I don’t remember my first day on skis. I know it was at a small mountain in New Hampshire. I know I was 3 years old. I’ve seen pictures of my dad teaching me that day, but I don’t remember it.
What I can pinpoint is the moment I fell in love with skiing. Or rather, moments. The first time I used poles they felt weird in my hands, but 6-year-old me felt like a “real” skier. When I was 12, standing at the top of my first double black diamond in Vermont, I was terrified. I wanted to hike back to the top and choose an easier trail.
That was when my dad looked at me and said: “You just need five seconds of insane courage, and you can do anything.”
Five seconds later, I inched forward. The trip down that trail at Sugarbush — moguls that had iced over, solid and littering the trail — was a series of five seconds.
He repeated those words when I was 15 standing at the top of Mineral Basin at Snowbird when I signed up for the ski team at the last second of my freshman year of high school when I had never raced before.
My dad always joked with me, “You’re not pushing yourself to go faster if you never crash.” So I did. Sophomore year I flipped over a Giant Slalom gate and landed in a cloud of snow. I punched myself in the face after I fell forward later that year. In my last race of high school, I crashed out of a Slalom race and had to be brought down the mountain in a sled.
Standing at the top of every race, every run, I knew these things could happen. But I had five seconds of insane courage to just go, to take a chance. Without crashing, I would never have improved at the rate I did during senior year. Without signing up, I never would have met my best friend, Emily, who has been by my side through everything since.
Five seconds of insane courage. I ran for class president in my sophomore year of high school.
Five seconds of insane courage. I moved across the country for college.
Five seconds of insane courage. I take my medicine every day. I get blood drawn. I keep going.
I initially thought that five seconds of insane courage meant that was all I needed to do something. I was wrong. My life is made up of those five seconds, some bigger than others. Deciding to come here for college was a huge “five-second moment.” Actually making the drive across the country was another. Getting through Golden Bear Orientation, meeting new people, going months without going home, all five seconds of insane courage, strung together.
What I realized is that my dad was getting me to make the decision to do something — to take charge of my life. It took me five seconds of insane courage to start down my first double black diamond, but it took minutes of courage to actually get the whole way down. Years of courage to keep skiing.
As someone who gets anxious about what is going to happen in the next minute, month, year and lifetime, my dad gave me a gift that day, atop a double black diamond. Holding this mantra tight to my chest keeps me grounded. It offers a hand up when I start spiraling down for whatever reason.
In 2019, I nearly collapsed in a parking lot and spent three days in the hospital in Boston. It was all a blur. After leaving the hospital, I don’t think I allowed myself to register the fact that I had essentially looked death in the eye and came out the other side. Rather than addressing the enormity of the situation, I broke my life down into smaller parts, following the mantra I had relied on forever.
In the hospital, they pumped me with steroids which caused my face to retain water, a common phenomenon among lupus patients referred to as “moon face.” Looking back at pictures from then, I barely recognize myself. But at the time, it took five seconds of insane courage to even get ready in the morning, to face someone I didn’t know staring back at me in my mirror and move on.
I lived my life, five seconds of insane courage at a time, to process the experiences I had that year. Sometimes all I need is a little self-assurance and a moment to breathe in order to keep going.
Honestly, sending in my application to write this column, knowing I would be sharing some of the hardest things in my day-to-day life if hired, took me five seconds. Sending in my column each week takes another five. Sharing my published columns with friends and family takes five more.
Life is so scary. It’s draining, difficult, sad and stressful. But it’s also beautiful, fulfilling and fun, and what seems terrifying is often the most rewarding.
All it takes to realize that is five seconds of insane courage.