It is true that sometimes the toughest lessons are the greatest gifts.
It is true that sometimes the toughest lessons are the greatest gifts.
Here I am watching you as a guest analyst on NBCSN for an NHL game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins. This is four days after watching you participate in the fastest skater event at the NHL All Star Skills competition in San Jose, California.
You are poised and articulate. You demonstrate and speak of your love of the game. I am thrilled to watch you do it.
I am a 57-year-old hockey fanatic. I am not one of the young ones I see on Facebook who you have inspired to learn how to skate or play hockey. True, that is awesome. But I am just as inspired.
I love hockey. My dear father taught me how to play this amazing sport when I was 14. It was 1975 when my dad taught me how to blaze a trail. My dad took me to a hockey clinic at the local rink on Long Island and I had to dress into my gear at home because they didn’t have a girl’s locker room. Walking up to the doors of the rink, a man said to my dad, “Oh, you brought your son today.” My dad replied, “She’s my daughter.” Turns out I was the only girl playing. No boy would pass me the puck until I made a clean hard check to stop a scoring attempt by the opposing team. After the check I picked up the puck and went down the ice and scored. I was passed to after that. God bless my dad for introducing me to hockey. God bless all the girls and women before and after me who have embraced this awesome game and blazed a trail of their own.
Kendall, you have brought that feeling back to me. You have woken up in me the need to try and to believe in myself. You have reminded me what it means to succeed. Thank you.
Thank you for inspiring our little ones. You are showing us that more is possible. Never would I ever have thought a fellow hockey player would be side by side with male NHL players and share the same skills. Never would I ever have thought there would be a National Women’s Hockey League. When I grew up and first started playing hockey, some players went on to play in college. That was it. That was as far as we could go. I was proud to have accomplished that. I became captain of my collegiate team. I was thrilled and loved every minute of it.
When Team USA won Olympic Gold in Japan in 1998, the inaugural event, I was off the wall. I remember I was on vacation in Atlanta and woke up early to watch the game in a hotel room. I had so much energy after that I went for a run. And I don’t run! I just had so much energy from it that I had to move. It’s all I could do. The feeling of hope and watching other women hockey players succeed on this grand stage raised me up.
This week, you have inspired women of all ages including this one right here. Thank you for your drive and your mad skills. Thanks for your bravery and courage. Thanks for rocking it out there! Thanks for raising us all up, the young and the young at heart.
by Nancy Alexander
I scored a huge win last week! Interesting I used the word “score” – like it was some kind of athletic contest. Actually, it was all about sports and what it is to be an athlete. I am grateful I won this contest. It felt so good and I am still smiling as I type this. The victory is still just as sweet as it was then.
You see you can take the girl out of sports. But you can’t take sports out of the girl. I grew up an athlete in part thanks to Title IX. The rule, part of the Education Amendments of 1972, stipulates that any educational program or activity that receives federal funding cannot discriminate on the basis of sex. School programs for girls exploded as a result and we had opportunities to participate in sports like never before. I’ve participated in a number of sports in my life including softball, volleyball, ice hockey, golf, and skiing. Title IX came just in time as I entered my high school years.
The most special of all my sports has been ice hockey. I played it for 41 years. Four decades of my life playing one sport. I learned to play from my father and that made it all the more special. We sealed bonds for life at the rink. There is so much more to learn from sports than the sport itself. I learned about how to be a team player. I learned how to treat others with respect because how you treated them would always come right back to you. I learned how to be accountable.
With my huge win last week, I realized another part of being an athlete. And this counts for all sports, at least to me. Part of being an athlete means training your body to do something creative. Participating in a sport requires you to purposefully perform an action with an end in mind. Sometimes that end is winning the game, scoring the winning goal, beating the other team or even beating the clock. Sometimes it just means performing to a desired level. As we age, we may not be able to perform at the level we did years ago, but we can still participate. We can be made to feel like we created something. Sometimes, that is the win. That was a big part of the win for me.
