Rip the face off your fear

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Two men were standing on either side of the hill. One on the top and one at the bottom, and I was in the middle. They were both yelling at me.

This is not a metaphor. This was my life. It was Saturday.

The man at the top was offering to help me back up the hill.

"There's an easier way," he said.

At the bottom was my companion, staring more than yelling.

I was frozen. Fear was flushing through my body, clogging my ears but magnifying everything else.

The 30 feet of ski run in front of me looked like a mile of snow waiting to grab me and twist my legs.

The man at the top finally gave up and disappeared.

I was whispering to myself, "What are you so afraid of?" "Why can't you do this?"

The man below was sliding his skis back and forth, leaning forward on his poles.

"I'm not going to be patient for much longer," he said.

Somehow, that snapped me out of it, and I pointed my french fries down the mountain.

It has been one year since I tore my knee and one year since I had the courage to put on skis. In that time, I'd decided that skiing had betrayed me, and I was never going back to it.

But no one wants to hear about the great snowshoe you did when they are recapping their race through the trees and sunbathing for hours at Slopeside.

So maybe it was that "outside looking in" feeling that motivated me to rent the shortest skis Black Tie had in my size and face my fear.

The conditions were terrible Saturday. It was icy in spots and slushy in others. And it was crowded. But I was having a blast.

As I headed down the hill, my body started to forget the accident and started to remember how to move on snow.

I stopped at one point and looked out over the valley. The sun was pawing through my protective layer of sunscreen. Behind me I could hear skiers running into each other.

I remembered:

When I was 12, we came to Steamboat for a ski vacation. We were a religious family. Baptists. For us, it was church on Sunday morning and Sunday night and prayer service on Wednesdays.

But on that particular Sunday morning, we were sitting in the gondola instead of the pews, and I was receiving a different kind of sermon.

I was skiing by myself on one of those long runs that reach beyond the trees to reveal an as-far-as-the-eye-can-see view and I thought to myself how much closer I felt to God right then than I did at church.

Not that I'm a ski worshipper, but 18 years later on the same mountain, I was feeling something similar to my pre-adolescent spiritual epiphany.

It feels so good to rip the face off your fear and get back to something that you love to do. A weight slid off my spine.

The next day I sat down at my kitchen table and pulled out my checkbook. I wrote out one last $311 payment to the hospital for a visit I made toward the end of 2002.

I licked the envelope and paid off my knee.

In full.

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