The true measure of a man is not in how he falls, but in how he gets back up. Downhill is a compelling, contemporary text that will have a significant impact in breaking open conversations about mental health and depression. Unlike most Young Adult fictions, Downhill isn’t about finding yourself or coming of age. This novel explores the flip side – What if you believe the best part of your life is behind you?
The protagonist – Mop – is 19. And retired.
He was a professional downhill skier. He’s travelled the world and had opportunities most guys only hope for. But now – with failing knees and no recent success – Mop has to forget the dreams of his past and imagine his future. Cycles of anger and shame keep him hurtling downhill while his best friend, Bernard, rises to the summit of success.
Set against an Alpine landscape, Downhill powerfully explores how we manage disappointment. The weight of this narrative is given colour and light with a spectrum of characters that recognise Mop’s need for honesty and humour.
Readers aged fifteen and above will relate to themes of jealousy, disappointment and the profound pressures associated with decision making and “the future”. They will appreciate the family dynamics that Mop finds both embarrassing and comforting. Most importantly, they can see how Mop manages his mental health – how he finds a way up after falling down.
I pressed the exam booklet open and smoothed down the seam of the page. Forty five minutes to go.
Question 18. Twenty five marks. Allow about thirty minutes for this section.
“It is the way an individual faces challenges that shapes them and their achievements.”
To what extent is this statement accurate in reference to the personality you have studied and their role in history.
I blew out a breath and leant back into the grainy plastic school chair. I tried to think, tried to recall some phrases of the few history lessons I had attended. But I could feel the ghost of my past coming towards me, like an echo through the wide hollow hall.
the way an individual faces challenges
I could write my history.
I could write: second place is the first loser.
I hunched over the desk, watched as my fingers hovered the pen over the page. The clock out the front ticked, loud and menacing against the concentrated silence. I pressed the pen to the page and scrawled, trying to make an answer appear in sentences and paragraphs. There was a lot of crossing out. I wrote two pages and was exhausted. I stretched and resisted the spinal shiver that heralded a yawn.
I arranged the few things on my desk. Black pen. Writing booklet. Exam paper. My desk was in a slant of sunshine that was pouring through a window, like a jug of warm syrup. In the air I could see dust motes dancing and falling, like snow.
I missed snow.
The last time I had skied – really skied – down something steep and rugged and deep with powder, I had been out back with my best friend Bernard at Mont Sainte Anne in Canada.
The day was raw and crisp, cold but no wind, no breeze. The sky was like silk, a pale blue parachute taut above us. It was a perfect day. We had found our way into a postcard. Skiing out back is the ultimate – no lifts, no trails, just wild untouched powder. Climbing up after each run was worth it; heart racing, legs burning, knee crunching. I didn’t care. Soon, I would be on a plane home to Australia with the excess baggage of painful awareness – I would never compete again.
The snow was thick and fresh. I had to push hard on every turn to propel myself downhill. Chunks of snow tumbled beside me as I created a tiny avalanche.
Skiing is about being just this side of losing control, like you’re on the verge of falling but you don’t quite let go.
But then I did. I let my legs push harder and tighter until I was racing and control slipped away. I caught an edge and my power was gone.
I hit the ground.
Felt a crunch.
I stopped, my body embedded. Unable to go on. Pins and needles were tingling in my brain. I could taste blood. I’d kicked my own balls. I sat up and felt a sharp pain grip my left side.
I could see my ski, my poles, my goggles, thrown like rubbish across the mountain. I tried to stand but pain burnt my ribs. The fatigue of a million runs downhill settled on me and I didn’t know how I’d ever stand up again.
I squinted, shielding my eyes and saw Bernard, posed like a statue at the summit. Three days ago he had won the World Cup. His second. He had pumped it above his head with victory shining out of him more brightly than the Swarovski crystal it was made from.
He plunged down the slope, effortless and graceful, then skidded to a stop.
“Are you okay?”
I pulled off my gloves and unzipped my jacket, depositing a bundle of snow.
“Don’t make me laugh,” I winced. “I might’ve broken a rib or something.”
“That’s alright,” he said. “I’ve got some tape back at the Chateau. Let’s go and I’ll strap you up.”
I fought my way uphill, collecting my things in an awkward bundle. I clicked into my bindings, shook snow from my collar.
“You know,” Bern said looking down the peak, “that was pretty bad, Mop. You could stack another thousand times and you’d never fall as hard as you did just then.”