A Return to Skiing
Sara Fischer stared up at the sky passing by as ski patrol took her flat on her back down the longest run in North America.
Something was wrong.
As an experienced skier, she’d been teaching her children the sport since they were 3 years old, their tiny skis wedged between hers.
But now they were zooming by her as she stumbled and fell — even in the lift line.
“I thought I was just a klutz,” she remembered. Their annual family ski vacations continued, but Fischer no longer went out on the mountain. She stayed in the condo and read. Or cried.
It wasn’t until 2007, when a brain scan revealed a 20-year history of multiple sclerosis, a neurological disease which disrupts communication between the brain and the body, that her balance and depth perception problems finally made sense.
She knew she’d never ski again.
Life continued. She dove deep into a career in television production, rising to become vice president of production at ABC Studios, and a member of the Director’s Guild of America.
Until one day, she got a call from her daughter Margaret, who’d recently fulfilled a lifelong dream of living in a ski town by moving to Crested Butte, telling her about the Adaptive Sports Center.
“Mom always said that there were two things she wanted to be able to do,” Margaret said. “Run out of a burning building and ski again.”
But Sara hesitated. She hadn’t been out since the fall.
Reluctantly, she showed up on a clear day in December and met Colleen Farrell, a certified adaptive ski instructor with a knack for overcoming obstacles.
“Every problem I presented mentally, she surmounted,” Fischer said.
Getting on the lift? No problem, they just slowed it down for the first few days. Uneven balance? Stand-up outriggers — poles with ski tips attached to the bottom — added stability.
One by one, the walls that had boxed her in for a decade fell, until Sara once again found herself high in the air on the lift, surrounded by silence, taking in the scent of suntan lotion and the glint of the sun on the snow.
She started her first run. Margaret skied slowly behind them, watching as her mom immediately got the swing of it, already linking turns on her way down the mountain.
She began to cry.
“I’ve never been so proud of her, ever,” Margaret said. “Seeing her break down and build back up was amazing.”
And she wasn’t the only the one — tears streamed down Sara’s face too.
“It was just so emotional to break through that boundary that I never thought I could break through,” Sara said. “I was weeping; hysterical.”
Sara Fischer was once again one with the mountain.
Every day her skills improved. By day three, Sara knew that her balance was better on skis than off. By four, she could look up confidently while walking through the base area. By day five, she skied without tethers, and her life had changed.
“I can do anything I set my mind to,” Sara said. “I can get past it.”