On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your pain?
The only time I ever rated my pain a 10 was for the two weeks after my back surgery.
At least, until now.
Back in April, I fell off my horse and fractured my lower back. The pain was so intolerable that I ended up taking a sick day from school, which I have never done in my entire life.
When I got an x-ray back in June, the doctors told me that my back would heal itself over time, but no one told me the consequences of that process.
Nor did they tell me that the pain in my back would be everywhere but the location I had my injury.
Now, the pain is a 10/10 and I would not do it again.
But, it’s just not muscle pain, it’s nerve pain. Aches at the top of my back that feel like burning needles prickling all over my skin. The pain only comes every two months, for five days to a week, but, when the pain comes, it makes every moment of my day-to-day life absolute hell to live through.
I used to have such a high pain tolerance, at least for everything else, but, when it comes to my back, I’m so vulnerable. I can’t even sit through a class without being on the verge of tears because of the pain.
Thankfully, it doesn’t last. In a couple days, the pain will completely vanish and I can’t wait.
But, in just a couple months, the pain will sneak back up on me and I will dread it when it does.
Snowflake after snowflake is tumbling down on my shoulders, my gloves, my helmet, down my neck where it slowly melts and stains my skin pink. The air in my lungs is so much warmer than the air around me, but I can’t see my breath within all the white and grey falling through the space here.
I can’t see my skis, the snow is now all the way up to my knees. I try and dig a hole down my legs to tighten my boots one more time. I look around, look up to my siblings that are beside me, the only spots of color within my vision. One more time, my brother throws a snowball at me. I laugh and get a little mad internally, but now is not the time. Now is the time to be happy.
We all get out the handles for our ABS avalanche backpacks and connect them to the left shoulder strap. Our guide looks at us, and says “Geht schon!”, meaning “Okay, let’s go!”. We all push our poles into the snow in front of us and hop out of the deep powder as if it was nothing.
Here it goes.
The first second is nothing but exhilarating. I feel the adrenaline pumping through my veins as I float down the mountain, constantly fighting the curves and dips in the snow in order to not face plant. Stay away from the trees, stay away from the edge, don’t cross here, you might set off an avalanche. Just go, you love this.
The powder is fresh; we are the only ones here. This was definitely worth the long hike.
I am cold, but I can feel myself starting to sweat. My boots are too loose, don’t lose focus or you’ll twist your ankle. The snow is melting on my mask; the cold air is freezing it into solid ice. My braid is now white and covered in snow crystals. My breath is now in sync with my dashes, it’s cold and hard through my mouth and it hurts to breathe in; my nose is nearly closed up with ice. Just keep going. You don’t get to do this every day.
There is a steep part ahead. Look at your guide, your siblings, follow their lead. They’re better than you. It’s okay, you’re still doing it. The path is narrow, don’t hit the trees, watch out for the branches, the snow on top of them. Focus, use your legs, stay strong. We haven’t stopped this entire time and my feet and thighs are hurting. It’s good. Look ahead, there’s a lip. Jump, try not to fall, think of how hard it would be to get back up. You don’t want to make everyone else stop for you.
There it is, the bottom of the hill. From now on, it’s flat. There are some bumps, we try and jump and push each other over, race each other, spin around and go backwards. We did it.
We have to cross a stream; there’s a fallen tree trunk to walk on. The stomped-down snow on it makes it slippery and, with tired knees, we all make our way across. Now, all that’s left is a long way back to the town, an hour of walking and pushing through the trees in the valley. I’m really getting hot now; I have to open my jacket, unzip the sides of my pants, but it’s good. I feel good.
We get back to the ski lift and catch one of the last rides. Looking out through the slowly darkening alps around me, I see the mountain we had hiked up this morning in the distance. I feel tired, I feel hungry and sore, but the feeling of victory and accomplishment you get when you finally get to take off your heavy boots and cold, wet gloves makes up for everything that has been aching for the past few hours.
Until this past summer, I have always self-identified as fully white. If someone asked me what my ethnicity was, I would automatically say white. Sometimes, when people would try to pry, further questioning my response, I would almost yell,”I’M WHITE. I’M JUST TAN.”
This past summer I have come to terms with myself in a lot of more ways than one. A huge step for me was that, I have begun self-identifying as half-black and half-white.
I think there were two main reasons I did not associate myself with being African-American.
