Last month, on a whim, I decided to “just show up” to the 5k cross-country ski championships hosted by the Vermont Senior Games (for ages 50+), even though I had never skied on a cross country race course. The only real skiing I had done was a few loops on the golf course and to be honest, I am seriously not that good. As I drove to the Von Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vermont, my ancient wooden skis rattled around in the back of my minivan, along with my one broken ski pole. Upon arrival, fellow competitors decked out in matching cross-country ski gear greeted me. As I looked down at my make-shift gear—a running outfit—I was undeterred. I proceeded to check in.

Donned with my very official-looking race number, I headed out to the course to give it a go before the actual race started. As I embarked on my virgin run, a kind man spotted my broken pole and offered to lend me his wife’s extra set. I gratefully accepted. In the woods, my first downhill came up unexpectedly and I suddenly found myself racing down it out of control, screaming. My scream stopped when I face-planted. I slid unstoppable to the bottom, as the skis dragged behind. My coat was filled with snow and ice, especially around my neck. My silver lining: a free anti-inflammatory treatment. I couldn’t get up, not because I had a broken bone, but because I just didn’t seem to have the coordination. After many unsuccessful attempts, I finally resorted to leaning my full weight on the ski poles. Thankfully, they didn’t break as I hoisted myself upright. Standing, I touched my bruised face and wondered what I had gotten myself into, but it was too late to reconsider. I was committed.

Back at the race start, we lined up. I told myself that I would be fine and I had to get “back on the horse,” so to speak. In this race, instead of heading to the front like I do in a running race, I went to the rear of the pack. At the sound of the gun, I watched the reigning Master’s champion pull away, with some other amazing female skiers in hot pursuit. They disappeared into the woods as I—with great effort—attempted to gain some traction, though I felt like a cartoon character spinning in place. An 80+ year-old woman, known as “The Flying Fossil,” polled next to me stroke for stroke, spurring me to give it my all. Thankfully, she dropped back and I made it down the first hill without falling. On the second loop around the track, I wasn’t so lucky. My body bounced, slid and crashed down the same darn hill with such force that my entire spine received a free chiropractic adjustment, along with second free ice-down of my wounds. I lay at the bottom in a tangled heap, trying to breathe and assess my condition, telling myself that I was perfectly fine and needed both treatment therapies. The skis and poles criss-crossed each other at strange angles, and I clumsily kicked and thrashed about to free them from the depths of the snow. Once I got them to one side of my body, it was another slippery, ungraceful endeavor to get myself upright again. As I struggled, I heard from the inner competitor that just won’t quit (no matter how bad I am):

“You’re losing time! Get up! Hurry!”

Amazingly, when I was finally able rise up again, I did feel fine—a testament to the power of the mind. The tips of my long, red skis crossed the finish line well before me, like a carrot dangled in front of a donkey. I finished mostly unscathed, with gratitude in my heart that I had at least completed the race.

As we made our way to the awards ceremony, I regaled my fellow competitors with my race story, falls and all. My respect for cross-country skiers skyrocketed when they told me that the course was one of the easiest in Vermont. I could not imagine skiing a more difficult course. But despite the fall, the challenging course, and embarrassment, I had a blast and decided right then to come back next year, just for the fun of it.

A few minutes later, the awards ceremony began. Shockingly, I heard my name announced as the 5k winner in the 50-54 age division. I started laughing and nearly fell off my chair. WHAT, ME? I thought they had made a mistake, but they hadn’t. Apparently, there were no other female athletes in my age division. Thus, in my very first cross-country ski race, I became a “2015 Vermont Senior Games 5k Cross-Country Ski Champion,” all because I “just showed up.” It doesn’t get any better than that.

The World is waiting. Life is fleeting. What “something new” are you going to “just show up” for, and conquer next? Who knows what rewards are in store…

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