How a Skiing Accident Helped Me Discover My True Purpose In Life
"I found my peace on the yoga mat, and it has become my mode of travel—guiding me toward lightness, happiness, and health."
Five years ago, I was a stressed-out New Yorker, dating emotionally abusive guys and just generally not valuing my self-worth. Today, I live three blocks from the beach in Miami and will soon be headed to India, where I plan to live in an ashram while participating in an intensive, monthlong Ashtanga yoga program, which is basically a modern-day form of classical Indian yoga.
Getting from Point A to Point B was the opposite of easy or linear, but it was so worth it-and it all started with me skiing headfirst into a tree at age 13.
Skiing Toward Success
Like most kids growing up in Vail, Colorado, I started skiing around the same time I learned to walk. (It helped that my dad was on the U.S. Olympic Ski Team in the '60s.) By the time I was 10, I was a successful competitive downhill skier whose days began and ended on the slopes. (Related: Why You Should Start Skiing or Snowboarding This Winter)
Things were pretty great until 1988 when I was competing in the World Cup in Aspen. During the competition, I skied over a knoll at high speeds, caught an edge, and crashed into a tree at 80 miles per hour, taking out two fences and a photographer in the process.
When I woke up, my coach, father, and medical staff were gathered around me, staring down with horrified looks on their faces. But besides a bloody lip, I more or less felt fine. My main emotion was anger over having messed up-so I skied over to the finish line, got into the car with my dad and started the two-hour drive home.
Within minutes, though, I spiked a fever and began drifting in and out of consciousness. I was rushed to the hospital, where surgeons discovered massive internal injuries and removed my gallbladder, uterus, ovaries, and one kidney; I also needed 12 pins in my left shoulder, since all of its tendons and muscles had been ripped off. (Related: How I Overcame an Injury-and Why I Can't Wait to Get Back to Fitness)
The next few years were a haze of bedrest, pain, grueling physical therapy, and emotional trauma. I was held back a year in school and went through menopause just as most of my friends were getting their first periods. Despite all of this, I returned to skiing-I craved the daily structure provided by athletics and missed the camaraderie of my team. Without it, I felt lost. I worked my way back and, in 1990, I joined the U.S. Olympic downhill ski team.
Living the Dream?
While that was a huge accomplishment, the lingering pain from my accident had me performing at a subpar level. I wasn't allowed to compete in speed events (if I crashed again, I could lose my only remaining kidney.) The Olympic team dropped me within the year-and once again, I felt lost and stayed that way for years to come.
I struggled in high school as well, but thankfully, Montana State University awarded me an athletic scholarship and I skied my way through four years of college. After I graduated, my mother took me to New York City for my first time and I was totally enraptured by the skyscrapers, the energy, the vibe, and the diversity. I vowed to myself that one day, I'd live there.
At 27, I did just that: I found an apartment on Craigslist and made myself a home. After a few years, I started my own PR firm, focusing on health and wellness.
While things were going well on the career front, my love life was far from healthy. I fell into a routine of dating guys who neglected me at best and berated me at worst. In hindsight, my relationships were simply an extension of the emotional abuse I'd suffered for decades at the hands of my mother.
When I was a teenager, she thought I was a failure because of my accident and told me no man would love me because I wasn't thin or beautiful enough. In my 20s, she routinely called me a disappointment to my family ("None of us thought you would succeed in New York") or an embarrassment to myself ("It's amazing you were able to get a boyfriend considering how fat you are").
All that, and my tendency for emotionally abusive relationships continued, until three years ago, when I was 39 years old, 30 pounds overweight, and a shell of a person.
The Turning Point
That year, in 2015, my best friend, Lauren, took me to my first SoulCycle class, reserving two front-row seats. When I saw myself in the mirror, I felt a mix of terror and shame-not so much over my thighs or belly, but over what the weight represented: I had allowed myself to get sucked into toxic relationships; I barely recognized myself, inside or out.
My first rides were challenging but revitalizing. Being surrounded by supportive women in a group environment reminded me of my ski team days, and that energy, that safety, helped me feel a part of something bigger-like I wasn't the complete failure my mother and boyfriends had professed me to be. So I kept returning, growing stronger with every class.
Then one day, my favorite instructor suggested I try yoga as a way to chill out (she and I had become friends outside of class, where she learned how type-A I was). That simple recommendation set me on a path I could never have imagined.
My first class took place in a candlelit studio, our poses set to hip-hop music. As I was guided through a transcendent flow that connected my mind to my body, so many feelings flooded my brain: fear and trauma left over from the accident, worries of abandonment (by my mom, my coaches, by men), and the terror that I would never be worthy of love. (Related: 8 Reasons Yoga Beats the Gym)
These feelings hurt, yes, but I felt them. Grounded by the mindfulness of the class and the dark serenity of the space, I felt those emotions, I noticed them-and realized I could conquer them. As I rested in Savasana that day, I closed my eyes and felt a peaceful happiness.
From then on, yoga became a daily obsession. With its help and the new relationships I made, I lost 30 pounds over two years, started seeing a psychologist to help myself heal, stopped drinking alcohol, and began dabbling in vegetarianism.
As Christmas of 2016 approached, I decided I didn't want to spend the holiday in the cold, empty city. So I booked a ticket to Miami. While there, I took my first beach yoga class, and my world changed again. For the first time in a long time-maybe ever-I felt a sense of peace, a connection between myself and the world. Surrounded by the water and sun, I wept.
Three months later, in March 2017, I bought a one-way ticket to Miami and never looked back.
A New Beginning
It's been three years since yoga found me, and I'm all in. At 42, my world is Ashtanga yoga (I love how steeped in heritage it is), meditation, nutrition, and self-care. Every day begins with 5:30 a.m. chanting in Sanskrit, followed by a 90- to 120-minute class. A guru introduced me to Ayurvedic eating and I follow a very prescribed plant-based plan, which includes no meat or alcohol-I even sauté my veggies in homemade ghee (clarified butter from blessed cows). (Related: 6 Hidden Health Benefits of Yoga)
My love life is on hold right now. I'm not against it if it enters my life, but I've found it's difficult to date when I'm so focused on yoga and follow such a restrictive way of eating. Plus I'm gearing up for a monthlong trip to Mysore, India, during which I hope to be certified to teach Ashtanga. So I secretly stalk hot yogis with man buns on Insta and have faith that I'll find true and inspiring love one day.
I still work in PR, but I only have two clients on my roster-enough to allow me to afford my yoga classes, food (Ayurvedic cooking is expensive but my apartment smells heavenly!), and travel. And of course my French bulldog, Finley.
There's no denying that yoga has helped me heal. It satiates the love of sport that runs deep in my blood and has given me a tribe. I now know that my new community has my back. Even though my shoulders hurt me every day (the pins are still in there from my accident, plus I had surgery on the other shoulder last year), I'm eternally grateful for my crash. I've learned that I'm a fighter. I found my peace on the mat, and it has become my mode of travel-guiding me toward lightness, happiness, and health.