A Stroke of Inspiration

You know those mornings when you wake up and you haven’t even looked outside yet but you can just feel the fresh snowfall? It’s like a strange silent feeling, as if the snow gives off energy you can’t mistake. You look outside, and you can hardly finish your coffee before you’re off to ride your weapon of choice. For me it’s my snowmobile. 

I get dressed in my latest Klim gear, load up and race to the staging area. I’m literally five minutes from my house but feel like I’m in a different world. I don’t go any further up the trail than I need to before ducking off into the trees. I delight in the fact that I won’t cross a single track for the rest of the day. It’s like a blank canvas that needs my artistic touch. A deep pow slash here, and a few braaps there, a crisp line across the hill up onto a ridge. I get an epic view with a sense of accomplishment. The excitement is definite.

This is the feeling that gets me stoked. The feeling I wait for all summer. I’ve mentioned before that sledding was not always my passion and I wasn’t always super jazzed about it, but it’s since become a part of me and a major part of my life.

When I was 27 I suffered a hemorrhagic stroke as a result of a ruptured AVM (arteriovenous malformation). This is basically a tangle of abnormal, poorly formed blood vessels that have a higher rate of bleeding than normal vessels. Something I was born with but had no idea about, a ticking time bomb you could say. I was just living my life, going to school to be a forest technician at the time. One morning I woke up, headed out to the forest and my world was changed forever. I felt generally unwell from the get go that day, but chalked it up to lots of studying, travelling and dehydration perhaps. Nonetheless I carried on with my project. I hiked up a hill, bent down, stood up and POOF; my entire right side had no feeling. It felt as though my right side was no longer part of me.

After a month in the hospital, a tricky craniotomy, 42 staples and a ton of physical therapy, I began my long recovery. Learning to walk was my first priority, but the trauma of almost losing my life was a lot to swallow. We were told I may never walk again and I may never be who I was before. My husband Andy and I set to work on getting my life back together. After months of re-learning, I could walk, read and write again. It was time to get back to my life, and time to get back on my sled.

At first I was nervous to be in the backcountry so far away from everything. What happens if I have a seizure out here? Despite the assurance from my neuro team that my brain is totally healthy, I was still anxious. Day after day we’d go riding and I was getting stronger and steadier. What I found was not only did my body remember what I was supposed to be doing on my sled, but also my soul was fed. Out there I was free. I was in my own mind; I could be present in the moment of just riding. Even on the less epic pow days I was still accomplishing things; as I learned to side hill like a boss, and refined the little techniques that shape me into a smoother rider.

Although sledding was not always a part of my life pre-stroke it has definitely become a way of life in the chapters that followed. It has inspired me to keep pushing and to help others feel inspired by a sport that can be so intimidating. The things I have learned about my abilities and myself were happening for me out there, in the backcountry where the sky is the limit and the snow is endless.