Tuesday, May 22, 2007

My Story

I was just asked this question again, and I thought I would post my answer here, because first of all, you guys should know how much you mean to me, and second of all, "So, what's your story?" gets asked of me a lot, and I don't have it posted anywhere on my blog! So here it is, here's my story.

What does it mean to be a member of the (Professional Ski Instructors of America or American Association of Snowboard Instructors)?

PSIA has absolutely changed my life forever. Last year, I was a 35 year old mother of two. I was sixty pounds over weight, and I had actually completely given up that I would ever be an athlete again. (I had been a competitive figure skater until 1993, and then owned a rock climbing gym where I coached world cup climbers before getting pregnant).

Our family situation was challenging, and although I tried every day to get back outside (I had been training for an ironman distance triathlon when I got pregnant) and start getting healthy, the obstacles I faced in getting more than ten minutes of sustained exercise were immense. After six years of being thwarted daily, I gave up on a goal for the first time in my life.

The next winter, I was standing at the base of the Powder Park lift at Bridger Bowl waiting for my five year old to come down so I could put a snack in his pocket. I was looking at all the happy, fit skiers, and I was, quite frankly, a bit angry that I had completely resigned my place in the legions of the fit. There was neither time nor money to get back outside, and my kids would not sit in a stroller, or any other device that strapped them down.

Dave Evans, the snowsports supervisor, walked over to me, and we started chatting. We talked about Ethan's hockey team, which I was helping coach due to my experience as a figure skater and figure skating coach. Dave asked if I'd ever taught skiing, and I said yes, but very briefly a long time ago. He said, "That's fine, we need Alpine instructors!"

I was alarmed! No, no, no, apparently you didn't realize that I am an overweight stay at home mom with two insane kids and no money for babysitters? And I don't ski very well?

Dave was undeterred by this. "That's fine, we can teach you how to ski, just come on in, I am sure you can do one day a week." What I don't think that Dave understood was that I had about 40 days of skiing total from the time I was four years old, and that the teaching I did was NOT PSIA, but that I was hired by a private family who had a house in Northstar to teach their Indian business associates how to ski on the weekends. I had NO business teaching like this, but I also had no idea I was in over my head. Because I was comfortable on my ice skates, I learned to ski backwards with relative ease, and got their friends turning and stopping.

So I asked my husband, Tom, what he thought, and he thought it was a great idea for me to teach at Bridger one day a week. So I started. I was coaching figure skating from 4:30am to 8, and skiing from 9-4, and then coaching Ethan's hockey team from 5-7 on Fridays. Long day!

By the next week, I was working three days a week, and by the beginning of March, I was working full time, and by the end of March, I had decided that I wanted to tryout for the Alpine Demo Team in 2012, without really knowing what it was, other than a group of fantastic teachers who could ski anywhere any time. That's really all I needed to know.

HERE is the amazing thing about PSIA: No one ever said, "Are you crazy, you can't do that!"

This organization is full of the most giving, loving, mentoring, inclusive professionals I have ever seen. Having come from the Figure Skating and Rock Climbing worlds, I was expecting a certain amount of "dues paying" and a bit of isolation, and certainly never a feeling that all my peers would immediately rally to help me be a part of the organization.

My first PSIA event was the NW Symposium that was at Big Sky last spring. I had only been skiing, really, since that February. Before that, my idea of "good skiing" was keeping your feet as close together as possible, and going relatively straight, feeling almost completely out of control, and finishing with a great hockey stop.

I met Nato from Jackson Hole at they symposium, and he asked me what I wanted to do with skiing. I told him I wanted to be on the demo team, so he introduced me to Rob Sogard, the head coach.

Of course, I didn't know who Rob Sogard was, so I asked him if he was going to try out for the team. It wasn't until I'd been skiing with him almost all day that I figured out that he was the coach. I felt so silly. "Hi, I'm Kate, I'm new..." but he didn't care. I had been going on and on all day about what I hoped to do in skiing, and how much I loved skiing, and my home mountain... and at the end of the day, Rob looked at me and said, "Good luck with your quest, Kate, and please let me know how I can help you get there."