For various reasons, I have stopped participating in some sports that I loved. Hockey is one of these sports. Degenerative back conditions prevent me from playing due to pain and physical limitations. Sure, I could play a game but the next day was a nightmare. The muscle spasms always led to the big fear of my back “giving way.” I would get this horrendous pain and then my legs would give out from underneath me. I am literally locked in my body and I am bed-bound. When this happened days were often spent on a walker until I could walk unsupported again. It was my hell on earth. I am not willing to put myself in that position to chance it anymore. I just won’t. It’s my choice. And I have come to terms with my choice. I’m good with that. I now help coach the local women’s hockey team and I can stay involved with the game that way and help players improve their play and enjoy the game. I can help them be athletes.
But the truth is that though I enjoy coaching, something was still missing. Skiing was another sport I stopped doing over the past three years. Skiing is much more tolerable as far as my back is concerned. When I first skied (heck after my first run), I asked myself, Why have I not done this before? I loved it instantly and eventually I loved it almost as much as hockey. I started skiing in my late 30’s. I earned teaching certifications and taught skiing for years at local mountains. I skied close to 40 days one season.
And then I stopped. I didn’t stop skiing intentionally. It just happened. I’ve been asked, “Why did you stop skiing?” and there was no good answer. I just didn’t. Maybe it was bad weather, bad timing or something else. Life got busier for sure but I really don’t know why.
Enter this winter. Leading into it, I thought more and more about skiing, even dreamed I was skiing at a variety of mountains and resorts. When awake, I could close my eyes and feel the turns, feel what it would be like to be on edge. I could feel the smoothness in each weight shift, each turn. I could feel my body do it. I watched ski racing on television and saw the women before their run close their eyes and physically take that run with their bodies leaning left and right and their arms moving fluidly with every turn. I did that. I felt every turn. It was a grand feeling. I fell in love with skiing again in my living room and just had to find a way to get back out there. It was time to ski again. I must ski again, I thought.
My husband was excited about this prospect, too. Skiing is his favorite sport and he yearned to be back out there too. We decided to join the Rochester Ski Club for two reasons really. We did it so that we could share our renewed enthusiasm with others and sign up for their trips to certain resorts over the winter. This club had solid recommendations from friends of ours. We also joined as an accountability agreement of sorts. If we were to commit to joining this club and pay the fees, then we would have to do it, right? They offered a trip to Okemo Mountain Resort in Vermont. This is one of my favorite mountains and I have skied there 4-5 times during my skiing career. I call it hero snow. I may have skied all their trails over time– from greens to double black diamonds. [These are how trails are rated in terms of difficulty. Greens are the easiest and the more black diamonds a run has, the more difficult it is. The ratings are mountain specific. That is, you cannot compare them to other mountains. They are relative only within that mountain or resort.] Okemo Mountain Resort has always been known to have great snow and is very well groomed. We signed up immediately for the trip. I would get back on my skis!!!
I was planning to ski locally before this trip to Vermont to practice my form and make sure I could still make turns. No, really. Did I forget how to ski? Would I forget how to turn and fall and hurt myself? The local mountain seemed like a great place to try these things out for the first time in a while.
In short, the weather didn’t cooperate. After a brief cold start to winter, it grew mild and stayed mild. I heard conditions were awful. I had no desire to try myself out on bad snow. Still the calendar marched on and we got closer and closer to our departure date for the trip. Still no practice on the small hill locally.
I had stepped up my workouts about a month prior to make sure I built up my endurance and strength in my legs. But still, would my body know what to do up on that mountain? Would I be able to handle the long runs? The time came for our trip to Vermont. I decided then to look forward and not at what didn’t go as planned. That’s when I made my mind up to make this a good experience.
I talked with my husband and we both shared that we would be happy with skiing green and blue runs given the long layoff we had. My real goal however was not so much what I did or where I did it, but I wanted to relive the feeling of carving down a mountain, of feeling the smoothness of every turn, of feeling how just a slight lean would pressure my ski into the snow to make magic happen. I had to feel it. I had to create something with my body so that I was one with that snow and with that slope. I wanted to create a work of art. This is how I defined what my win would be. I wanted to be an athlete again.
This all may sound crazy but I wanted it, and I wanted it bad. I carved turns in my mind countless times before I got on that ski lift that morning – left and right, left and right – and it felt effortless. I journaled about it for weeks, describing what it will feel like to make each turn, feel the wind in my face. I described how I would look back up at the hill and see my carvings in the snow. I saw it with every word I wrote.
