Things didn't go quite as planned with regards to blogging while I was away. It took me a couple of days to get my laptop to hook up to the internet-definitely user mistake-and then by the time I figured it out, I was too tired most days to write anything. So, I'll try to give you a brief version of the events in Alberta. Although, if you know me, I'm usually not very brief.
We had a few funny incidents just getting from my hometown to Toronto, where we took a four and a half hour flight to Calgary. First, my coach who, up until now, has never had any exposure to blind people, accidentally misplaced Nala and I. It happened when we were called up for pre-boarding on the second flight. He stepped aside to pull out his ID and Nala took it as her signal to take me on to the plane. One minute I was standing beside Coach T and the next time he looked, I was gone. Nala and I had trotted halfway down the hallway before I realised I was missing him. Once re-united, we settled into our seats and the flight was going pretty good. The flight attendants were fawning over Nala of course and she would look up at them with adoring eyes. About half way through the flight, coach T got up to use the facilities. I honestly wasn't holding on to Nala's leash because I was used to traveling with Jetta or Glacier, who would just settle in for the flight. However, when Coach T returned, some flight attendants happened by and Nala took it into her head that she should go for a walk. Suddenly, a Golden Retriever/Labrador cross was trotting happily up the Business class aisle. Coach T had to go retrieve her. Needless to say, Coach T had some pretty fun experiences in the first six hours of being shipped off with a blind person on his own.
Once we arrived in Calgary, there was a bit of a mix up with bad weather and who was going with whom to the hotel which was still an hour and a half drive away. We eventually sorted it out and piled into a van. I immediately fell asleep since I had been up since three and probably only had had about three hours of sleep. Upon arriving at the hotel, I have to admit, I was a wee bit upset.
The lobby was freezing. And I don't mean "kind of chilly." I mean, "keep your coat on and maybe grab a hat and mittens" cold. A lot of the other countries were arriving that day and the hotel's automatic door was stuck open. So, it was cold. When I got up into my room, I was happy, or at least, initially I was. However, after being in there for half an hour and the heat not working and there not being any hot water coming out of the shower, I was getting a wee bit upset again. All was solved though when one of the guys from the front desk came up with a bag of dog food I had ordered to the hotel for Nala. He fixed the heat and the next day, the hot water seemed to be working. So, all was well in my world.
The food wasn't bad. It was buffet style and I have to give credit to the staff for providing edible food since they were cooking for so many athletes and coaches. The training camp was interesting. We were supposed to spend two hours in the mornings and afternoons out on the snow, but since it was minus 36 C one morning and minus 43 C the next day, our snow sessions were cut short. My first snow session seemed like a bit of waste of time; especially when we went back inside the ski lodge and we were supposed to watch the video taken of us skiing and analyse it. However, after lunch I was with a different coach and I think we got a lot accomplished. Saturday morning was a really great session. We went out with a coach who has experience guiding blind people and she taught us really good ways to communicate. Other coaches and athletes gave us some input as well and I really feel that their advice and suggestions helped us finish our race safely on Tuesday. Coach T had been skiing beside me the whole time, but we moved him in front of me so that I could follow his voice. We were also shown a way for me to go down hills that reduced a lot of my anxiety surrounding hurtling down a snowy surface on skinny implements designed to be slippery. The technique she showed us also gave me the ability to corner while going down hill. It basically consists of me crouching and if there is a corner coming up, I drop the back of my hand on the side that the turn is on. It kind of means that my ski mitts get a bit mussed up, but I guess I'll just have to find a mitten sponsor.
Saturday afternoon I didn't ski because I had to be classified. For a lot of athletes it's quite a process, but thankfully for me, it's cut and dry. My eyes are prosthetic and so there are no questions of how much I can or can't see. I think the drive to the clinic took longer than the actual appointment.
Sunday I went out for a ski and was a part of a coach's workshop that was being held to train coaches on how to work with Para Nordic skiers. I also found that session helpful. We worked with a coach who is low vision himself and another coach who was one of the trainees. The low vision coach had a lot of helpful things to say as well. We were out for an hour and a half that day and so called it a day after lunch since it was still really cold out. When it is that cold out, not only do you risk freezing bits off, but you can also damage your lung tissue.
Monday was an early day. We went to the ski lodge even though I didn't have to race that day in order to participate in the opening ceremonies. I had bulked at the idea at first, but then decided that I would just suck it up and go. It was only about ten minutes long since it was freezing out and they really needed people to carry flags. I was randomly assigned Finland's flag which was highly amusing to me because half of my family comes from Finland. Coach T and I decided it was a good sign. We skied that morning and it was a bit of a disaster. I kept falling and after about an hour, I was getting grumpy. We went back to the lodge and ate our bag lunches that the hotel provided. We went out back for another ski, to try and follow what would be our race course the next day, but they never set the course up early like they were supposed to. So, instead of guessing where to go and both of us getting frustrated, we headed back. There would be time in the morning to ski the course in warm-up.
