So, I just returned from a short ski vacation in Vail…
If you’re a skier, you know the exhilaration and glee brought on by the pull of gravity as one glissades down the steep and snowy slopes. And boy, was there ever an abundance of snow this season! I heard that some 300 inches of the white precipitate descended from the skies this winter to provide a pure paradise for boarders and skiers alike.
The frivolous and carefree gaiety of skiing is reminiscent of my childhood adventures on my Flexible Flyer as I whizzed down a neighborhood hill, which from a child’s perspective, felt like a mountain.
(For all you millennials out there, a Flexible Flyer is a wooden sled with red metal runners and a crossbar that allows you to steer and hopefully avoid the ever-present trees at the base of the run.)
Truth be told, I am not an advanced skier and find joy in “cruising the blues” which are intermediate slopes without monster moguls, steep drop-offs or, of course, ill-placed trees.
(I love to ski, but I love being a dentist more; so, caution prevails.)
Aside from the pure physicality of the sport, there is also a more aesthetic and, dare I say, almost spiritual dimension to an alpine experience. Standing atop an 11,000-foot mountain, one can look out as far as the eyes can see and behold an endless cascade of snow-capped mountains dwarfed only by a preternatural expanse of azure blue sky. The sight is so majestic it can take one’s breath away.
When John Denver sang “Rocky Mountain High,” he was clearly inspired by the beauty and magnificence of nature’s wonder. Awe and wonder are the words that most frequently come to mind each time I ride the ski lift and behold the grandeur of it all.
Yet, as wondrous as I found the expanse of nature’s beauty during my recent trip to Vail, I found true inspiration much closer to the ground. It is that experience I would like to share with you.
So, as I was skiing down the slope and approaching the ski lift (which is like a school zone, i.e., slow down and watch out for “wayward pedestrians”), I noticed a disabled skier flanked by two friends and a ski ambassador. They had positioned themselves directly in front of me on the lift line. I couldn’t help but look. (OK, maybe I was staring, but with ski goggles on I was inconspicuous). I noticed others looking on, too.
Was it curiosity, amazement, or guilt (for being thankful that it wasn’t them)?
The man, who looked to be in his late twenties or early thirties, had no legs. Each of his two ski poles had miniaturized skis that enabled him to steer. He was perched upon and harnessed to a special chair that had one large ski on the bottom.
I noticed military emblems on the back of his chair and, based upon on his age, I would say he either served in Iraq or Afghanistan and was probably the victim of a land mine or I.E.D.
And here he was with no legs about to head up to the summit.
When it was his turn, his attendants stopped the lift and set him and his chair onto a bench with his friends next to him. I was right behind as we ascended to the peak.
I wanted to say something to him…I felt the desire to reach out, to thank him for his valor. My mind was filled with amazement and awe. But I was hesitant and self-conscious. (I know, hard to believe!).
The ski lift continued its march skyward and then, as we reached the top, I saw our vet push himself up with ease and jump off, taking a gentle turn to the left. I disembarked immediately after.
Should I or shouldn’t I go up to him? The moment of truth….
“Excuse me I don’t mean to intrude. But… I couldn’t help but notice from the insignias on your chair that you served in the military.”
“I assume your injuries occurred during your service?”
“Well sir, you may have suffered casualties…
BUT YOU ARE NOT A CASUALTY.”
“No sir I am not,” he said with obvious pride as he sat tall in his ski-chair.” (He was built like a brick s**thouse.)
I said, “I am truly inspired by you and your can-do spirit. For that I thank you, and I thank you for your service and sacrifice.”
“God bless you, sir,” he said.
“No sir, God bless you.”
And I skied off.
The moral of this story is…
When you have the opportunity to thank a veteran, especially one overcoming a disability, seize the moment.
Your words of appreciation will make his (or her) spirits soar.
Michael Sinkin practices cosmetic, implant, and restorative dentistry in New York City. He is known for the wonderful care he provides to his patients, and for his wicked sense of humor! To contact Dr. Sinkin, link here.