I believe an athlete produces a work of art with her body. I don’t care which sport it is. But an athlete achieves things with her body that many others can’t. This feeling, this creation, is what I missed. As we age, we may think we lose our capacity to do it. I can tell you this: If you think you can’t, you won’t. With practice and with the proper mindset we can do it. I am proof, I just did it.
It didn’t start well. Our first trip up the ski lift went fine. I remembered how to sit on the chair as it scooped me up and how to stand at just the right time to dismount. My boots felt tight but they always did on the first run of the day. I remembered how to hold my poles and how the straps should go around my wrist first. Ron went down first paving the way down. We started to descend and my first turn to the left went fine. That is my strongest turn so I wanted to lead with that first. The next turn to the right didn’t go as well. My inside ski turned properly and faced across the hill. My outside ski however wanted to go straight down the hill. Oh no, here come the splits!! No, no, no… I thought to myself. This will not happen!
I summoned the strength to pick up the errant left ski into the air and planted it next to the other ski. I then performed a hard and abrupt hockey stop. No, you don’t, I said to my legs. I may have even said this out loud. I don’t remember. This is not how it’s supposed to go. Ron was still ahead of me and didn’t see what had happened. He had stopped though and was waiting for me. I gathered myself up emotionally and mapped out my next turn and then the next turn and the turn after that. My form improved. I kept my skis together!! Boy was I glad I got that out of the way! I made it down to the bottom of the hill and back up we went. Time to do it again.
This time it went much better and I grew more confident in my ability. I started to vary my turn size and shape. Yes, this feels better, I thought.
Up again we go, same green run. Now I start to gain a little speed. Felt good, and the body mechanics were coming back to me. I was extending my hips better and it felt smoother. Once down at the bottom, Ron and I took a short rest in the lodge before heading back out. We went all the way to the top of the mountain this time and this would include some blue runs in addition to green runs to get down to the base. We took our time going down, taking standing rests when needed. It was a beautiful day with clear, blue skies. We call them blue bird days. It was cold (about 16F degrees), but the snow conditions and the scenery were spectacular. It was during the week so there weren’t many skiers around. We had the mountain to ourselves. We skied the blues and the greens most of the way down. I encountered some steeper pitches but just kept telling myself, keep your skis together, extend your hips, stay forward over your skis. You can do this! Yes, I did all these things. My confidence was growing and I had a smile that spanned the trail.
We stopped to rest just before going down the original green trail that we had already skied to get to the base of the mountain. It was all starting to come together. We started down the trail and then it happened. I leaned and my skis took off. I kept perfect form. I kept my arms in front of me and they complemented every move my legs made. I was moving my arms like I did when my eyes were closed months ago. I leaned just enough to either side as I did months ago. I felt the smoothness of every turn. One blended perfectly into the next turn. I was one with the snow and I created a work of art. I reached the bottom of the hill with arms and poles pumping overhead. My smile was even bigger now. I was victorious. I did it.
In a manner of a morning I made it to my special place that I was longing for. You may think it was “just some runs” but it was so much more to me. I overcame not skiing for 3 years. I overcame the fear of falling. I overcame the fear of hurting myself. I overcame the fear that I would be injured and could not work (scarier when self-employed). I overcame the fear of failure. I overcame it all because I knew what I wanted and I was convinced I would get it. I kept my focus on what I wanted. That run meant all of that to me.
We skied more that day and went out the next day. I can’t even really describe those runs but I can tell you everything about THE run. I created something for the first time in a long time. I was an athlete again. I won.
I can’t wait to get back out there again. I consider myself very lucky. I am so grateful for the Rochester Ski Club and Okemo Mountain Resort for the opportunity to make this happen. I’m sure some may call me stupid. I’m sure some are questioning why would I risk all that I risked. They’re probably wondering, Why did it matter so much to you? You’re approaching 60 you know, what were you thinking?
