I could barely watch the Winter Olympics last month because at 44 years old, I was finally aware that I would never win a gold medal at the half pipe. So much so that when I went away skiing with my family last weekend, I couldn’t even bring myself to go in the half-pipe when my children asked me to show them how to do it.Which is not to say that I ever really dreamed of being at the Olympics for anything. Well, other than to cheer on and perhaps make-out with an athlete boyfriend after a big win. But I have that same daydream about Nascar, the Academy Awards and the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. Surely one gal can’t be attractive to all four of those winners so I’m not really holding my breath. But I certainly did not spend my life dreaming of or working towards a gold in snowboarding.
I only tried the sport for the first time at 29 years old because I believed (in all my wisdom at the cusp of thirty) that snowboarding could possibly be the only new sport I might ever learn – and I wondered if I could be any kinder to myself in adulthood as a beginner. Kindness was not even a consideration when I learned competitive sports in school and college. Claiming it as a value in the twilight of my twenties was just as intriguing to me as learning to float over snow on waxed wood.
As it turned out I could be more patient with myself and it didn’t hamper my ability to succeed. Within five years I was more advanced and um, rad, than most women, of any age, on any mountain I carved my way down. And despite being gentler to my inner child and growing inner adult, the anonymity of a helmet, goggles and a full body snow suit seems to have also allowed me to push myself a little farther. This is especially true now for me as it keeps my life as a wife and mother of three – and a TV actress who signs a clause in her contracts that she will not put herself in harms way while filming (and does so every time she gets off the chairlift…) under wraps.
But most sadly in this snowy success story is that that both parts of my 29 year old prophecy were right. I haven’t even attempted any other new sports in fifteen years. Yes there’s frisbee tag, golf, paintball and pole dancing ready for the taking but I talk myself out of them for the same reasons you do: children/Facebook/garage shelving/Starbucks/True Detective.
Or perhaps the deeper truth is that my psuedo-surfing-in-the-snow and the ever evolving ways I can play music inside my helmet while riding, is the one and only vice that is both dangerous enough to make me feel alive yet acceptable enough that I bother to continue pushing at it.
But to what end, I recently asked.
Specifically I asked when I saw a commercial with the red haired athlete ubiquitous with the sport of snowboarding and realized his run must nearly be over. That Sochi would have be Shaun White’s last chance for a third gold medal in as many olympics – and when he missed it – his time was most likely done. Therefore, so must mine be.
But my time at what exactly?
Hobbies always seemed like things that people who lacked ambition did. If we can just ignore the question of “where did I get this idea that play is for ne’erdowells” for just a second — as that is the exact explanation of what the therapist is for — is that what snowboarding is to me? Play? A hobby?
I am a firm believer in Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours theory. That 10,000 hours is the precise amount of time needed to begin to truly express oneself, excel at and WIN at a sport or art form. If I am just reaching that marker now but will never compete at or make a living at said sport – am I hitting it as hard as I can for just the thrill of seeing my own progress?
The fact that I’m not actually “working” towards anything with my winter ski habit feels like the exact definition of mid-life. That some “opportunities” are actually done now and have crossed over into pastimes. Which, feels a lot like what I imagine castration to be.So yes fifteen years later, snowboarding is a hobby of mine – which is both the obvious and hard-won answer. And perhaps getting over my own hangups about play is the thing I have to work on now at the cusp of 45 – since I wasn’t really aware of what midlife meant until the word hobby hit me in the face like ice.