It’s a late November afternoon, and the only reason I am out on my skis for the first snow is I’m getting paid for it.
It feels awful. I can barely move. We’re supposed to be double-poling across this field, and every muscle in my body is burning as though it’s never done this before. The 40 other coaches around me all seem like they’re having fun.
We’re supposed to be learning how to coach little kids. I get the impression we’re also proving we’re competent enough to move on skis. The bar is not high. Still, I leave the coach’s practice feeling I barely cleared it.
How am I going to do this for a whole winter? Once a week, I have to go out and ski with 5th-8th graders and pretend they’re not totally kicking my butt? Act like I was once an athlete? I’m going to fool no one. I am dreading this. And anyway, I’m scared of kids.
But coaching a BKL (Bill Koch League, a youth ski program) group turned out to be, unsurprisingly to all but myself, super fun and not at all scary. Well, the kids are a little scary, but that can be forgiven, right? And anyway, it didn’t matter if I was scared of the kids. They made me laugh. They made me ski. Once a week, for an hour, if the kids were moving I was moving. And once a week was enough. My body was ready, but my brain was still so scared to move.
Going out with the kids gave me a reason to ski that wasn’t about me. It wasn’t about OTS. It wasn’t about me racing. It was barely even about the kids’ racing. They looked at races as fun events they did with their friends, and maybe got to eat ice cream after. I can’t remember ever thinking of racing in this way.
It almost seems cliche to say a group of middle schoolers helped me start having fun with my sport again, and got me moving when I’d been sidelined by illness for 15 months. Even if it is cliche, it is true. Once a week turned into three times a week, and before I knew it, fitness was returning. And I was smiling. Because when a kid smiles because skiing is just so gosh darn fun, it’s hard not to smile back.
The story of how I got myself into OTS has been a common topic on this blog for 20 months. (See here, and here.) Skiing with the BKL kids is just the beginning of the story of how I’m getting myself out. I’ve written about three lessons I learned getting through OTS, and today I have something new to share about that process.
April 2019: I’ve been completely sedentary for four months, with a single exception (hiking Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park.) I am alone at the Lodge. I mean alone. We’re not open for the season yet, and the rest of my crew has gone somewhere else. I am trying to feel in my physical body that sensation of bringing my voice out through a big curve in the back of my throat.
Singers indicate this feeling by curving their finger alongside their jaw and jutting their head forward. I don’t really know what it means.
It’s confusing, like learning ski technique by watching someone’s shadow. So I experiment. If I do this does my voice come out all high and strong? No? How about this? Still screechy. This is why I have to be alone.
I’ve sung in my car for as long as I’ve had a car. But I started really practicing in the fall of 2018. Launching from a single voice lesson, I expanded my conception of what notes I was capable of hitting. I started singing along to female artists, when I’d previously preferred men. And the notes kept getting higher.
In September it was the B4 in Jana Kramer’s Why Ya Wanna. By November it was E♭5 in a whole bunch of songs: Madilyn Paige covering Sia’s Titanium, Sara Bareilles’s Brave, and Idina Menzel’s Let it Go. It took me months to learn to nail it, and this remains the highest note I can confidently hit. The F#5 in Sia’s Chandelier has been my pursuit for a while now.
As I began singing regularly, I found I had good days and bad days, just like in endurance training. I could tell from the warmup what kind of day it was going to be, and I learned there was no point pushing my voice on a bad day; I’d only be more tired the next. Sometimes after a particularly taxing session I would take a whole week off from singing, and I’d come back feeling stronger than ever. Just like training.
I began to think of singing as the primary substitute in the hole left behind by aerobic training. I observed progress over time: notes that used be airy and insubstantial are now powerful, sung in a lower register. Songs that I used to drop a whole octave to sing along to, I now sing in the same octave as the artist. When I sing, I can feel my body responding, tweaking, trying to find the place where it feels just right.
For a time, I wondered if I would keep singing when I was able to return to aerobic training. In the beginning, I suspected I wouldn’t. I was wrong.
Singing has become a part of the way I interact with, test, and yes, train my body. It’s no longer something filling a hole, helping me get through a tough time. It’s a gift: a new part of me.
Are you a vocal coach? Want to give me lessons? I’ll trade for endurance coaching 🙂