Life, Loss, Sport: a September Mish Mash of Emotion

Louis Lahaie  Jul 4 1954 - Sep 3 2018

Louis Lahaie
Jul 4 1954 - Sep 3 2018

I’ve sort of dropped off social media posting for almost 3 weeks as I navigated the end of the CNE ski show in Toronto, into the World Waterski Show Tournament, into moving for the fourth time since May. Mid-August to mid-September is my liveliest & busiest time of the year where I feel completely wrapped up (at best) or entangled (at worst) in the world of show skiing in Canada. And then amidst all this living, my uncle Louis died. He had been battling pancreatic cancer. I mean really battling. Back in June, when the end made it’s presence clear & looming, I had some great last visits with him. I helped him film some messages for his grandkids, which was such a special thing to help with.  But also a completely gut-wrenching, heartbreaking thing to help with. I guess since the summer went ahead and unrolled itself, I selfishly hoped I might get to see him again in September… this wouldn’t be the case. I am however grateful for the extra summer months he got to spend with my aunt, and his girls. 

These last few weeks have been a challenge both physically, and emotionally. The end of the tournament left me with an unmoving shell of stiffness in the middle of my back, and a tired heavy heart. And while I think happy/excited/funny are all easy to share, what I have been experiencing has felt pretty complex.  To add to that, the lives of those around me also seem to be in quite complicated times, which has me deep in thought about what the heck we are all doing orbiting around the galaxy on this big green and blue marble anyways. Sunday afternoon, as I folded the last of the clean & dried costumes, the sun caught a sparkle on the dog’s snout that reminded me that “Glitter is forever” and I smiled softly. As my CNE 2018 responsibilities closed out, the lid on Team Canada 2018 could also be closed. And as I unloaded the last truck load of my belongings, this move, that precedes next month’s move, was also done. I looked gratefully out to the lake, smooth in the last fleeting bits of autumn daylight, and felt the urge to put the contents of my heart and my head on paper. This yoga journey I am on is continuously teaching me lessons. But one of the most important to date is that we are all in this together. The human condition means we all experience love & loss; happiness & grief; we all will know anger, and resentment; we will all experience moments of complete and utter elation and wonder. Sharing experience is cathartic in itself, and relating to other’s experiences can bring such comfort. So here I go. About life, and grief, and hopes, and this sport I love. My last couple weeks, blurted out for you to read.

I’ve experienced the CNE to World Tournament transition once before in 2016, and I was braced for feeling exhausted, anxious, emotional.  There would be a lot to do, with responsibilities on both sides of the transition, even more so this year with Team Canada’s show piggybacking on our CNE show. The excitement of 40 athletes coming together is palpable. But one show, no matter how carefully engineered, cannot possibly meet all the wants, wishes and expectations of that many individuals. It’s not meant to either. “Points, points, points” is the bottom line the show answers to (which I hate btw. I’m more of a crowd pleasing gal). So the training week leading to the tournament is inevitably filled with some big collective & personal highs as elements come together… but also some pretty deep disappointments, and set-backs. Some are personal, and skill related; some on a team level; unrealized potential; and always (and I mean always) team politics and other drama create a noisy backdrop in front of which the entire experience unfolds. For Team Canada, nearly everyone on the team owns, operates, or is employed in a seasonal business for which the season came to a close Sept 3rd. So we are, from the outset, as a team, a little bit pooped.  Uncle Louis left us the evening of September 3rd, and for me going into the week bearing a whole lot of sadness was an experience of it’s own. One of my favorite coping strategies is compartmentalizing. Trying to focus mainly on the contents of the Team Canada box in front of me; while keeping the CNE box (still open, readily available for rummaging) “next to it”; the marriage box “on that side”; the family box “over there”; the Suptopia box could stay “way back there”; the social media box, made of glass so you can always able to peek at the contents, on the “far side”, etc.   And then the grief box. Which refuses to be neatly contained. The Grief Box is more like it’s own tiny wave pool plopped in the middle of the room. As the wave cycles come and agitate the water, waves carelessly lap over the sides and end up making other nearby boxes soggy, or blur the ink on works in progress, or even force other boxes to temporarily seek refuge on the perimeters of the room as the rising wave pool commotion demands full attention.  During a three hour car ride? I let the waves cycle on high. During a show meeting? It’s like I’m standing at the control panel frantically hitting the stop button and hoping it will work (sometimes it does.. sometimes you are moments too late and there is no stopping the flood). Mostly though, containing the wave pool left me with a lot less softness for those around me.  I desperately wanted my teammates to know what their tasks were, and to execute them to the best of their abilities. Where I normally have a much deeper well of patience and kindness, I was feeling pretty darn empty. Unable to deal with anyone’s neediness & overwhelm but my own. I tried to remind myself constantly that there was room for all of it: to feel grief and loss, but also to find laughter and joy in various moments of each day. And it’s not because I am laughing one moment that I am not also carrying around my very own tiny wave pool of grief. Our human condition can hold so much at once. I’m not sure how it’s possible, but it is.


And as I stood in the beer tent late Sunday, after all our skiing was done, I felt sad. In past years as the tournament has come to a close I’ve felt like we put out a show that highlighted the best of what we could do, and stretched the limits of what we had previously done. This time my heart knows we fell short. Team Canada did “pretty good” Saturday, but there was clear room for better.  And boy did we take a beating Sunday. Everyone says we did fine considering the little amount of time we actually all get to practice. That we did our best in shitty conditions. My disappointment was feeling that as a team we entered the comp hoping to place better than in past years, but having no real new skills to bring to the table to aid us to achieve this “better” we wished for. That overall our team lacked foresight and commitment to working towards new heights - or even setting new goals. And I see other countries bringing these skills to the tournament - and I know we could learn & execute those skills if they were on our goal list. I am confident our Team Canada members are just as great as the members of other teams. But it takes time, and practice. And dedication to teaching & learning in the various areas of the sport. Not just as Team Canada 2018. But as SWS ski shows, as Fern Resort ski show, as the CNE ski show. As She CAN Ski training clinics; as Longford Mills Ski Club. As more experienced individuals coach & share their skills with those looking to learn. All these places, organizations, and people that support show skiing every summer - not just on World Tournament years. I wonder what events or collaborations might be possible, and how that would impact sport development here in Canada. I also wonder about how to make growth sustainable & thriving for the individuals & organizations working to grow and promote the sport. Because they too have livelihoods to attend to. How to make something extra fit, work, and flourish when a lot of our leaders in the sport have their seasonal businesses or full time careers that demand most of their time & attention. All these thoughts come from a deep love of the sport. Watching show skiing evolve in other countries is pretty amazing, and I’d love to see it grow here in Canada too.  I love that the World Tournament has made our international family of show skiers much much bigger.  I love honing personal skills and having those skills then benefit and contribute to something bigger. I love the trust, the communication, the friends lifting friends, and working together to literally climb higher. All the moving parts finally (hopefully!) falling into place. I (++ haha) love wearing tight, bright, sparkly costumes, smiling and waving, and pointing my toes. It’s all strangely rewarding, in a way I must assume you can only know if you are a part of it. 

Now back to long sleeps on cool nights, leisurely dog walks where we investigate each blade of grass (with unparalleled intensity, thank you Scout), and sweet slow sunset paddles. Time to rest & recharge this body, mind & soul <3

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Stephanie OuelletteComment