And he meant it. I've been out to ski with Rob five times this season at Snowbird, and he always takes time out of his day to ski with me for a few hours and work with me on whatever I need to fix in my skiing.

Megan Harvey is another great example, a three term D Team member and author of the Alpine Technical Manual, I met her at the National Academy last year, and she noticed that I was skiing on AT gear, which I had bought at the begining of the season for a special trip. My family had pitched in to help me get gear, so I could only get one set, and I decided on AT gear so I could ski through the summer as well.

Megan was my coach for the week at Academy, and she and Rob conspired to get me on real Alpine gear. By the end of the week, she had given me a pair of skis, and invited me to come and stay with her and ski in Aspen. She offered to take some days off to train me. I was aghast.

This has been the case with almost everyone I have met in PSIA. It truly feels like an open, friendly family, who are all there to coach each other to success. Yes, there are politics and red tape like any organization, but that is not what is at the heart of PSIA. At the heart, as represented by the members of the Demo team, is this ego-less idea that there is enough room at the top for everyone who wants to work hard enough to get there. And we'll help you do it.

I am beholden to PSIA for renewing my belief in myself, for giving me back my sense of myself outside me as a wife and a mother, for being my support system, and also being the thing that challenges me the most. PSIA gave me my life back, and my entire family is grateful for it. I am a better mom because I feel fulfilled in my own goals, and my kids are watching me chase a dream that is tough but important to me. Its awesome.

Here's the rest of the story:

I just received this comment on my blog:

"So, this might seem a little out of the blue, and possibly totally inappropriate, but what happened to the Kate of all your other old blogs? You are without doubt driven and successful and amazing at remaking yourself and at inspiring others, but I miss the Kate that posted about books and art and recipes for pie, plus those little stories about you and your family. So entertaining and well written. You almost seem like a completely different person these days."

And it was interesting to read, because I have been thinking about writing a post on just this topic.

The short answer is, I'm glad you liked my old blogs, about my family and my life at home. If other readers are curious, you can check here, these are the blogs I was writing before I began skiing:

A Good Book and a Piece of Pie
Unsuspected Depth
Bodice Buster
Adventures in Sculpture Building

And the long answer, what happened to the old Kate? Well, I'm right here. But over time, I've grown. I've been searching for a long time for the thing that makes me happy in my life, for "my path".

I have, in the past, put my head down and pushed through a couple of things I thought were interesting and might lead to some form of success. The problem was my definition of success. I was a competitive figure skater, a relatively successful actress, an artist, a writer, I was interested in being a caterer and writing cookbooks, I love being a mom, I enjoyed making and keeping house. I owned a rock climbing gym, and a cloth diaper making business. To all of these endeavors, I applied myself as wholly as I could, believing that to "make it" one must fully commit and push through whatever obstacle stands in your way.

Interestingly enough, in the pursuit of "success", even as a mom, I lost myself. The truth is, I do miss making art, its in me, its a huge part of what I love. But I couldn't support myself doing it, the creation and installation of my pieces was hugely taxing on my family's finances, and on my marriage. I know that Art will still be there in six, or ten, or twenty years, and I'm glad to be able to make the occasional painting or sculpture along my current journey.

Almost six years ago, I began a long journey which has landed me here, where I am today. Today, I feel that I am on "my path", finally. I feel at home, comfortable, confident, and valued. I see my path unfolding before me, and I'm grateful to have found it.

The thing that sparked the change was my pregnancy with Bodhi. I came to realize during my pregnancy that I needed to keep my children safe from a person who had been in my life for 26 years, and who was very, very poisonous. This person was abusive to me and other people that I love, daily. Emotionally, physically, sexually. And I came to a place where I could not let that happen to my kids.

The day I was brave enough, I cut that person, my step father, out of my life forever. The process of removing him completely and beginning down the path of healing took four years. During that time, Tom and I were struggling to be successfully with our climbing company, I was in school, and we had two kids. I was trying to stick with a life long love of art, and force my path through on that front, no matter the difficulties or consequences.

