It's been years since I last sat down before this blank screen and meticulously taped away on this keyboard. Documenting every thought and idea that spewed from my mind; though I have procrastinated and failed to fill the void, I had left behind for a period of time. I once promised myself a long time ago to pick up this old hobby, write in my journal at least once a week and yet for some reason, I just walked the talked. It's been over 2 years since my last entry, it's inexcusable! I could list the many excuses down below per say time, academics, but the whole truth is I had nothing but pessimism to talk about. It hasn’t been an easy couple years, and my lack of entries is a reflection of this. At very least, I had barely managed to hold myself together. Yet I sit here in this house; within this remote and rural environment far from my urban landscape. This strange place I will call home for the next 3 months, a strange town called Invermere. I’m anxious, afraid, and nervous about how these few months will play out. Every decision and action I make will be critical in defining how the upcoming year will be and possibly determine my future and life.
When I first started this blog in late 2014, my attention was simple. I wanted to regain an old hobby of mine and have some time for myself besides drowning in copious amounts of stress accumulated from school and training. I wanted to somehow document in an expressive way about my experiences as an alpine skier. I have been beyond fortunate to have had such incredible opportunities as result of my sport, many that I have taken full advantage, and some that I discarded. When I started skiing for Eritrea in early 2011, I received an overwhelming amount of well wishes and support from the Eritrean diaspora who curiously enough wanted to know about my competitions and how I was performing. This also brought media requests which quite frankly I detested! I began to feel as if my performance was mediocre, I would be letting down not just myself and the people I held dearest, but a whole nation. Because of this, I refused to talk about skiing off the hill and avoid all questions thrown at me. That's when I started receiving essay and written assignments in my courses that I realized my writing ability has deteriorated over the years. After talking to my sister, she encouraged me to put myself out there and try to see if I could regain my strength if I started a blog. She was right; it had an effect, and I found myself eager to type away in my notebook with grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors. I didn't care, I had discovered my passion again. I could kick off my boots after a shitty training session, make a fresh brew, and let it out. Unfortunately, this came at a cost. My post lacked humility, and I made a few insensitive comments. This led to an unfavorable response from my peers, and their criticism was justified. I was immature, self-centered, and portrayed myself so profoundly. Out of embarrassment, I halted any effort to start again. Yet, here I find myself once again, eager to spill the beans though, reserved.
Its now 2017, 25 days into the new year and a new chapter begins in this journey. In less than a month, we will be coming up on a year until the Olympiad. This season will be critical for most winter athletes to set the minimum guidelines imposed by their respective federations and NOC’s; it is difficult to comprehend how quickly this has come around.. again. Its hard to explain, it feels as if it was only months ago that I observed from the comfort of my home the opening ceremonies in Sochi and gazed at the band of colors that flocked into the stadium. I was in awe and disappointment that mine flag was not there. My phone would not stop ringing, messages flooded into social media asking what had happened. I wanted to purge myself from anyone and anything; I was beyond devastated but showed no emotions. In all honesty, I was half-heartedly disappointed. In that exact moment when I realized that I had lost my quota, I slid off to the side of the hill and laid down. All I had to do was cross that line and ski consistently. In a vacuous moment, I decided to ski too aggressively. I just sat there, I didn't scream nor did I cry. I couldn't speak, I couldn't come to grips with reality and what just had transpired. All I knew was that I failed again.
I had wasted a whole season and idly sat indecisively deciding if I wanted to go to Sochi or not. When I made my mind up, I had 9 months to change everything completely. From my fitness to mindset, I spent that summer grinding away and was confident that my off-season work would translate to the snow; I was wrong. Although I finished the season with a level of success, the thought of my failure still lingered. I had an open wound, it stung, and I refused to patch it up. My failure was only further exacerbated when I returned back to Eritrea and saw the conditions that I turned a blind eye to. I just realized that I genuinely f***** up and began to set myself on a self-destructive path and unraveled; I felt ashamed. I had wasted opportunities, money, time, and let my support team and entire country down. I wanted to prove myself that I could do better and so, invested every hour of my day into training or studying. I burned bridges and entirely ridded myself of any social interactions. And in return, I was isolated from everyone. I burnt out as quickly as I started and notoriously earn a reputation for my performance; I know as the guy who never finished. I had enough, my self-esteem hit an all-time low, and I hated every day I clicked into my skis. At the end of that season, I had a difficult decision to make whether I would retire and pursue my academics or continue on a 3-year path of uncertainty towards Pyeongchang. I choose the latter, but I knew had to restart and change again. If I wanted to qualify, I would have to change my attitude, coach, and move away from home; it worked. I struggled, in the beginning, to adjust to my new environment, but things were going in the right direction for one... at least I had thought.
