I’ve never been bold enough for gymnastics. Timidity works against you when it comes to tumbling routines. I did attempt an occasional headstand when I was a child but I never quite managed it. The only cartwheel I ever executed couldn’t really be termed a success as it was entirely unintentional and I was wearing cross country skis at the time.
Cross country skiing is a popular winter activity in the Sudbury area. There are plenty of groomed trails to choose from. I had a friend in High School whose parents had come to Canada from Finland and she introduced me to the sport. Of course, she’d been skiing since she first learned to walk and she made it look effortless. I struggled along in her wake and every time I thought I was finally getting into the rhythm of it my skis would cross and I’d end up tripping myself and falling. It was going to require some serious practice to be able to achieve the kind of grace she displayed.
I bought a pair of skis of my own when I was in College and I was anxious to try them out. Aino-Liisa had moved away by then but my friends, Karen and Don, were keen to join me on the trails. Of the three of us, Karen was the only one who was an experienced skier. Perhaps it had something to do with having Scandinavian roots. Her parents came to Canada from Denmark and she could ski as well as Aino-Liisa had. Don and I were the amateurs.
We were muddling along fairly well and gaining in confidence when we came to a trail marked ‘Intermediate’.
“Should we try it?” I asked.
“Let’s go for it,” Don insisted. “We can do it.”
We set off with Karen in the lead and for the most part we managed it just fine. We were about three fourths of the way through when we found ourselves at the top of quite a steep hill. Don and I waited there while Karen sped down the slope and stopped herself at the bottom.
“Lean forward a little,” she called back to us. “Keep your legs together and your knees bent.”
Never one to hesitate, Don launched himself and fairly flew down the trail. He nearly made it to the bottom but ended in a spectacular crash that left him almost completely buried in a snowdrift. He finally extricated himself and shook the snow out of his hair, digging around to find his missing hat.
“Watch out for the bump about halfway down,” he shouted.
I stood poised on the brink for several seconds trying to work up my nerve with the two of them watching me from below. It was pride that finally pushed me over the edge. Once I was committed I did my best to follow Karen’s advice. I kept my legs together with my knees bent. The wind in my face and the sense of speed was incredible and exhilarating. Then I hit the bump Don warned me about. What he failed to mention was that I would find myself airborne at that point. It startled me so much that I unwittingly stood straight up, all instructions forgotten. I completely lost my balance and I knew in an instant that I was going down. My bottom hit the ground first and I’m a little foggy on the details after that point. My modified cartwheel landed me at the bottom of the hill with all my limbs intact if somewhat tangled. With a little help I managed to ascertain that the only thing broken was one of my skis. The end had completely snapped off and it looked like I would be walking the rest of the way back to the road.
“Well…” I muttered, “That was fun.”
I think Don would have liked to climb back up and try it again but we knew it would take a while to reach the end of the trail with me trudging through the snow carrying the pieces of my skis under an arm. We decided to forego any repeat performances and keep forging ahead. I couldn’t bring myself to be upset about my broken ski when I was so thankful to be able to walk at all. I guess you could say I was never cut out for gymnastics or for racing down hill on a pair of skies, and especially not for a combination of the two.