Also during this time, we had four or five people at a time living with us, all of whom were going through similar issues. I was happy to have people around me, I was beginning to feel like I could create a family that felt right to me. But I was still suffering from a lot of emotional trauma from my past experiences, including being diagnosed with PTSD from the abuse I had suffered since I was 6. I was still a victim, and had yet to turn the corner to survivor.

Also during that time, I was fortunate enough to read a book called The Courage to Heal 4e: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse 20th Anniversary Edition
, an incredible book that took me through the first steps toward freedom for myself and safety for my kids, which was paramount.

When we lost our business to our landlord, and my studio burnt to the ground in the same year, just weeks before my first solo show at the Metro Gallery in Los Angeles, I left school. Tom and I were shell shocked at what had happened, and our terrific friends Jen and Steve were living in Montana. We fled to their home and found solace and family with them. From terrible adversity, we found some peace, and moved here, to what seemed like paradise.

For the first year, we lived a bit like emotional refugees from the traumatic experiences we'd been through, and I was grateful for the time to bond together as an insular family. I was in therapy, learning how to draw boundaries, how to protect myself, how to be a good role model for my kids, and trying to figure out what it meant to suddenly be a stay at home mom in Montana with no career, having shot my art career in the foot when Tom and I made the choice that moving to a beautiful, small, rural place like Bozeman was more important for our family than me making it as an artist in LA.

But over time, I felt lost. I wrote about what I was doing, which was reading a lot of books and cooking and keeping house and raising my kids, all of which I enjoy doing, but I didn't feel like I was on my path. I felt lonely a lot of the time, and I was constantly asking myself if this was the rest of my life, could I live like this?

The period of time in which I was writing about books and recipes, and trying to make contemporary public art in Bozeman (which is a very artistic and supportive community), I felt lost. I have always been a competitive athlete, and I missed the things that had been important to me in my life before kids: hiking, trekking, adventuring, climbing, being outside and moving around in the mountains.

I felt that I had given up on an essential part of me. I was fortunate enough to meet Dave Evans at Bridger Bowl when I was taking Ethan up for ski lessons when he was five. I was given an opportunity to ski, and to teach.

Over the course of the next very confusing year, I came to see that I had been denying myself something that is fundamentally important to me. While I was spending a lot of time at home, and doing the best job I could keeping house and making food, I was sad. And lonely. And very lost. I had given up on living a life that felt like it had purpose, and had resigned myself to a life as "mom" only.

Don't get me wrong, I think that being a mother is a huge and important job. And it is certainly a job that leaves an impact. But I was not honoring myself by having that be my defining role. Wife and Mother to the exclusion of all else was not fulfilling me. And I felt guilt about that. I felt like it aught to be enough.

But when I started skiing, I found Kate again. I found the fun side of me, the side I had been denying for years while protecting myself from my abuser, while caring for others who were abused, while trying to make a home that fit the standard I had set.

What I didn't realize was that in trying to meet some fictional ideal of house and home, I had lost who I was.

Turning the corner was hard. I went back to therapy and worked hard on learning how to know what a boundary was, how to care for myself, how to let go of old ideas about myself and "success" that were installed by my past family history.

During that time, I took myself back. I found joy, I became stronger, I began to honor what and who I really am, rather than trying to fit into a mold that makes sense to other people. I struggled to stop worrying about what other people would think, and just be who I naturally was.

During this process, I lost some friends, and that was very difficult. But I also knew that I was a happier, healthier person, and a better wife and mom for making the decision to stay with me, to honor my voice, to be who I am, and not who a committee thinks I aught to be.

An interesting thing happened when I started to honor my inner voice. All the experiences from my past coalesced into a path that easily unfolded in front of me. I have been a coach in one form or another for the last 18 years or so, in skating, tennis, boxing, rock climbing, and now skiing.

I had lived with a variety of people for whom I was friend and counselor, and had educated myself on their conditions, as well as my own, and helped them move in the direction of health and therapy. I worked closely with a therapist who advised me on their conditions and directed me to appropriate reading material.

