails 4-5 times a week. I have to admit that I don’t know if I’d be back in the saddle yet had I not been inspired to get out there by your courageous videos–so here’s a big THANK YOU for that! I started with a 10 minute ride around the block and was astonished at how fatigued I was afterward, how much strength and muscle mass I had lost. I had serious doubts about whether I could ride again and what my frail and protesting body could take. The doubts were so intrusive that I didn’t even want to look at my bike the following day. But I watched more of your videos and listened to your words of encouragement and thought why waste more of my life lying on the couch wishing for the past and the healthy body I once had when I could never have either back. So the day after my 1st 10″ ride, I borrowed your courage, forced myself to look at my bike in a positive way and hit the dirt for close to 30 minutes. Surprisingly, I didn’t feel so bad while riding, but the doubts were competing with what little confidence I was regaining, a real back and forth duel in my mind. A lot of fear kept my pace very slow so I wouldn’t crash or hurt my unused body, and thoughts of how I used to ride tempered the actual joy of riding again.

    Today, I rode the difficult trails in the rain with my soulmate Danuta, who is in very good shape. And I felt joy to be cycling again with her, joy that my body is meeting the task well, joy that I’m gaining confidence one pedal stroke at a time, joy to be living again. Tomorrow, I will likely ride a little faster, a little longer, a little happier and a little more confidently.

    1. Hi Cary,

      Thank you for sharing your story about your biking progress. You have come very far since January! I am so happy that you are feeling the joy of riding again. It is how I felt this weekend snowboarding. I was no longer thinking about what my body was doing in relation to my ostomy or affected ab muscles. Instead, I was thinking about the powder, the turns, how crazy my calf muscles were burning from pushing it and how excited I was for the next run. Suddenly, I realized that my mind had somehow made a huge shift since I had gone boarding only a few weeks ago. I felt like my body was durable again!!! I went to the climbing gym this week and noticed the same shift. Suddenly I was powerfully climbing some of the slightly overhanging routes and not constantly obsessing in my head about the possibility of injury. I knew that I had been building up to this level and that my body is getting strong enough for the next challenge.

      Still, I think one of the most important things in all of this for me has been letting my body take the time it needs to reach all these stages of healing and strength. At first, I constantly gauged my progress against my fitness levels before I got sick. This just made me sad and frustrated. I could really notice this in Yoga. There are poses that I can hardly do now that I used to think were pretty easy. But now I really try to not compare things to my days before surgery. Instead, I try to measure my progress from where I started after the operation. If I look at it this way, instead of being disappointed, I am amazed at the things I have accomplished in a little over a year. I never put any huge pressure on myself to reach any firm goals by certain dates. I focused on the next day and one step at a time. Before long, my body was really surprising me and making gains faster than I had ever imagined… and now in some activities I am catching up to my pre-surgery/illness fitness levels and abilities. You may end up surprising yourself with your progress too as you keep biking.

      I will definitely take you snowboarding if you ever come to CO. That in exchange for a mountain bike lesson! I can fly down a slope on my board or climb 800 feet up on a rock face without too much fear, yet trying to hop a few roots or rocks on a trail on a bike fills me with trepidation:)

      -Heidi

      1. You are spot on about changing perspectives, which is still a work in slow progress for me. I’m still quite hard on myself, impatient, and easily disappointed when thinking I should achieve the same standards as when I was healthy. I’m thinking that way a bit less now, but it’s very difficult to let go of the past and fully accept my present limitations, a stream of thinking that I know is holding me back (and keeping me up at night). I’m realizing, as you have, but more slowly, that one should be proud of one’s accomplishments, especially when the standards have shifted down so drastically. I should note my progress from where I am NOW, after the surgeries, couch jail, pain spirals. I shouldn’t compare today’s ride, today’s projects, to my healthy status in 2004, 2005. Those pasts should not be the barometer. My platform is floating, ever changing… & that should be ok because my mind, soul & body are becoming more buoyant, enduring & steady. One step at a time. There IS freedom in one’s future by releasing one’s past, letting go the tiring torment of comparisons. I greatly admire how you have let go, and as a consequence, made huge strides. The good news is that I know someone 😉 who is a fantastic guide through this struggle, and I am right behind her . . .

  2. Great to hear you had a great time and not too beat up by it all. I have never ski b4 but i used to water ski alot when i lived in the U.S.A and even water ski on one ski, I do think being over 6 feet 2in i have a longer way to fall,LOL

    1. Hi Michelle,

      I didn’t get too beat up, but my leg muscles were sore the next couple of days… still are. My stoma and abdominal wall are great though. I have never tried water skiing. Every summer my local ostomy association has a picnic at one of the member’s homes. It is on a lake and some of the members go water skiing. Maybe I will have to try it this summer!

      Also, I hope you are feeling better and that your appliances are sticking okay again.

      -Heidi

  3. You go girl!
    I’m twenty years on with a permenant ileostomy (Colorectal-cancer).
    The day I got back on skiis was the day I knew life was going to be worth living again; however long it lasted. Last Saturday I was giving ski tips to an ostomy nurse; there’s irony. Still have never had an appliance fail despite spectacular falls and apres ski sessions in the hot tub!

  4. Thanks Richard! So great to hear from someone who has had their permanent ileostomy for a while and loves winter sports. The amount of amazing living I have done in even the year since surgery has made every second of pain and uncertainty related to the operation worth it.

    I like hearing that your pouch has survived so many falls! Honestly, I can’t picture how my appliance would ever come off because it sticks so well, yet I still worry about it sometimes. I am sure I will become more confident about it in the years ahead. I love hot tub soaks too. Doesn’t seem to affect my wear-time at all.

    Thanks again for the great comment!

    -Heidi

  5. After I had my ileostomy in 2003 I didn’t know if I would be able to resume my skiing and by extension ski patrol career. It was getting back to skiing 5 weeks after my surgery and active patrolling two months later that made me feel normal again. I am still hauling toboggans in what has become another epic Pacific Northwest ski season. I am averaging 2-3 days per week on the slopes.

    1. Wow, Caroline … ski patrol career! Very impressive for an ileostomate. Can you share what clothing and wearables you use to keep your appliance in check while ripping down the slopes? Keep the smooth side down!

    2. Hi Caroline,

      Wow! Back to skiing 5 weeks post-op. That is amazing. It took me about 5 months. Have you ever feared developing a parastomal hernia from hauling toboggans? I haven’t had any issues with hernias so far despite climbing and carrying some fairly hefty loads while backpacking, but I am always curious about the experiences of other active people with ostomies .

      I am envious of your epic snow season. It has been one of our driest years in the Colorado mountains in years. However, some of the best snow days have happened to fall on my days off of work so I have still gotten some great boarding in.

      Happy skiing!

      -Heidi

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