MARI KATHERINE RAFTOPOULOS

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MARI KATHERINE RAFTOPOULOS

Mari Katherine Raftopoulos: Tough skin

Mari Katherine Raftopoulos from San Diego to Craig

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— I have always called myself a fair weather skier.

In fact, I could wear a nametag that reads, "Hello my name is Fair Weather Skier."

But some days I don't mind. This is a good day of skiing on Mount Werner.

Because this beauty transformed into frigid Antarctica, the wind on top of the mountain was 65 mph and the snow came down horizontally like bullets.

The mountain was desolate yet I was alive and confident in my new sea foam green skis.

Soaring down the run like the rainbow sea birds printed on the tip of my skis, going too fast for my skill level but putting fear on the side.

And I should have slowed down.

I could have if the blowing snow didn't disguise those moguls. I would have if those three skiers weren't stopped in the middle of the run.

If only.

If only I didn't hear that pop in my knee.

Everything would be different.

I would be packing up my swimsuits, flip-flops, dresses and high heels. Headed back to San Diego for sorority recruitment.

If only I didn't tear my ACL.

But I did.

And here I am in bed. My leg elevated above my heart, restricted to an ice machine at all times, and needing an entourage to go to the bathroom. Here I am at one of my weakest moments.

What now? What do I do now?

Being strong is something I pride myself on, something that will always be there when everything is not. I am strong because others are not. I am strong because I don't know how to be weak.

But what happens when I can't be strong anymore? When I can't be the nonemotional friend. The strongest daughter, the one the parents hope will make all the right choices.

The one who doesn't cry in public, doesn't let the pain show on her face even though internally it hurts and I just want to break down and cry. I am not weak, but sometimes I want to be and want someone else to be strong.

Tell me everything is OK.

And she did. My small petite blue-eyed blond Georgia native nurse told me everything would be okay before I went into surgery.

In her thick southern accent - that she promised was nothing compared to when she moved here in '95 - she said, "Ya know what honey, just going in there with a good attitude, and you will come out just smiling. Just smiling from ear to ear."

That is all I needed to hear, to remind me that I could do this.

This was my first time in a fashionable hospital gown and I thought I pulled it off well. Knowing the trends these days, it is something that celebrities might pair with leggings and Uggs.

So, I thought about stealing it. Until, I leaped off the hospital bed carrying my IV juice in my hand to go the bathroom. Forgetting about the backless no tie feature of the gown, I mooned the entire hospital.

"Those things are kind of airy huh miss," my dad joked as my mother chased after me pinching the two halves together to save me from humiliation.

I felt right at home on the ranch when I saw my doctor approach me with irrigation boots and a big grin.

As for the pain, my father thought I was too tough for pain pills. My mother couldn't pronounce the name of the pain pills as if she were a telemarketer trying to pronounce our last name. And my Papou thought I didn't even need the surgery, just a Bayer aspirin.

But I will never forget what my favorite Georgia native nurse said as she poked me with the IV.

"You have tough skin girl."

I took that as a compliment.

Mari Katherine Raftopoulos is a former Moffat County High School who is now attending college in California.

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