At 88, Eleanor’s only hope was to “once again glide a steep slope covered with fresh fallen snow; to feel the cold fresh air fill my lungs and caress my cheeks.”
Eleanor, or Ellie, spent more than four decades feeling the chill of snowflakes on her skin while speeding through powdery terrain. She felt the rush of excitement during climbs up ski lifts. The glimpses of fellow skiers below sent surges of joy to her brain in hopes of a successful run.
Skiing brought her closer to good friends through a European ski club. Ellie and her tight knit group of winter sport buddies set their skis on dozens of peaks across the world including ski adventures where they carved up the Alps.
When Ellie was on the slopes, there were no committee meetings to attend, no business decisions to make, and no family issues to manage. It was as if the stress of the world was left at the top of those frosty peaks.
Eleanor’s greatest fear came on a fateful day in Vermont at 82. She and her avid skier husband had a rather uncomplicated day until the last run. Ellie lost her balance and hit the ground hard. The impact broke her hip and damaged her knees.
The doctor told Ellie her active lifestyle would have to end. Eventually, the problems with her health meant she had to leave her independent life and move to an assisted living facility in Danvers, Massachusetts. A woman with Ellie’s level of energy does not fall into lethargic habits after a setback.
“I don’t like to sit around and do nothing. I have kept extremely busy all of my life. If you don’t keep moving, you aren’t going to move at all,” she said.
Occasionally, the urge to see her breath while surrounded in white rushed into her bones. But it was against doctor’s orders. Nevertheless, she found a way to defy them. Ellie remembered seeing ski teams towing people in sleds and modified skis during her travels.
“There is nothing you can say to explain the feeling you get when you are skiing. It is like being a free bird in the air,” she said.
Brookdale Danvers program coordinators passed around a flyer about Wish of a Lifetime in 2017. Eleanor’s eyes lit up and she envisioned herself among the trees once again. It may seem like a simple day, but what she did next proved her determination was unbreakable.
A nasty sickness creeped its way through her community and hid in Ellie’s suitcase. When she arrived in Colorado, this sickness took hold and put her into the emergency room. Staff had low expectations that the ski trip would continue and prepared for Ellie to bow out on the day of the wish.
But she saw things differently. Medical woes were not ending her one chance to experience pure joy. She would go regardless of her illness. She was given the OK from the doctor and could not leave the hospital fast enough to make her way to Keystone, CO.
“There is a difference between having pain and suffering your pain. And my grandma has never suffered her pain,” her grandson who accompanied her said.
The Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center’s adaptive ski team met Ellie on the snow to teach her how to use the special chair and pull system. Her hands were poised on the handle and feet tucked snugly into the front rest awaiting the first descent. The bundled 88-year-old looked ready to ride at any moment.
World Champion and Olympic Freestyle skier and founder of WOL, Jeremy Bloom met the tenacious older adult at the slopes to see her moves. He was pleasantly shocked to see Ellie take on the hill with enthusiastic whoops and hollers.
She easily did a 360 degree turn and urged for faster speed. The staff almost couldn’t handle her wild turns. No one would have guessed that less than 12 hours beforehand she was in the hospital.
“I want people to look at Ellie and know that they can do whatever they set their mind to into their 80s, 90s, 100s,” Bloom said.”As we get older, fear has more of an impact on our lives. It’s important to remind ourselves that we can’t let fear get in the way of living the life that was meant for us.”
As for Ellie, she had a simple message for people of all ages.