"Why don't you try skiing?"
A friend of mine at a party was suddenly inviting me to go skiing. He's been a friend for ten years, during which time we've sometimes gone to hot springs together. I hesitated because of my blindness. But he said, "Just try it once. If you don't like it, you can quit. If you like it, I'll look after you," and he made an ambitious plan.
I'd been scared of sports ever since I lost my sight. Not only that, it was the first time for me, being in my 40s, to try skiing. I imagined that we'd be able to glide down automatically on our skis, without having to put any effort in. For my friend's sake, I decided to try it once, with the intention of just playing in the snow. I expected to get tired of it pretty soon.
I had devoted myself to intensive training for several months before my first day of skiing. Having said that, the training took place in my living room at home. My friend had visited my house and gave me a great deal of image training about how to wear the boots, how to adjust my balance, and so on. By giving me a pretty clear image of downhill skiing, he got me believing that I could come down a real snow-covered mountain like a pro.
Finally the day came. I stood on the slope wondering whether I could do it or not. At first, I shuffled slowly up the slope in my first set of skis, moving like a crab. I fell down and slid sideways, and fell down again on the way back -- I spent half the day falling down again and again. Then I took the lift. The higher it took us, the more nervous I became. Eventually I reached the top with mixed feelings of expectation and anxiety.
With my friend skiing ahead of me as leader and two other friends on my right and left holding a rope extended from my waist in a "V" shape, I skied down like a cormorant diving for fish. This "cormorant diving" method was my friends' way of keeping me safe while skiing.
After skiing, we took a bath in the hot springs and drank some beer. As my aching muscles relaxed and my body was warmed by the hot spring, the beer tasted especially delicious.
After that, my friend came up with another plan. He told me we'd go to have a ski lesson for disabled people in Niigata. The unforgettable taste of the beer made me decide to go.
A female skier who participated in the Nagano Olympic Games as a slalom skier instructed me. Under her guidance on the first day, I could ski down the kids' slope and turn on my own without falling down. Then, I got more involved in skiing and après-ski beer. As the lessons took us to gradually steeper slopes, I fell down so often that I wasn't sure if I was skiing or falling. But anyway, thanks to her I eventually learned to ski.
In my third year since starting to ski, I got to know the members of the SMDC (the snow and mountain lovers club; also known as the food and drink lovers club). I found the club through the internet. With skiing having opened my closed mind to outside activities, I took up a new challenge.
Sitting in front of a computer and typing cautiously using the braille input system I had just learned, I started collecting information about skiing. Although members of the SMDC lived around the country, I discovered that the main organizer happened to live in the same town as me. Once we met face-to-face, he became interested in skiing for disabled people. He also came to see me enjoy skiing with a ski guide who I had met at the lesson in Niigata. What's more, he introduced me to the SMDC mailing list. Members who were interested in being ski guides e-mailed me from all over the country. Many people became guides for me after doing a training program. Some of them are friends with me outside skiing, too.
At first, I was embarrassed by my friend who had made me come skiing with him. But I'm extremely grateful to him now. By helping me open my mind, he enabled me to meet a lot of people and enjoy my life. The brisk feeling of the wind as I ski downhill; the sense of achievement as I gradually improve and handle steeper slopes; the chats with the ski guides; and the great taste of beer as I soak my tired body. I could never have experienced these things alone in my house.
The internet and braille have expanded my connections with people and opened my world to skiing and the outdoors. The day I started using a keyboard by myself, I opened the door to the world. Now I manage a message board on the internet and enjoy exchanging information on skiing, studying, hobbies, and daily life with various people.
I hope I will keep trying various things, keep opening doors, and keep connecting with many people, to make my life a wonderful and enjoyable one.