Bruce Sallan: Overcoming fear
A Dad’s Point-of-View column by Bruce Sallan
My son and I had an extraordinary experience this Spring Break while on a ski trip at Mammoth, Calif. It was just the two of us, since my wife stayed home for work and my older son preferred hanging out with his friends and girlfriend (I can’t blame him, as she’s wonderful). So, it was a special alone-time-trip with my younger son, David.
Because our skiing levels and skiing interests are quite different, we tend to prefer to ski separately. I have friends there and David had some friends from school that he skied with. However, we always hook up at some point and one day, after he’d slightly hurt himself and was taking it easy, we skied together. We skied just one area, where there’s a short chair lift and short runs.
When we approached the lift line, I noticed a woman waiting just outside the line. I made a comment that on such a beautiful day, she shouldn’t be kept waiting. She smiled and we went ahead.
A few minutes later, when we returned to the lift, she was still there. I suggested that whoever was keeping her waiting was rude and she should ride up with us. She replied that she might ride up with us the next time we came down. I introduced my son, and myself. She told us her name was Lisa.
Next time down, again she was there and I said, “Okay, that’s it; they’re being very rude and you should get to enjoy yourself.” “C’mon with us.” She then quietly told me the real story of what was going on. Evidently, she had had some sort of accident on a chairlift five years ago, and was scared to go on again and hadn’t in all the intervening years. Today, she was trying, but had stood there for over an hour trying to get up the nerve to go.
I told her I fully understood since I had a similar experience after I’d had a bad accident last Memorial Day in the half-pipe (you know, the event in the Olympics that Shaun White dominates). I had fallen, waking up in a ski gurney, after being unconscious for several minutes. I ended up with a dislocated shoulder, two broken bones, and a concussion. So, when this season began, I approached the half-pipe with trepidation. But, I got over it, letting go of any fear, and have been enjoying the pipe all season.
When we saw Lisa again and encouraged her to come with us, she said, “Will you take care of me, if I go up with you?” to which I said, “Of course.” She tentatively got in line with my son and me. I could see, as the line moved forward, that she was quite hesitant. I kept reassuring her that she could do it. When we got to the front of the line, ready to board the chair, she paled and said she couldn’t do it, and maybe she’d try, “Next time.”
When we got back to the lift again, she was gone. David and I went searching for her, in the lodge and on the deck outside, since we now both felt it was our mission to help her overcome her fear. We couldn’t find her. We went back in line and I asked the lift operator if she had seen her, as everyone was now aware of the situation. The lift operator said Lisa had been taken up the hill, on a snowmobile by the ski patrol, so she could at least take a run.
Again, my son and I went looking for her–this time on the runs. Again, no luck, so David went in for lunch and I returned to the lift. And there she was! I immediately went over to her and she said she had called some friends, as she knew many people at Mammoth. They were coming shortly and she’d like all of us to support her as she tried again to muster the courage to get on the lift.
When her friends showed up, we all got in line, surrounding her. She made it on the chair without a hitch. Immediately she hugged all of us, as tears streamed down her face. When we got to the top, she easily got off the lift and we began to ski. She’s a snowboarder, so she began to “ride,” to use the correct vernacular. The joy on her face was HUGE as she did beautiful, graceful turns, often stretching out her arms in joy.
Her friends had to get back to work, so I stayed with her as we got on another chair and then another, and another, without a hitch. She explained what had happened. About five years ago, she was diagnosed with MS (multiple sclerosis) and was given some heavy medications. At the time, she had an important job working at Mammoth. One day, while on the lift with a good friend, she began hallucinating from the drugs. She tried to jump off, several stories above the snow/ground, and would have fallen to her death had not her strong friend held her tight, preventing a tragedy. Ever since, she was terrified to go on a lift again. She left her job at Mammoth and moved away. Now, five years later, and having mostly beat the MS with holistic treatment, hard work, and determination, she was back at Mammoth hoping to overcome her fear.
It was, to use a favorite word of my kid’s generation, an “awesome” experience to be part of her big win. I took a bunch of photos and made a great, new friend. And, for my son, he learned what it means to reach out and help someone and how good a feeling it is! For a small photo album of pictures I took that day, go to my link at Picassa: http://bit.ly/FearPix
Part of Lisa’s recovery involved intense cycling. She has put her considerable energy towards helping raise money to find a cure for MS via cycling events. If you would like to read more about Lisa, her story, or Multiple Scleroses, please visit her cycling team’s web sight at www.teamchaingang.com, where you can reach Lisa directly.