That time just before everything changes

When something suddenly happens to you that has the potential to change your life forever, you look back at those moments just before to search for some sort of meaning.  Was what you were thinking some sort of clue that went ignored?  Was choosing one path over the other just a decision among dozens we make every day, a different choice just delaying the inevitable?

I’m sitting here starting the second week of six with my right leg gripped in a brace from the ankle to hip after blowing out a tendon skiing, getting emergency surgery, and spending nearly a week in hospital.

I was skiing along a ridge following little red-haired girl as we made our way back to Samnaun, Switzerland, when I stopped to look at the vista spread out to the right.  It was like everything you dream a day in the mountains should be.   The sky a deep blue, the roiling froth of mountain peaks spread out in all directions.  No wind.  Uncrowded.  Just a Dad and his girl seizing the day we’d planned and looked forward to for months and months.  The second day of two weeks and it was already perfect.

Skiing Ischgl red-haired girl

We were in Austria, but the Swiss mountains loomed closer, and as I glanced over at to my right down the cliff and the blinding clarity of the snow across the valley, I called out ahead for her to stop and just take a look at it herself.  I wanted to catch up with her so we could stand there together, so that I could remind her that this is what it’s all about.   It’s not just the feel of your skis on the snow, the sweet spot you hit when years and years of practice lets you accomplish a fluid and effortless turn one after the other.  It’s not the speed – though that’s part of the exhilaration you kind of get addicted to – and it’s most definitely not about looking good or trying to impress anyone or comparing this one to that.

It’s about stopping to appreciate what’s all around you.  The feeling you get when you really see where you are among the mountains, the vista, the fresh air.

But she was already so far ahead of me that she didn’t hear, and I felt compelled to move on and catch up far sooner than I wanted to.

We met up at the top of a black run down to the left.  The ridge traverse led to a blue run – a much easier way down – which we could see in the distance further on and down to the left.

“So which one do you want to take?” she asks me.  “The blue or the black?”

“The black, for sure.”


We flew off beside one another down the wide, flat expanse.  There was no other skier near us.  The first few turns felt really good as they had both days, and I was thinking about which lift we might take first to get us closer to the Swiss border and home, and what we’d be making for dinner, when suddenly it felt like my right thigh burst out of its skin, and I was down.  I squirm and cringe just writing this, a feeling I get when I rehearse to myself in German what I’m going to tell the doctor.  The pain doesn’t come back, but it’s this feeling of helplessness and incomprehension, because I still don’t know how it happened.

In an instant I knew from the pain that something serious had gone wrong and that this would be my last time on skis for a very long Skiing Ischgl Ian injuredwhile.  I was just beginning to bounce head first down the hill on my back as that thought flashed, but by the time I’d stopped and rotated so I could use the good leg to get up to a standing position, I thought: this isn’t so bad.  I don’t feel anything at all anymore.

Two women stopped and asked if I was OK, as they’d seen the fall and heard me screaming.  They asked if they should tell the ski patrol at the bottom of the lift.

“I think I’m going to be OK,” I said, the red-haired girl standing beside me.  “I’m going to try to make it down by myself.”

No chance of that.  My first attempt at moving the leg was instant agony, and somehow I was on my ass again, sliding down a few metres further, my daughter scrambling behind to grab and stop me.

Refusing help was denial of that first thought that this was a serious injury.  This can’t be happening.  It’s never happened before.  It’s only the start of our ski vacation.  I’m healthy, I can ski well, I’ve got the rest of my life to enjoy this and I’m going to prove it.

Another pair of skiers stopped to ask the same thing, but this time we were pretty emphatic.

“I’m really injured,” I told them.  “I’m going to need to be taken off the hill.”

18 Responses to “That time just before everything changes”

  1. March 13, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    Oh, Ian! I’m so sorry to hear about your injury! I hope you’ve been able to get the treatment you need so that you’ll be able to get back up and skiing next season. Still, I know it’s not any fun at all sitting around in a leg brace for six weeks. But at least you have a beautiful picture in your head of doing something you love while it happened — much better than tripping in front of the Hauptbahnhof for no reason and breaking your knee cap.😉

  2. 2 hmunro
    March 13, 2013 at 8:49 pm

    So sorry to read about your accident, Ian. I echo Mandi’s comment, though: At least you can say you got hurt while skiing a black run in Austria. *So* much more adventurous than the guy I used to know who tore up his knee by slipping on lettuce at the grocer’s! In any case, I send my thoughts for speedy healing.

