My best moments this winter were these: for three days in a row, two hours at a time, I gave a private "ski lesson" to an 81 year old woman who had Kyphosis (hump back) so severe she could barely walk. To look up at me, she would tilt her head sideways and look from the corners of her eyes. She was tiny and frail looking and she came all the way from Chicago on the pretense of visiting her grandkids. I know, though, that she really came to ski.
For Edith, walking was slow, methodical, painful, and annoying. But on skis, she could move. Her joints didn't ache. She got around.
Every day, for three days in a row, her son- in- law would bring her up, and she'd lean on his arm all the way from the car to the Nordic Center. He didn't ski, so he'd bring a book and two hours later he'd help her make her way back to the car. If he only knew what she was up to while he sat inside and read.
For those two hours, I'm not sure, but I think Edith felt like she was flying. On one of those days, a day so windy and cold that even the thermometer in the sun read only seven degrees, Edith said to me as we headed up the mile-long, steady incline called 17th Ave., "Nothing hurts now." I made a mental note to self to think about those words whenever I'm out there, feeling too cold or too tired or too whatever, whenever I'm feeling too sorry.
The day after that horrendously cold one, we had one of those January Thaw kind of days. By the time Edith came up for her "lesson" the temperature had gone from almost 40 degrees, back down to around 20. These melt freeze conditions make for very fast snow--snow that's more ice than snow.
It was also Edith's last day in Colorado. She really wanted a good ski. And she wanted to stay in the tracks for as much of her two hours as possible. If you've not cross country skied, "tracks" are set by grooming machines. They are two grooves, exactly the width of your two skis, and about an inch deep. They make the kick and glide of classic cross country skiing much easier and more rhythmic than skiing on flat snow. On downhills, though, staying in the tracks can go from thrilling to slightly terrifying, especially on those icy melt-freeze days.
Edith said she wanted to try to stay in the tracks all the way down the hill that is 17th Ave., back to the Nordic Center. This is a woman who still works part time, and who still plays piano in her town's orchestra. You don't discourage a woman like Edith.
I skied next to her, outside of the tracks, where I could easily wedge my skis to slow myself down. That is, if I could had had an opportunity to slow myself down. Edith was flat-out moving. Knees bent, eyes forward and flying down that hill. I couldn't take my eyes off her face. It looked like she had gone to another time. I still think about how it must have felt to go so fast when walking across a room can seem to take all day.
I got so lost in the moment that it wasn't until I saw the look of horror on another ski instructor's face as Edith's stocking capped head flew by, that I realized that maybe she was going a little too fast.
We came up on the sharp turn at the second to last intersection, and I knew she couldn't stay in the tracks around that corner. I also knew that she couldn't step out of them and snowplow either, as she'd just informed me that due to her hip replacement, her legs didn't lift up like that anymore. The only way to emergency stop for Edith would be to fall. So, as sort of a visual cue, I fell first, and I watched a barely-able-to-walk 81 year old woman hit the ground next to me. While we sat there for a second, and I asked if she was alright, she said to me, "That was the best thing I've done in a long time. I can't imagine anything better."
We got back to the Nordic Center, and I helped her out of her skis, and she leaned on my arm as we walked back inside. As I handed her off to her son in law, I felt like I had a secret, having just witnessed the miracle of old lady flight. I had aided and abetted time travel. And I was fairly certain I knew what at least one person would dream about that night.