Shawn Cheshire Race Report

Name: Shawn Cheshire, Camillus, N.Y.

Event: Birkie Skate4:40

Birkies skied by blind women before Shawn: 0

Number of falls: 0

Number of falls by guide Jesse Crandall: 1

Skis provided by: Madshus

On February 23, 2013 I skied in my very first American Birkebeiner Race in Wisconsin. Unless you are an avid cross country skier, you might not know exactly the significance of this feat. This race is the largest cross country race in North America and the distance is 50K. Thousands of skiers come from far away places to participate along with the locals who take much pride in celebrating this beloved sport through the entire weekend.

Considering that I have only been skiing since the end of November (just 4 months ago), it is safe to say that the challenges of this race were many.

I am a blind skier. I lost my vision about 9 months ago due to a traumatic brain injury. I ski with my guide Jesse Crandall. Talk about selfless giving. Our relationship has been built on the foundation of trust. Complete and absolute trust. And because of this solid bond that we have, we successfully defeated every challenge that this race presented to us. Well, the microphone and music came in handy too!

Yes. Swarming around in my mind was the overwhelming presence of fear and anxiety. However, knowing without a doubt in my mind that Jesse would do everything in his power to keep me safe, I calmly faced the fear and anxiety head-on. Finding ultimate peace in knowing that I was not doing this alone. I was calm and encouraged.

On race day, the mass of people surrounding us was like being in a swarm of a thousand busy bees. It was more important than ever to really focus on the calmness in Jesse’s voice. To not let every moving person and all the noise around me cause extreme fear. Every step of the way, he explained to me what we were doing, where we were walking to and what was going on around us. And even though I was shaking from the overwhelming urge to find a quiet, calm place to breathe, I just focused on Jesse.

I was so excited to ski this race. So very thrilled to be experiencing another FIRST. And extremely encouraged that my guide and coach believes in me and my capability to take on a feat such as the Birkie.

The only descriptions that I can give you about the start area are these: Noisy, people everywhere, voices everywhere, loud intercom, music playing, snow under my feet, excitement in the air.

The scariest part of the race was the start. (Nope. Not afraid of the downhills) The question of “What If the people around me don’t realize I can’t see and run over me?” played non stop in my head. Deep breath Shawn. Just follow Jesse. And that’s just what I did. He uses a microphone and music to give me noise to follow and verbalizes directions and details when needed. As we made our way through the crowd and onto the course, my legs stopped shaking, I turned my face into the wind and smiled to myself. I was doing something that I truly love to do. Skiing. And I was with the best guide I could ever be blessed with. Let’s have some fun!

If someone were to ask me what aspects of this race really impacted me, this would be my response:

The quality and the quantity of volunteers that helped us get the food and drink we needed throughout race and assisted in directing us where we needed to go, were absolutely amazing. The crowds of supporters along the course urging us along were incredibly brave to be in the midst of so many skiers at one time. (of course, this is the perspective of a blind girl). The energy of the skiers around us felt like the force of a thousand trains, all powering to their destination and sharing encouragement along their way. And in the midst of all the noise, the challenges of this complicated course and my internalized fears was Jesse, guiding me to yet another victory of accomplishment. He never gave up on me or doubted my capability. Therefore, I skied the entire race not doubting myself for even a second.