February 28, 2016, I was finally getting results, and my training had been very successful; slowly, but surely I was improving. I had never felt as confident in my skiing as I ever had before. A series of races were approaching, and we planned to utilize my training and push for some results. However, I knew something was off; I wasn't crashing. The speed was increasing, and I had several miscalls, but I didn't recall having any moment where I needed to dial it back a notch. It felt that it was only a matter of time before I would hit a wall.
I was two gates from the finish when I felt my inside edge hit some soft snow. My ski instantly hooked into the ground and put me on a collision course with the netting; a layer stood between the tree line and myself. I had opted to make a quick correction change, and I successfully avoided the net. However, when I shifted on to my left leg, my ski again hooked, loaded up, and whipped me off my feet. I felt something stretch within my knee followed by a sudden, and faint click noise. When I landed back on the slope, pain charged through my leg, I knew something was terribly wrong. The initial diagnosis was a minor strain to the MCL, and I was optimistic that I would be off snow for a few weeks. I returned back to Calgary to get a proper diagnosis, and per contra, the damage was much more severe. The MRI had shown a grade 3 tear of the ACL and MCL, grade 2 tear of the LCL and PCL, dislocation of the patella and partial tear of the medial meniscus. I sat unfazed as my doctor read out of my diagnosis and explained that my season was officially over. Others pitted me, and for some reason, I remain optimistic about my forecast and unrealistic. I thought “Oh well 6 months isn’t that long for recovery”, I miscalculated, and inevitably everything changed when they opened me up three weeks later.
Agony, regret, fear. I can continue to tap away on this keyboard listing away words, yet I don’t believe I can begin to describe what I went through. The weeks that followed were filled with excruciating pain and restless night, some in which I would wake up screaming for such as a sudden jolt. I couldn’t go to the washroom without assistance, and pain meds only exhibited uneasy symptoms. Bedbound I laid in my abyss pondering into the void, I began to question my career and future. At many points, I have had doubts yet this time I wondered if I ever be able to ski again and would I live with my limitations for the rest of my life. To put in perspective, it was the shittiest period in my life. As the days, weeks, and months went by, gradually I was healing. The small task deemed impossible at one point became accessible, and I was able to walk (with a limp). I had my family, friends, my loved ones beside me yet I felt broken to my core. Mentally, emotionally and physically I felt it in every way possible. I lost weight,
“It's only after we've lost everything that we're free to do anything.”
This was a quote Tyler mentioned in Fight Club, and for the longest time, I struggled to understand it until now. When you’re left out for the count, tattered, bruised and lost; at that point are you liberated, you are no longer bound to anything or anyone.
I lost several seasons, I lost my strength, sacrificed my education, social life, burned bridges and one point thought about whether it was worth living anymore. I have given up everything and thus had nothing left to lose. At that point can you decided, decide if you want to continue through or just cut the cord, one way is guaranteed to be easier, but through the pain, through struggle and setback comes ease.
Sometimes you must have faith, having faith despite whatever odds are unsympathetically stacks against you, whatever curveball is being thrown and even at your lowest of low there is always a way. When the forecast is dim, overcast and no sight of sun you must believe with that small light in your heart. Try again, and again, again… There is nothing wrong with trying, there absolutely everything wrong if you didn’t. It builds character, makes you stronger and resilient and in the end, if you pull through then whatever ditch you end up on your journey, you’ll know how to handle it.
Until you’ve hit rock bottom, can you only begin to rebuild and work your way up.
After all of this, 9 months later I found myself back on two planks and sliding down a slope once again. Not scared, not anxious, but thrilled, overwhelmed and filled with joy. I believe that sometimes things happen for a reason and now that I look back at those brutal 9 months of rehabilitation, years of struggling in this sport, I do not have any regret anything neither would I change a thing. Mentally my strength was tested, physically I was challenged. From my injury, I have only gained momentum forwards onto my journey. I can move forward, become stronger mentally and physically. Yes, I have failed, failed too many times to count and somehow succeeded handful time; I'm not afraid to admit that as that was a result of sometimes not trying and sometimes trying, but falling makes you stronger; my new knee is proof of this. I am liberated from my fears, I’m no longer afraid. Of what the future might hold in this journey, how my knee may hold up, failing several more times, but mostly I’m no longer afraid of trying to qualify for the Olympics once again.
Edit: A huge thank you goes to my Family. Without their endless dedication, sacrifices, and support, I would be here. DR. French for giving me a new knee and keeping my career and dreams alive. Jenny, my physiotherapist for pushing me, believing in me and not losing faith. My teammates and Taylor, pushing me physically and challenging me to do better.