On March 9, 2016

All I need is the air that I breathe

By Dom Cioffi

I lay there looking up into the sky, only the clouds visible within my range of sight. I could move my fingers and toes (something my father always told me to do to make sure I wasn’t seriously injured), but I still felt like I was paralyzed.

Only seconds earlier, all the oxygen had been forcefully removed from my lungs by a teammate who had launched my gangly 16-year-old frame backwards into the air during a football scrimmage.

My body lurched as I gasped for air. Soon, faces appeared in a semi-circle above me – some smiling, others displaying a faint hint of concern.

Before I knew what was happening, I was being lifted off the ground as my junior varsity head coach barked something about “this not being a game for sissies.”

That memory, dusty and fuzzy within the grey matter of my brain, came rushing back to me with vivid acuteness this past week as I was vacationing at a Colorado ski area.

As the afternoon sun was settling behind the Rocky Mountains, I decided on the chairlift ride to the top that this would be my final run of the day, and subsequently the final run of my trip since I was flying home the next morning.

For three days I had successfully carved turns on various mountains, all while listening to a playlist of music picked specifically for my annual snowboard outing.

As I exited the chairlift, I took one last look around at the beautiful topography, marveling at the breadth and magnitude of the Rockies. I then strapped on my board, tucked in my gloves, pressed the “Play” button on my phone, and took off down the hill.

I’m a cruiser when it comes to snowboarding. I like carving out wide turns on moderate terrain. Sure, I’ll head down some steep slopes from time to time just for the challenge, but more often than not, I’m looking for the exhilaration of unbridled gliding – something I like to refer to as “dancing with the mountain.”

My legs were feeling the strain of three days of exertion, but I still felt strong so I continued, only stopping once about halfway down the mountain. I decided at that moment that I would push on to the bottom and finish out my vacation with one final furious run. I forwarded my playlist selection to Springsteen’s “Born to Run” and jumped back down the trail.

I was barely finishing the first verse when out of nowhere a young skier came rushing across my downhill line. In a split second my brain determined what was happening: the skier was looking to access a side trail, but had waited too long to make his turn. When he did make the move, his trajectory inadvertently cut me off. He crouched down to escape contact; I jumped in order to avoid pummeling him.

The results were devastating – to me.

I hit the ground with massive force, with my chest and face taking the brunt of the trauma. In that first second after impact I turned to check on the young skier only to see him delightfully drifting away without so much as a look back at me.

The next second is when the memory of that long forgotten football hit came rushing back. As I lay there trying to catch my breath, I became acutely aware of the similarities between the two situations: the inability to breathe, trying to move my fingers and toes, and eventually, the appearance of faces above me.

Two skiers who witnessed the event came to my aid, chastising the rug-rat who took me out and checking to see if I was in need of real assistance. I assured them I was fine and they eventually skied away.

The truth, however, was that I was hurt. My breathing felt restricted and I was experiencing some serious pain. I eventually made my way to the base lodge and back to my room, where I continued to access my condition. I determined that I did not need a doctor but that I was genuinely injured – with either a couple cracked ribs or at the very least, some badly bruised bones.

At this point, I can’t laugh without pain and the thought of sneezing scares me to death. So, thankfully, this week’s film, “Eddie the Eagle,” wasn’t full of laughs. It was, however, a wonderful story about the triumph of the human spirit.

Based on the true life story of Michael “Eddie” Edwards, who, in 1988, stunned the world with his antics at the Olympic Games in Calgary. Eddie finished last in both of his ski jumping events, but his positive attitude and indomitable spirit made him a crowd favorite around the world. He came to represent the true essence of a heroic failure.

Starring Taron Egerton and Hugh Jackman, “Eddie the Eagle” is a fun, upbeat film that shows the value of perseverance while reliving a wholly unpredictable Olympic moment that no one could have predicted.

Check this one out if you remember watching Eddie back in 1988 or if you have a youngster who you want to influence with a positive story of athletic struggle.

A high flying “B-” for “Eddie the Eagle.”

Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at moviediary@att.net.

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