A ski accident on the slopes of Mammoth Mountain last weekend reminded me of two essential practices for good health:  respect my limitations and heed the wisdom of those who’ve gone before me.

At the top of a short mogul run there was a sign: Experts Only!   I am not an expert skier.  I can ski groomed advanced runs, but I’m not “advanced” on the moguls.  But my only alternatives were to attempt the run or  to take off my skis and hike back up the twenty feet I’d just skied down.

I didn’t honor my own limitations by checking in with my body or my history.  If I had, I would have heard: “Don’t do it.  You haven’t skied moguls at all this season.  Go back the way you came.”

And, I didn’t heed the wisdom of those who knew the hill and placed the warning sign there.

At the moment I felt strong and enthusiastic.  Even though I’d not skied moguls this season, I fantasized that my previous experience combined with  watching the techniques of the Olympic mogul’s athletes the night before would get me down the hill.   I also didn’t want to do the hard psychological work of admitting defeat and hiking back up the hill.

I neglected to pause long enough to fully assess the situation.  I went with my initial impulse, launched myself down the run, and almost immediately crashed.  And, because that wasn’t enough evidence to convince me of my limitations, I got up and tried again.

Not a good idea.

I crashed.  This time I felt a hot sensation in the outer back edge of of my right knee and significant strain.  I tumbled down the hill, my skis came off and I landed about ten feet from where I’d begun.

At that point, I decided to honor my obvious limitations.  I gathered up my skis and poles and slowly hiked off the mogul run, through a thirty foot wide expanse of thick ungroomed powder, and over to a groomed run I’d been skiing all morning.

I assessed my knee: no pain,  just mild discomfort.  I took a few minutes to bend it various ways and place weight on it.  It felt solid, so I decided to put on my skis and venture down the hill.

I skied a few more runs, but felt discomfort and mild pain from the weight of my boots and skis pulling on my knee while riding the chair lift.  I decided that I’d pushed my limits far enough and called it quits.

The knee swelled up and I’ve spent the past six days in recovery mode.  An MRI revealed significant internal damage to the soft tissue and bone bruising, but no structural damage.

The doctor said I’m a tough cookie and that I used up one of my nine lives.  He said that if it had been him, he’d have been carried down the hill in a stretcher.  He recommended physical therapy with a follow-up visit in six weeks.

Optimal enjoyment of skiing–and life–comes from paying attention to the instruction of others and to self-knowledge about my personal strengths, limitations and history.    Impulsive choices that don’t honor the wisdom of general experience  or personal awareness increase the risk of injury.

Similarly, optimal health comes from using the knowledge of doctors, nutritionists, physical therapists and others in alignment with self-awareness.  Whether it is on the ski slopes or in nutritional choices, personal responsibility for my health includes both.

Through reflecting on my accident with what the Irish Poet Jon O’ Donohue calls “gracious awareness”, I am finding the lessons to be learned.  It isn’t what I signed up for when I went to Mammoth.  But I’m grateful to be alive, walking, and still have a few of those nine lives left so I can get back on the slopes next year!