  3. March 14, 2013 at 5:52 am

    Sometimes things just happen. I wish you a very speedy recovery! I’m sure next year all will be well and you can ski again.

  4. 4 Max
    March 14, 2013 at 3:41 pm

    Je suis vraiment désolé, Ian! Mais je suis sûr, comme les autres lecteurs l’ont dit, que tu seras bientôt sur pied, et de retour sur les pistes. Bonne covalescence! Et profite de ce temps loin du travail!

  5. March 15, 2013 at 5:59 am

    Yikes! Best wishes for the speediest possible recovery. My sister blew out a her ACL at the top of a lift at slower than walking speed, needed a sled down, surgery, etc. while we were on a family ski vacation to … Telluride or someplace in Utah. All of that sucks:

    — vacation wreckage
    — injury + pain + recovery time
    — injury away from home
    — disappointing and scaring your loved ones

    Sorry to hear about it, bud.

    • March 15, 2013 at 8:24 am

      You have a way of summing up suckage pretty well, Cliff.🙂

      That’s the second time now I’ve come across an acronym with an L in it in conversations pertaining to ski injuries. G mentioned it the other day too. Funny how you learn a lot about stuff you never thought you would in a short period of time.

      But my injury is not L for ligament but T for tendon! Stitches out Monday…

  6. March 15, 2013 at 3:59 pm

    Oh, my. It’s even worse than I imagined, but not as bad as it could have been. Last November a friend walked out to bring in her dog, somehow tripped on the sidewalk and smashed her knee and broke her arm. The arms’s fine, but the knee still is in process, for a variety of reasons. Her four months is feeling a little long. We’ll hope for a short six weeks for you.

    I loved reading about the lettuce. Yesterday was my day to go into the water between a dock and a bulkhead. It’s been 20 years or more since I’ve gone off a dock. I must have done straight down, actually. I got a scrape on one leg and three broken fingernails – and I held on to my car keys. I’ll send my good fairy your direction, and tell her to not dally along the way.😉

    • March 15, 2013 at 4:56 pm

      Your friend’s tumble sounds awful. Six weeks will actually be the half-way point, when I’m supposedly allowed to ditch the brace and begin the long process of building strength back with physio. We’ll see how that goes, could stretch to 12 weeks from the time of the injury, they say.

      You went into the drink? Ack! About those car keys: don’t you have a foamy key fob? I thought they were standard equipment for boating people. The keys fall into the water, you just scoop them up again, provided, of course, you haven’t put too many keys on…

      • March 17, 2013 at 2:15 am

        Actually, I don’t know a single boater who carries one of those foamy fobs. It seems that one key often is too many for them. They’re usually attached to keys to the bathhouse, to make them easier to find.😉

      • March 17, 2013 at 2:16 am

        Actually, I don’t know a single boater who carries one of those foamy fobs. It seems that one key often is too many for them. They’re usually attached to keys to the bathhouse, to make them easier to find.😉

      • March 17, 2013 at 5:57 am

        I thought foamy fobs were a fabulous idea when I first saw one 35 years ago. Haven’t been around boats that much since, though, unless you count the bloated behemoths that barge past on the Elbe when we’re down there for a walk.

      • March 17, 2013 at 1:29 pm

        I haven’t owned a car since 2004, and that was a 1998 cheapo model with as few electronic extras in it as possible. But I imagine most of today’s car keys are not supposed to soak in water, suspended near the surface by a foamy fob or not.


  7. March 15, 2013 at 8:17 pm

    Cannot even begin to imagine everything that was going through your head as this was happening. A whirlwind. Wishing you the speediest recovery possible under the circumstances and an easy time from now until then.

    • March 15, 2013 at 8:43 pm

      Hi Jen,
      Thanks for the get-well wishes! I am hoping so much this will healed by the end of June. We’re heading away for a year on sabbatical, and I do not want to alter the starting date if I can avoid it at all. One thing going for me is the fact I was in surgery in a little over 6 hours after it happened. The sooner the repair is done, the better the prospects for a speedy recovery.

  8. March 19, 2013 at 10:02 pm

    Clicking the like button on this article was perverse. How can I possibly like being told about this horrible injury you have suffered. Well, of course, I don’t like that part. I’m just liking the fact that you are updating us about what happened.

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