Pulling from my own experience with performance anxiety in life and on the ice, from my experience in acting, writing, and coaching, HardHead Coaching coalesced in front of me. People were interested in a focused way to achieve their dreams, and all the past experiences I had suddenly gelled into a coaching system that seems flexible enough to meet the individual needs of each client, and to be broadly applied to a ski school or a group.

Because I am coaching skiing, now, and you can't coach skiing from a lawn chair (unless you are Cal Cantrell, I've heard), I had the opportunity to become, once again, at 36, an athlete in training.

With all of these things gelling, my healing and commitment to the safety and security of my family, my own commitment to training my body and mind, and opportunities to coach others, my path suddenly appeared before me.

And mentors, coaches and teachers were everywhere. The resistance here is minimal, the support is enormous. I am hugely indebted to Bridger Bowl, Dave Evans, Mike Hickey and Josh Spuhler. If it wasn't for them, I would not have found this enormously satisfying culmination of past experiences, focused down into a specific goal.

I know a lot of people who are searching for their path, for the thing that makes them feel like there is meaning in their lives, and I have to say that I think it begins with honoring who you are and learning to love and care for yourself, so that you can then love and care for others.

And then comes the scary part, doing what you know is right for you, regardless of what other people wish you would do. Some people in my life wanted me to get an MBA, some had strong feelings about me acting, some about me making sculpture, some about me NOT painting... there always seemed to be a battery of people with very strong opinions about where I should spend my time and energy. But when I began to honor me, I began for the first time to hear these ideas as ideas that belonged to other people, rather than edicts on how not to let other people down. And I began to be able to stick solidly with something that is important to me, and tell people who think otherwise, thank you for your opinion, which I am happy to listen to, but I'll not set aside my dreams or goals for another person's convenience ever again.

I know that to some people, who met me when I was pregnant, and didn't know the person who was a stage manager, actress, figure skater, etc, that this shift from staying at home and cooking to traveling all over the country and coaching may seem abrupt and strange.

But the truth is, in those years, while I was happily caring for my kids, I came to a place when they became a certain age that begged me to pull some focus back to me. I know that not all moms agree with the choices I have made, and that's okay. I think we all have our path, and I know that the path I am on is the right one for me. I feel balance there, that I am bonded to my kids, a good and close parent, and also honoring the things in my life that make me feel alive.

My quest for the Demo Team started out as just that: a physiological experiment: could it be done? Could I train my body, at 36 to become a good enough skier that I could do what I love most, coach at a high level in a new sport?

Now, the Demo Team seems to me like a logical step on a career path that I love. I can't wait to continue developing my coaching system, and watching it change and mutate as I meet more people and learn more. I draw from all my past experiences to do the job I love, and therefore, I am grateful for each of them. I know that I went through the things I went through to prepare me to be here, where I am today, on my path, heading in a direction that feels positive, with purpose. Teaching on the team would be a great job and an honor, and if it seems like the right step in four years when my tryout is, I will be as prepared as I can be to meet that challenge.

So, Anonymous, to answer your question: I'm sorry that you miss the "old" Kate, but she's right here. The only difference is, now I honor my inner voice and follow my intuition, which has led me to friendships, adventures and closeness with my kids that I could only have imagined before.

Thank you for your comment, and for being brave to post it, it is just that kind of honesty that honors you, and its hard to tell a friend that you wish they were different. Thank you for reading, and for commenting!


Lisa said...

You have no idea how inspiring it is to watch you get where you want to be. I stumbled across your blog(s) a year ago and have been addicted ever since.

a said...

Dear Lisa,
Thank you SO much for your comment! This is exactly why I write my blog, and its awesome to hear that you are out there on my journey with me. I really appreciate it!!

Anonymous said...

Wow, I came across your blog from Peaceloveski.com and just wanted to say your photos are AMAZING and your story is very inspiring!

Good Luck,

a said...

Thanks, so much, BravoSarh! Glad to have you as a reader, and welcome! I really appreciate your visit, and feel free to ask any questions you have!


Anonymous said...

