Adjust Your Grip


I bent over and locked my too-big-for-me rented ski boots into the clamps on my rented snowboard. I stood up and immediately cringed. My legs did not want to be permanently stuck this far apart and at these awkward angles. Not even for a second.

I clenched my jaw while my husband and I followed our snowboarding instructor, Chris, out into the snow. We spent half an hour getting to know our snowboards and how it felt to slide down a teeny hill without being able to move our feet. Eventually, we graduated to the bunny hills (not even the bunny slopes… there was no way in hell I’d get on those lifts with a snowboard) where standing on a slow moving conveyor belt took us to the top. Chris would demonstrate different skills to slowly maneuver down the mountain for us, then would come back and hold our hands as we awkwardly tried it ourselves.

After just an hour, I was exhausted. I thought I was pretty fit, but that idea was smashed like my butt in the snow. My whole body was against snowboarding, especially my feet and calves, and screamed it out loud every time I fell, moved, or even stood still. All that started to change, however, the minute Chris reminded me to center myself and said, “You gotta just relax. Take it easy. Relax yourself, you’re doing great.” He let go of his grip on my hands and moved away. I took a deep breath, and was about to let him have it – and tell him to relax (WTF is up with people telling me to relax!) – when I realized how tense I actually was. Admittedly, I was just a wee bit scared of free falling down a slippery mountain with a heavy board stuck to my now totally useless feet. And my fear was hindering my ability to actually snowboard down the mountain, which is um, like kinda the point.

I took another deep breath, reached my arms out to balance, and pretended like I knew what I was doing. While I wondered what it would feel like if I could actually do this on my own… voila! I did it!
(We still opted out of returning after lunch for our afternoon lesson. Sadly, Chris was beside himself and we had to give him the ol’ “it’s not you, it’s me” talk – you know, that sort of thing.)

The next day:

I plopped down and bounced a few times onto the squishy leather seat. With super thick snow gloves, I raised the kill switch, pushed the ignition button, and squeezed the accelerator handle. My snowmobile lurched forward an inch and stopped immediately, whiplashing my body forward and back. With two fingers hovered over the left brake grip, I slowly squeezed the right handle grip again. I just as slowly moved my machine through the snow… then abruptly stopped. Again. Embarrassingly, this went on a few more times before I finally got a feel for the grip.

I spent the first 20 minutes of our ride freaked out like an elderly car driver living on their brakes. What if my snowmobile hit a weird bump and went flying down the side of the (freshly snowed and groomed) mountain pass? My runny nose, blue lips, and red chin balked at the chilly air, and then either adjusted to the temperature or became so numb I couldn’t feel them anymore. Despite the nifty warming feature on the handle, my hands and wrist were numb, too. My shoulders were sore from being tense and tightly gripping the handles.

Our guides led us to a snow covered frozen lake (a bit larger than a football field), where we were given free reign to ride around and get used to our snowmobiles. That helped quite a bit, but then (after enjoying a stunning viewpoint of Lake Tahoe) we began to head back.

The descent was a bit more treacherous; the snow was softer, deeper, and not quite as groomed the higher we were on the mountain. It required a lot more arm strength to maneuver the snowmobile and stay a good distance behind the person in front of me. My arms started to shake and tire. My wrists and hands started to ache. My neck was stiff from being so alert. To be honest, while it was beautiful, thrilling, and exciting, I’ve have to say, it was mostly… scary.

After a while of this, going 30 miles an hour down a slippery mountain, I took a deep breath, and chose to forcibly relax my body. I pulled my shoulders down and away from my ears. I took a deep breath and adjusted my grip on the handles. I squeezed the snowmobile with my thighs and finally felt in control of the beastly hunk of metal. It was exhilarating. I felt less like a passive rider getting tossed about, and more like an active one. It took a little while, but I finally felt in control, and excited to ride faster and be more daring when hitting all the bumps, jumps, and turns. It was awesome, and I found myself wanting to do it again!

Later that day:

I got some awful news; a biopsy confirmed that my mom has stage 2 ductal breast cancer. (Thankfully it was caught early and we are optimistic.) After an exhilarating morning, I sat on the bed that afternoon devastated. My body tensed up again. I found myself scared for the third time during this trip. But after having quite a bit of practice being scared, I took a few deep breaths, and tried to relax. I was still scared, but knew it was time to “adjust my grip” again. Being tense and upset hadn’t worked for me snowboarding down a hill or snowmobiling down a mountain. But relaxing and adapting had, so I tried my best to put that into practice.

I can’t control everything that happens; I wish I could. I wish I could order my snowboard to do what I say, perfectly control my snowmobile, force the snow to oblige, and command the cancer cells to disappear. I can’t.Thankfully, though, there is something I can do: change the way I react. I can be passive and tense, and let things overwhelm, scare, or control me. Which will lead to nothing. Nothing will happen, other than my body and mind getting injured or hurt, (and as we have seen from a few of my previous posts, my body responds to my mental angst and it’s not pleasant, to say the least) which accomplishes… More nothing.

Instead, I’m learning I can be active, and choose my reactions. I can trust my instincts, change my attitude, be aware of how I’m feeling and what’s actually happening, and adapt accordingly. I can remove myself from the situation, talk about it, or adjust some other way. If I’m sad, I can cry. If I’m happy, I can smile and dance. If I’m scared, I can take a deep breath, and relax.

No matter what fears and uncontrollable things come my way, I can always adjust my grip.

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