The answer is easy – I am an athlete. Always have been and always will be. And I don’t want it any other way. There are some who can’t play a sport anymore just like I can’t play hockey. But let’s focus on what we can do. This is not about being reckless. But let’s ask the questions: What can I do? What do I want to do? What gets my juices flowing?
Age can be your excuse, or it can be your motivation. I love a good challenge. How about you? Never stop creating. Never stop exploring. Never stop trying.
By Nancy Alexander
As one year ends and a new one begins, many of us are reflecting on our lives. Well, today, I want to make you a promise. No matter what is behind you, you can take control of your future. You can choose to dream big. You can make your life whatever you want it to be.
2018 was an amazing year for me. For example, I published my first book, An Unlikely Gift: Finding Inspiration Caring for My Father with Dementia. I went from being employed to being self-employed. I earned another clinical certification to help others in our community enhance their mobility and live a better life. I don’t say that to boast. I say it merely to demonstrate that if I can do it, you can too. It does not matter how big or how small your dream is. What matters is the dream.
So today, I would like to share an important first step to make your dreams a reality this year. What big dreams do you have for the next year? Do you make New Year’s resolutions? Or, for you, is the process of improving your life continuous? Either way, consider my recommendation below as an all important first step.
Let me go on record and say that I am not one to make New Year resolutions. Sure, years ago I did and back then I would get all charged up for a bit, maybe a month or two, and then life would take over and I would slip back to my ways. It’s like that new gym membership. Take a look at all the new people in the gym in January and maybe February. Come March, many are nowhere to be found. They had good intentions, but change is hard.
First Things First
I want to challenge you in this brand-new year to look forward by first looking back. Hear me out. What I’m asking you to do is to look back on the last 12 months or so and think about what you achieved this year. What did you accomplish? What did you learn that was new to you? Where did you travel for the first time? What new skill did you master this year? Did you make a new friend this year? What relationships became more meaningful this year?
I started doing this about four years ago. I look back at the past year and make note of my achievements. Every single year I am amazed at what is on my list. We have a way of forgetting our accomplishments you see. Our lives move so fast and our own programming will have us look first at what we didn’t do or achieve. Look for the positive for a change. Look for what makes you smile. Look for what makes your heart sing.
This is a great exercise to do when we start a new year, but truly we can do it anytime. I do it during the year too. I find it particularly helpful when I get into what I call a “funk.” Do you ever have those times too when things just don’t go right? What I’ve learned is that sometimes I can be my own worst enemy. I catch my self-talk becoming negative and that limits me from seeing the good. That is the time when I have to turn things around right away.
To do this I stop and write down everything for which I am grateful. I mean everything. It might be hard for you to find things to put on your list at first but stick with it. Once you find one and then another, it tends to snowball after that. The holidays – even with all their beauty – can be stressful too. This is the perfect time to appreciate all you have achieved. It works, I promise. It has a wonderful added benefit too. You will find that your mood, your mindset, will improve almost immediately.
Write Them Down
Go ahead, write them down. Some of you will be surprised about how many things you have done in the past year. If you have trouble getting started, ask yourself these questions:
What was your biggest accomplishment this year?
What are you most proud of this year?
What experience taught you the most?
What one word sums up your year?
Once you think you have everything listed, put your pen down and read your list. Feel how that feels to relive each accomplishment. Doesn’t that feel great! Do you see that smile on your face? Keep reading until you’ve read them all. Take the time to acknowledge what this year has provided. Take the time to give yourself a pat on the back for what you have accomplished. You deserve it! Be good to yourself and bear your own gift this year.
The really cool thing is that this will open your mind to positive thoughts about your future. Let the ideas flow when this happens. Dream, and dream big. Write these down when they come to you. Don’t discount anything. Write them all down. Revisit this list often and decide what’s worth exploring more. Who knows, you might be on the cusp of something special.
Looking back is a gift and a great way to jump start your future. You are capable of so much! So, before you spend money on something you may not use later, take the time to just breathe and appreciate all you have achieved. Appreciate what YOU accomplished this year and use that to propel you into another great year of new opportunities and an even better life. Your new year starts now. Make it great.
