Chicken Soup for the Soul – Just Say Yes

Chicken Soup for the Soul - Just Say YesCompiled by: Amy Newmark
Publisher: Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC
ISBN-13: 978-1-61159-114-9


The First Step
by Kitty Chappell




The First Step

The old album tumbled to the floor from the upper shelf of the closet. I planned to quickly replace it, but it landed front up. My late husband Jerry beamed from the centered photo on the cover beneath the words “Heavenly Ski Resort.” So handsome in his red and white ski jacket and black stretch pants, poised on the snowy slope with poles in hand, skis pointed —ready for action. How could I not open it?

It was 1980. Jerry was 46 years old when coerced by business associates to join them on a ski trip. Overriding his objections of having never skied, they promised, “You will love it! This is just the first step.”

I had worried that entire weekend about possible accidents. True, Jerry excelled in golf, bowling, and archery—but taking up skiing at his age?

When Jerry returned, he was so black and blue with bruises that I immediately sent him for x-rays. No bones were broken, but he soon began to sound like a broken record. All he talked about was skiing! Then came outlandish claims. “I’m going back next ski season but as a non-smoker, 25 pounds lighter and in shape.”

“Yeah, right,” I thought. “Nothing I’ve ever said has convinced him to do that!”

I was surprised when Jerry began a weight-loss program, cut back on his cigarettes and joined an aerobics class. Amazingly, by the following ski season he had accomplished each of his goals. I was impressed! And excited for him—until he suggested I go skiing with him.

“Not on your life!” I exclaimed. “You know I can’t stand being cold.” I didn’t mention my fear of chairlifts and heights. “You go and have fun, sweetheart!”

So Jerry went skiing with his nephew and his wife, also new skiers. More trips followed with increasing excitement that became irritating. “They’re just using enthusiasm to pressure me!”

Yet, I couldn’t ignore their genuine joy in skiing nor the positive changes in Jerry now a lean mean machine whose kisses were definitely sweeter. I began to feel guilty. Didn’t I owe something to this sport and to my husband? Shouldn’t I at least try it?

“What?” my friends exclaimed when I said I was considering skiing. “You’re 46 years old! You’re going to break a leg.”

Though they echoed my own fears, I mustered enough courage to take my first step—I told Jerry I might try skiing. Ecstatic, he immediately planned a trip just for the two of us.

Though filled with fear, I feigned excitement as we drove to California’s Big Bear Ski Resort. After checking in, Jerry’s blue eyes sparkled as he signed me up for the next day’s beginner class.

The following morning, after fitting me with rental ski boots, leading me to the instructor, and kissing me quickly, Jerry rushed to the nearest ski lift.

I stood in a straight line with all the other beginners, like ducks in a row, and listened to the already harried ski instructor. Now freezing, and miserable in my too-tight boots, which I swore were made of lead, I peeked from my fur-lined parka cap at the other faces. So young! I felt like Grandma Moses! Last in line at the upper end, I tried to appear invisible until the unthinkable happened. I lost balance and fell, resulting in a domino effect with all of the other ducklings falling in slow motion. So much for invisibility!

I tried to follow instructions but my feet, which I couldn’t feel, refused to cooperate. I could only turn in one direction—left—and skiing in circles made me dizzy.

Worse, I couldn’t remember what to do with my skis when I needed to stop, so I just fell over. And I kept forgetting the rule: “never point your skis downhill when trying to get up.” One time I just lay there, exhausted, wondering if I should pray for an early thaw.

“I hate skiing!” I mumbled, finally getting upright. “I wish Jerry still smoked, was fat and out of shape.”

To say Jerry was disappointed when he met me after class was an understatement. I watched as my weary instructor led Jerry out of my earshot. With far too exaggerated hand gestures for my comfort, including running fingers through his hair that looked thinner than when the class began, the instructor exhibited a wide range of facial expressions. Jerry nodded occasionally with looks strangely resembling sympathy. Finally, they parted with the instructor refusing to shake hands.

Sensing this was my first and last ski trip, Jerry did the best thing he could. He plied me with food. I devoured my tuna melt and onion rings while Jerry carefully wove a plan between his burger and fries to make me a great skier. Wisely, he blamed my instructor and promised private lessons.

The next morning I fell in love with my new instructor! He was infinitely patient and actually instilled confidence in me. Maybe I would live to see another ski season!

With the instructor’s help, things started clicking. I learned how to stop, get up easily, and to make right turns. Finally, I said goodbye to my instructor who released me to Jerry for further practice on the bunny slopes. I still had difficulty getting on and off chairlifts but with practice I soon accomplished that.

The final battle, however, mine alone to fight, loomed ahead. My monster nemesis was a certain chairlift where the hill, without warning, suddenly disappeared and all I saw was a deep canyon below. Closing my eyes hadn’t helped.

“What if I jump off?” I worried silently. I later learned that is a common fear among acrophobiacs.

I recalled reading an article about a mental exercise involving thought substitution—a technique where you break an unwanted focus by deliberately thinking something else. I decided to try it out on that dreaded chairlift. When the old fear-of-jumping-off tape began to play, I would say, “What if I stand up and remove all of my clothes?” That thought mortified me and seemed so absurd that my focus broke. Then I reasoned, “It’s also absurd to think I’d jump off this chairlift. I wouldn’t do that either!” After performing that mental gymnastic several times, my fear vanished. By the end of the ski season, I had conquered all of my fears.

And now, visually embracing each page in this beautiful old album, I continued to relive the rewards of skiing.

After introducing this amazing new world to our married son and wife, and our teenage daughter and her friends, our ski joys had multiplied. We loved racing downhill to the clubhouse for lunch yelling “Looser treats!” Relaxing in the Jacuzzi under the stars after a hard day’s fun, sharing our slope successes and failures midst uncontrollable laughter, provided a magic all its own. A magic made possible when I took that first step outside of my comfort zone.

Gently tucking the album back on the shelf, I shuddered. What if I had never taken that step?

—Kitty Chappell—