Monday, March 23, 2015

From Top to Bottom

Five more gates and I’ll be at the finish line. I’m certain this is my best time.

Brigitte’s heart pounded behind her breast as her legs guided her body around the gates. She followed the silken snow path as if she were an automated machine, rounding the turns with precision. Her body was in perfect condition. The snow swirled around her skis as she abruptly turned just beyond the finish line, stopping the downward flow of her run. She set a new world record, and her time in the downhill slalom qualified Brigitte for the Olympics. The celebrations in the lodge were noisy and jubilant. Three athletes just realized their ultimate goal and were on their way to represent the United States in Norway.

A white fog pulled the snowfall over the sky like a curtain ending a performance. The skiers started their drives down the mountain, which became more of a challenge for them than rounding the poles on the slalom course. Brigitte maneuvered her compact car around the sharp bends, sliding on patches of ice that started to form. The wind blew a mound of snow off a pine tree onto her windshield, and Brigitte swerved left instead of turning right to follow the curve of the road. The force of the collision threw her body forward as her head pounded into the steering wheel. She didn’t hear the crushing metal as the engine pushed the steering column into her pelvis.

“Oh my God! What have I done!

Nicklas stood by Brigitte’s car, staring at the wreckage as he called 911 on his cell phone. He didn’t see her small car as it swerved in front of his truck. There was nothing he could do; he knew he was going to hit her. The snow silenced the dusk as the sirens echoed down the mountain.

I’m so cold. It’s so dark. Where am I?

Brigitte slowly opened her eyes and stared at a flickering square on the wall, a TV. A shiver went down her spine, but she couldn’t move her body. She saw a figure out of the corner of her eye.

“Are you awake, Brigitte?” Her mother’s hand stroked her arm, comforting the chill surrounding her body.

“Where am I?”

“You’re in Denver, in the hospital.”

Brigitte tried to turn to see her mother, but couldn’t move. “Am I paralyzed?”

“No, sweetheart, we’ll talk about it when you’re feeling better.”

At times, Brigitte thought her leg was there. She could feel the pain. She could feel her toes wiggle. But when she looked down her right side, reality settled in her stomach, making her want to vomit. Her right leg was gone, vanished. All her accomplishments, all her dreams of skiing on the Olympic team, disappeared like the snow that melted out her window as the spring sun perched in the trees.

Spring brought depression instead of hope. Physical therapy was painful and the wait for her prosthesis seemed endless. When it was finally fitted to her body, she hated it because it was so cold, mechanical, and uncooperative.

Summer sucked the energy out of Brigitte’s soul, but she continued to practice walking, then running, as her mother kept reminding her of the determination she once had to be the fastest skier in the world.

Fall swirled a new freshness into Brigitte’s spirit as she felt a desire to challenge the snow again. She was almost ready to strap on her skis to test her metal leg on the slopes.

At first Brigitte felt clumsy and awkward as she skied down the bunny slope, the tips of her skis pointing inward instead of parallel. She was humiliated to take lessons and have to start all over with a sport she had grown up excelling at. Finally, after two weeks on the green trail, her instructor, Todd, said he was going to turn her over to an expert for her needs.

What does that mean? Someone who can teach an invalid? Oh, snap out of it, Brigitte. My robot leg is going to propel me around those gates faster than ever.

Determined to compete again, Brigitte returned to the ski resort, along with some friends, the next weekend to meet her new instructor. The wind started to blow, and the few flakes of snow turned into a blizzard just as they settled into the cozy ski lodge. The room was filled with merry skiers as they drank hot chocolate and hot toddies, all talking about the fresh white powder they’d be conquering the next day.

The festivities in the air were contagious and the ski instructors joined the group, wagering bets as to who were novice skiers and who were experts. Laughing at their guesses, Todd took another sip of his hot toddy, his eyes briefly wandering from the men and women at his table, to another instructor across the room. He was sitting alone, staring at Brigitte. Todd excused himself from his table and walked over to the other instructor.

“I see you have your eyes on beautiful Brigitte. She is your new student. She qualified for the Olympic ski team before her car accident last year. She’s learning to ski all over again with her new prosthesis. Let me introduce you to her.”

Brigitte looked up just as the two instructors approached her table.

“Brigitte, I’d like for you to meet Nicklas Peterson. He’s going to take good care of you and make you an Olympic star again.”

Nicklas’s heart skipped a beat as he realized he had been responsible for crippling Brigitte in the car accident down the mountain last year. Now he was given the challenge of restoring her skill. Nicklas shook Brigitte’s hand, “It’s nice to meet you. I’ve heard a lot about you.”

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