By Nancy Alexander
Growth spurts make us stronger. They make us better. At any age. However, this story is not about a childhood or adolescent growth spurt. This is an adult story. The challenges we face as we age can rock us to the core. How we respond is what matters. This is the kind of growth spurt I’m talking about.
“My growth spurt was in my 50’s and 60’s,” said Linda Sage Fenti. “I painfully came to realize that God is not Santa Claus. Being a ‘good person’ and having faith does not mean our journeys won’t get rocky. Sometimes our prayers don’t seem to get answered.”
Linda is referring to the illness and loss of her first husband to a rare Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma that invaded his skin and eventually went to an internal organ. Life was good, until it wasn’t. “This wasn’t supposed to happen,” said Linda. Her husband passed away in 2003, after thirty-two years of marriage. They have a son who is now married with two young children.
A woman of faith, Linda began to question why this happened to her husband and to her. She was disillusioned. “I even threw my Bible into the trash one night,” Linda recalled. “I was angry.”
“My friends came immediately,” Linda added. After a long walk, she retrieved her Bible and searched for understanding and hope. Whether walking outside or working in the house, she literally looked for light. “That whole summer, I looked for lights and actually wrote a list of light sources: candles, stars, fireflies, the moon, streetlights. I listed what I saw or what came to mind. I spent the whole summer, a season, doing this. My search for hope led me to find light. In hindsight, I was looking for my Savior. God, in fact, provided the light.”
It was then she recalled a song, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” By R. Rogers/O. Hammerstein II. It speaks of walking through the storm and what comes after the storm clouds have gone. “It had been one of my dad’s favorites,” she added.
Her husband’s treatments and hospital visits spanned more than ten years. Around 2000, Linda and her husband downsized and moved to Canandaigua, just a few years before her husband’s battle ended. Then, in the fall of 2003, Linda attended a Grief-share program shortly after his death. She was surrounded by faith-filled people both in her neighborhood, her church, and Community Bible Study. It was during these years that her faith grew exponentially.
Her challenges didn’t stop, however. Evidence of degenerative arthritis, sciatica, and then joint replacement surgeries followed. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011 and went through the recommended treatments. She is now cancer-free. Linda is a survivor and is one in every sense of the word. She once remarked, “God makes the best knees, but it’s a good thing doctors have replacements!” Laughter aside, Linda commits to exercising and moving every day because her mobility is very important to her.
“God guides us through the valleys and provides the peaks of joy too,” according to Linda. “He was there all the time. In the midst of the storm, it was hard to see His hand. Yet it is the struggles that allow us to grow.” Her lesson is that when in the valley, look up to God, and be useful and loving to others. She believes it’s applicable to anyone in any valley. “God led me through those trying days,” said Linda. “He heard my prayers and answered in ways I could not have imagined.”
“Canandaigua has been the perfect place,” said Linda. “The connections and friends I have made have enriched my life, especially spiritually. It was meant to be. This is God’s Chosen Spot for me.” [Canandaigua is the Iroquois word for “chosen spot.” This town is located in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. The area is blessed with beautiful scenery of water and hills.] Several years after her husband’s death, Linda began spending time with a friend who also lived in Canandaigua and had recently lost his wife after a long illness. Their friendship grew. They fell in love and are now married.
She continues to work hard on her physical and spiritual health. “I want to remain active. I want to be a fit wife,” Linda noted. Her husband is very active and so are her grandchildren. She is committed to her physical goals and exercises every day either in her home, walking outside or in water. Linda added, “Because of exercise and a healthy routine and God’s blessings, I’ve avoided a second surgery on my right knee this fall.”
“I am grateful for what I can do,” said Linda. “I want to stay out of a wheelchair. I want to be able to do what God has planned–to fulfill His purpose for me.”
As for her spiritual health, she continues to grow. “I’m a work in progress. I’m trying to trust God and worry less about circumstances. I know He hears our prayers and He keeps His promises.” She added, “Aging or ‘maturing’ helps us to recognize His presence and provisions and blessings–whether in the beauty of a lovely sunrise or a cardinal on a snowy branch or the joy of an unexpected call from a friend.”
“Faith is not about being ‘religious,’ or a list of do’s and don’ts,” said Linda. “It is a matter of the heart—loving God and others, and being grateful.”