Some years ago I aspired to make the national team as a part time instructor. The response I got from most people was "no one has ever done that, you should reconsider your goals."

My response was "just because no one has done it doesn't mean it can't be done."

Good luck in your quest. Though I was never chosen for the team I did get very close. The experience changed me forever. I'm confident that your journey will be as rewarding as you envision whether you are selected for the team or not.

a said...

Hi, Rick

Thanks so much for your comment, and I am sorry that you faced such a stalwart idea about your potential. I have, indeed heard similar things from other people, about how PSIA is very closed, linear, they want you all to ski the same way, you have to pay your dues, and only the hottest feet make the team.

I think this is fundamentally different, now, and I am grateful to be involved in PSIA as it goes through this amazing period of growth!

I attribute a lot of it to Rob Sogard and the way he coaches the team: he really has an attitude that skiing is for everyone, and with encouragement, we can all get as far as we can go!! He is truly gentle and visionary, and I see it rippling across the team and being disseminated down through the rest of the organization.

Thanks for your belief in me, and congratulations on following your dream regardless, I like your mantra. Its a good one!!

Thanks for reading!

Anonymous said...

Congrats on your success thus far! It's exciting to hear about how skiing and teaching have changed your life. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

This freaking rocks. I'm 36, living in GA, pursuing a job I no longer really believe in, and regretting having ever left my home state of Colorado. I miss the climbing, the skiing, and the way my body felt. Two days ago I made a decisions that I would shift my life back to the mountains. Randomly coming across your blog is a huge boost in moral and a definite inspiration. So we're not crazy after all... awesome.

a said...

Hey, SnowProfessor!
Sorry I missed your comment! Thanks so much for visiting and I always appreciate your tweets of encouragement! Hope the shoulder is healing! Don't let the puppy jump on you!

a said...

Hi, Shadrock!
You are AWESOME! Thanks! I'm so glad you found the blog, and GOOD FOR YOU for making decisions that honor you.

I really believe that we can't show others compassion unless we are compassionate with ourselves, first. Being compassionate to yourself means also honoring your inner voice, what it is that you need in your life to feel fulfilled.

I'm glad you are coming back to the mountains, and NO, you are not crazy!!


Unknown said...

Can't wait to see the Tryout DVD, after 2012 are you running for POTUS?
Greg Luce

a said...

HA HA, Don'tt you DARE compare me to Sarah Palin! For ONE thing, I'm a MUCH snazzier dresser, and for another, I can ALSO see a foreign country from my house: Canada! (Okay, well, Big Sky. Which is South of us, so maybe not...)

Besides, I can't. Sadly, I have, at times, inhaled.

But thanks for your vote!


Anonymous said...

I have just found your blog - you've made Level III! - and you remind me of me. I've always followed the path others thought might be the best, but at 55, I found ski instructing & PSIA Level I. It's changed my life. Never thought that an 'old lady' could do what I've achieved this past winter. NOW I know I'm not crazy, because there YOU were, in print, saying the same stuff I'd been feeling for a long time - do it this way, do it that way.. nope, I am doing it my way now.
Thanks for your story - you're an inspiration to me.

Unknown said...

Susie, I just saw your comment from a year ago! I hope you are gearing up for another great winter and NO you aren't crazy! Get out there and live your life, chica! I'm proud of you! Please send me an update, i'd like to post it!! I hope you are healthy and happy and ready to ski!

how to snowboard said...

It's really cool to see how much fun and success you're having. I love it when I see people doing things that change their life. Keep Living!

Julie said...

What a great story! I feel a lot like you, sans kids. I am 45, about 50lbs overweight, and feeling very bad about it. I used to alpine ski almost every weekend during the winter. Then the fatter I got, the less I skied until I wasn't skiing any more. I haven't skied in 9 years and I miss it terribly but haven't gone because my fat thighs hurt in the boots, my back hurts, I don't have the energy, etc. Now after reading your blog, I am going to make a point to get fit again for 2012 and start skiing again next season. In fact, I may start my own blog to use as a journal. Thanks so much for the inspiring story!