Sunday, March 23, 2008

Somatic Skiing in Big Bear

Last week I went to Big Bear Lake, CA to experience adaptive skiing.  Prior to my injury I was very active physically and downhill skier since the age of 5.  Only a 2 1/2 hour drive from San Diego, Big Bear is the premium location in Southern California for skiing and snowboarding.  I was extremely excited to be back in the fresh mountain air and experience a real physical challenge!

I reserved the last two days available for adaptive skiing instruction for 2008 season.  On Wednesday, March 19 my best friend Frank Starks, his two kids, Frankie and Claire, and my good friend and caregiver Monique loaded our van and headed North.  I was planning to rendevous with my old college buddy Brad Erwood, an excellent skier, coming from LA.

The trip was supposed to take only a couple hours but we got poor directions from Google and ended up taking almost 5 hours to get there!  Hungry and exhausted we arrived one hour late for my afternoon lesson and decided to scratch it for some lunch and a bloody mary.  

The next morning I awoke refreshed and excited to embark on a new adventure!  The weather was spectactular, sunny and a warm 50 degrees, perfect for Spring skiing!  After meeting my instructors Ralph and Jeff, we discussed options for adaptive skiing.  Because my injury happened at the cervical level my trunk and upper body strength required that I try a bi-ski versus a mono-ski.  The bi-ski provides a greater ease in balance with two parallel skis instead of only one.  I also decided to begin with a fixed outrigger which are like training wheels to prevent me from tipping over.

I was transfered into the bi-ski and securely strapped in.  It felt like a perfect fit as my body became one with the ski.  We made our way up to the lift and my two instructors lifted me onto the seat in perfect timing.  Suddenly I was carried up, up, and away floating 20 feet off the beautiful snow covered slopes.  As we approached the top of the lift, my instructors began to scoot my towards the edge of the seat for our dismount.  For a second fear surged through my body as I hoped I would not fall!  I asked them if they ever dropped anyone and they assured me I was in good hands :)

As we raised the safety bar I prepared myself for being launched off the seat dropping two feet to the snow covered ramp.  Wham!  I felt a shock wave go through my soma and then I slid to a hault.  Ralph, the program director for USARC hooked tether lines to the back my bi-ski chair so I would get out of control as we prepared for our first run.  Basically, I was instructed to maintain my balance and lean just slightly each way when entering a turn.

I ackowledged my instruction and prepared to be launched down the slope.  "Ready, one, two, three, here we go!" said Ralph and suddenly I was skiing!  "Ok, begin to turn right." as I leaned into my turn.  Quickly the ski responded and I turned right sharply and ended up haulting by going back up toward the slope.  I had leaned too much.  "Very gradual corrections" said Jeff, "the bi-ski is very sensitive."  We began to go again and this time focused on looking where I wanted to go keeping myself centered.
I began to imagine a vertical string pulling from the top of my head and connecting my tailbone to the earth.  My somatic center began to emerge and as I slowly adjusted my turns.  My turns began to become smoother and easier.  "Now you are getting the hang of it!" said Ralph.  My confidence began to grow stronger.  Now I was halfway down the slope and I could see my friends at the bottom smiling and waving in excitement. Tears of happiness began to fill my eyes as I felt exhilerated and fully alive!  I was actually skiing and I was pretty good!

After two more runs, I felt much more confident and relied less on my instructor's guidance.  I felt ready to transition to the arm outriggers and remove my "training wheels."  The arm outriggers are short ski poles with a small ski attached at the bottom.  They allow me to have more control of my turns and increase the performance of the bi-ski.  We duct taped the arm outriggers to my hands as my grip is fairly weak.  

Back up the ski lift we went.  At the top we got situated and prepared for a completely different style of adaptive skiing.  As we began to decent onto the slope, I realized that now I had to use more of my upper body to balance myself.  I also could feel my shoulders and back engage more and my posture lengthen.  I was now do more of the work and could feel even my legs fire up!

I felt like a true athlete, one with the ski and the mountain.  

I could turn much easier and began to discover how to use the arm outriggers to carve into my turns.  A rush of energy came through my soma.  My entire being was alive and present to this amazing experience.

Over the course of my 2.5 hour lesson I skied seven times taking only a short ten minute break for water.  With each run I felt my confidence and competence grow.  I was surely addicted.   My buddy Brad Erwood was just as excited as me and is looking into being a volunteer next year.

I can't wait for next season.  I already have plans for my family to meet up for a skiing holiday.  To be able to ski with my brother and father again will be a special moment!  My entire perspective of being paralyzed has shifted.  If I can do this, I can do anything!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Welcome to Soma Evolution!

Soma Evolution is a blog and resource to explore the transformation and evolution of the human self.  The word "soma" comes from the Greek meaning the living body in its wholeness, the interconnection of mind, body, emotions, and spirit.  This blog is an exploration of my own personal journey of somatic transformation.  

In April 2004, while traveling through India on spiritual retreat I fell from a one story building resulting in a C5/C6 spinal cord injury becoming a quadriplegic.  I have limited movement and sensation from the chest down but continue to see improvements in my strength, balance, and mobility due to the rigorous exercise-based recovery program I am engaged in at Awakenings Health Institute

I also ride horses weekly at REINS a therapeutic equine riding program in Fallbrook, CA.  My balance and core strength have improved greatly since participating in this activity.  I also feel an amazing sense of tranquility and emotional well being. 

In May 2007 I traveled to Shenyang, China to participate in an experimental stem cell therapy program.  Over the course of month I received 5 treatments of 10-15 million umbilical cord blood stem cells, daily acupuncture, physical and hand therapy.  After each treatment I experienced a noticeable increase in energy and decrease in pain.  Now 10 months later, my overall endurance, strength and balance has continued to maintain itself.  Recently, I have seen an increase of activity in my legs that is allowing me to stand with minimal assistance at the parallel bars.  

It is difficult to really say if my recovery is due to the stem cells alone or a combination of all the therapies I have been engaged in.  My sense is that everything I am doing is stimulating my nervous system in some way and contributing to my recovery.

"There is no such thing as good or bad, but our thinking makes it so"  Shakespeare

I am confidence that all experiences happen for a purpose and are here to serve us.  It is up to us to decide the meaning of these experiences.  It is my belief that if we are open to life and surrender to the moment magic is all around us and suffering is just an illusion.  

For me suffering is usually when I get caught up into negative thoughts about my experience. When I accept things as as they truly are, suffering disappears. Some of my most powerful experiences have been extremely challenging but also very rewarding.  

Welcome to my journey...