No, it is not because I’m embarrassed or ANYTHING along those lines.
The first being: the classic dead-beat dad story. Up until very recently, I have given myself the power to not have to identify as the daughter of a black man who does not identify as a father.
The second reason being, well, racism, discrimination, and oppression, are all still alive and well.
On Father’s Day of last year, I posted something similar to this on a small instagram account I have only for close friends. Someone told me that “no one really cares” and “I don’t see why that’s a big deal.”
It’s a huge deal. Once you’re fifteen years into your life and you finally feel comfortable enough to accept and express the half of your identity that’s made you feel empty for years, it’s a huge deal.
Yes, I am half-black; yes, I am identify with the 17.9 other African-Americans in the U.S; yes, my dad is black; yes, that’s my real mom; and, yes, I’m proud.
When I was younger, I thought that by the time I was this age, I would have everything figured out.
Obviously, I haven’t lived up to that expectation. Looking back, I really didn’t have a clue what I would be, considering I thought High School Musical movies were a credible source for what teenagers are like.
Now that I’m actually in high school, I know that the expectations I had for this age were completely unrealistic. It’s definitely not as glamorous and there are far less organized musical numbers than I had envisioned.
But, when I think about who I will be in five or ten years, I picture some perfect version of myself. I’ll be kind and successful and doing all of the things that I wish I could be doing right now. I won’t be insecure about how I look, how I speak, or anything else that I care about now. I’ll have grown out of it by then, because I’ll have realized that it doesn’t matter.
I’m sixteen now, but I’m still fantasizing about my future self, just like I did when I was six years old, and my expectations are still probably just as ridiculous.
I like to think that once you grow up, you know yourself completely. I like to imagine that I’ll have it figured out. I won’t have to picture the type of person I want to be, because I’ll already be that person.
In a perfect world, it would work like that. But, this world is far from perfect, and so am I.
I don’t think anyone ever fully grows out of certain things. We learn and grow our whole lives, but it’s not like everything just magically falls into place one day.
When all is said and done, I just hope that who I am in ten years is someone I’d like to know now.
We endure vigorous, agonizing, grueling, strenuous sets.
We push our bodies until we throw up.
Our shoulders pop and crack constantly.
We wake up at four A.M. for morning practices.
We don’t only train in the pool, we run, lift weights, and basically do anything coach tells us to do.
We work and work and work for the hopes of dropping time, yet, many times, our times are stubborn and don’t budge.
We stare at a black line for hours. 25, 50,75, 100. 25, 50…
We cry at times.
We are always striving for a bigger and better goal than the one we just achieved.
“Normal” kids are watching TV; we are training.
We work nonstop, constantly, everyday to take off .01 seconds of our time.
We try our best and still get yelled at. We try our best and get rewarded.
We experience being unmotivated. We push through.
We don’t only strengthen ourselves as athletes, we strengthen our selves as people.
We suffer as a team, we grow as a team, we improve as team.
We make friends and experiences that will last a life time.
We have a second family.
We strive for that amazing feeling after working so, so hard. After giving a workout all you have, we strive for that feeling of accomplishment, achievement, effort, proudness, fulfillment.
We may forget it at times, but we love the sport.
We are swimmers.
A couple days in the past couple weeks, I have been in a slump when I go to practice. I am slower than my teammates who go and qualify for the Olympic trials. I feel slow. I push myself, yet still am slower than my teammates, I get discouraged. I feel like a failure, so I don’t work as hard as I should. I regret my performance in practice. I cry on the drive home.
Today, I acknowledged the fact that I am on a fast team; my teammates are some of the best in the nation. I acknowledged the fact that I can be like them if I do what I do best: work hard. I acknowledged that I’m on this team for a reason.
Today, I worked so hard that my legs stung, my arms numb, my lungs burned, I got dizzy, my heart beat at what felt like a million miles an hour. At times, I was practically hyperventilating. At points, I wanted to give up, but I didn’t. I pushed as hard as I could. I missed a couple intervals, but I didn’t give up. At the end of the set, my body still ached and burned, but I felt amazing. A feeling of happiness almost beyond words. A feeling that any true athlete understands. At the end of the set, I felt the feeling that makes me remember why I love the sport. Remember why I do all of the things listed above. Remember why I’m so deeply in love with this sport.