Tuesday morning was another early day-race day. I wasn't super nervous about racing, but I was certainly concerned with finishing the race. Here we were, just two weeks after meeting one another, and Coach T had to tell me where to go while moving along at fairly good speeds. I wouldn't say I was flying, because I wasn't, but it was definitely faster than walking; especially on the downhills.
The beginning of the race was a bit of a botch which we laughed about later. It took us longer to get our gear on than we thought and we nearly missed our start. The starts aren't nearly as structured as swimming starts and I was highly confused. We made it to the start line where a "wand" goes across the front of your shins. You are wearing a thing around your ankle which kind of acts like a tracker. Once you push through the wand, your time starts and you are "tracked" by your tracker. I knew we were at the start, but my skis weren't in the tracks. I could hear someone counting down, but wasn't sure which direction to go. I had a general idea, but I didn't want to just start crashing about. So, I finally blurted out, "you'll have to help me. I can't see at all." It was something the low vision coach had told me I may have to say. I'm glad he told me because it wouldn't have been something I would have thought to say. Suddenly, someone was sliding me forward, my skis fell into the tracks and I felt the wand swoosh past my shins.
"It's your turn." I heard a man's voice say as he gently shoved me through the start wand. I don't think he's allowed to do that, but I don't really blame him. It's not like he pushed me hard enough to give me a fast start or anything.
Most of the race is a blur. The first hill we came to was something I had been concerned with starting out. For some reason, they didn't lay tracks on it and so I had to "snow plough" down it. Not only that, it twisted and turned. I had learned how to snow plough about a week before. So, there I was trying to keep my snow plough under control, turn and make sure I was still moving: it was a race after all. I heard the girl who had started behind me coming and panicked. She was totally blind too and all I could think was,
"Oh good. Two completely blind girls, shooting down a hill with only their two guides' voices, which would blend together, to guide them." I fell. Flat on my butt. I scrambled to my feet, but stayed where I was. Coach T made a good decision and told me to stay there. I was off to the side and being a stationary obstacle is better than a moving, out of control one. After that little blip, I think I did pretty well though.
We came to the bigger hill with the hard right turn at the bottom. My second hand skis seem to like hills and not for the first time that week, I sped up and ended up in front of Coach T. There was a split second of panic, but then I realised that he could see what was ahead of me from behind me and would be able to alert me if necessary. I just crouched and dropped my right hand when Coach T started calling out "right," as I went around the corner. Admittedly, I swore flying down that hill since it was faster than it had been in practice. Coach T said I owed him push-ups for that. When I got to the bottom and had successfully swerved around the right corner, we both started chuckling out of relief, but then it was back to business; like I said, it was a race after all.
There were a couple of good climbs and it made me realise that not only does my fitness need work, but my arm muscles need a little work too. I fell a second time, but stayed down for maybe half a second. We were coming down another big hill and I attempted to transition from my crouch position to a standing one, but I was moving faster than I thought. My weight shifted a bit too much and I went down on my left side. Of course I had to take that topple right in front of where team Canada was standing cheering for me. That said, it was nice to hear someone say, as I scrambled to my feet,
"Right back up. Nice!"
It gave me that little bit I needed to try to finish the race fast. I say try because speed still scares me and I wasn't going as fast as I think I am capable of going. I think there is definitely more speed in there; I just wasn't ready to go there yet. I did finish last, fifth out of five, but the goal was to finish and I did. I also set my own personal goal of breaking ten minutes and I did, by about 15 seconds, so I was happy with that too.
Wednesday, we said farewell to our hotel which turned out to be a very good hotel and we flew home. The first leg of our trip was uneventful, however, bad weather meant that we flew all of the way home and were sent back to Toronto. They wanted to put us on a flight the next day at noon, but I said no. Thankfully, they put us on a later flight that night and after a tasty meal that was basically half price thanks to a voucher we were given, we got home. Nala took the opportunity to sleep all day Thursday. She was pretty worn out from her six day adventure.
As for me: I had tooth troubles which eventually resulted in one of my back molars being pulled on Friday. So, after all of that exciting skiing stuff, I haven't been able to go out again. Hopefully after tomorrow's follow-up appointment, I should be good to go. I've never had a tooth pulled before and I've been genuinely surprised at how sore I have actually been. I'm really looking forward to getting back on the trails and implementing all of the things we learned as well as improving my fitness and strength. I had one thought before my race on Tuesday and it was:
"I'm either going to finish this thing and say no way in Hell! Or, I'm going to say, let's go again."
I'm definitely saying,
"Let's go again!" :)