Learning How to Fall

I’ve always been afraid of falling. Falling off the edge of a cliff; falling from a roller coaster as it races on tracks far too high from the ground as my harness hangs far too loosely; falling in love; even falling into soft powder after a poorly executed jump on the ski hill.

Everything about mountain biking challenges me to face this fear.

Recently a riding buddy told me, in response to my boastful “Oh, I nevvvver fall. I’m very conservative!” comment: “You’ve got to fall. It’s the only way you’ll get any better.”

At the time I thought he was out of his mind. But after a few tumbles (prompted by the purchase of and adaptation to clipless pedals), I’m beginning to think that, rather than being an adrenaline-hungry lunatic, he was actually right.

It–and the accompanying learning curve–has prompted more elation, terror, and excitement than I can even begin to describe, or maybe have ever experienced. And the biggest lessons? They’ve come from the falls, the few I’ve had. So far, I’ve been lucky. The injuries I’ve sustained from falls in my personal life far supersede the ones from riding my mountain bike in the foothills. I’ve only suffered a twice-scraped knee, a sore (and quite bruised) arse–as well as a few bruises to the ego as I tip over (unable to unclip) when coming to a stop. But this handful of minor crashes has taught me something:

I’m going to fall. Period. And it’s probably going to hurt.

I remember rollerblading with my mom 15 or so years ago. She had just bought herself new inline skates (at my insistence, of course; I had just picked up the sport and wouldn’t leave her alone until she splurged) and I had finally convinced her to go skating with me on the Greenbelt-like path near our house in West Boise.

As I knew she would, Mom loved it. We took it slow and we were careful enough, but not so careful as to not feel the wind in our hair, mom and daughter, as we squealed with glee. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that day. (In fact, I remember roller skating with my late grandmother in much of the same fashion. For some reason, my best memories with the women in my life usually involve sports on wheels.) But something happened mid-skate that, seemingly insignificant at the time, still upsets me to this day. She fell.

We had just reached the end of the paved pathway, out of breath and giggling, and were next to a three or four foot tall wooden post. We were completely stopped, chatting excitedly about how much fun we just had, and, out of the blue, her feet went right out from under her and she fell hard on her tailbone.

Mom had lost her balance, nothing more. But she was in pain, and her hand was peppered with slivers from the post she had been holding onto. It wasn’t a significant injury, of course, but it was enough to scare her–so much so that we rode home somberly and she never put on those roller blades again.

Now, a short disclaimer: My mom’s a bad-ass. When most kids’ parents were busy with household chores and normal, day-to-day activities, mine were dragging my butt up the ski hill or hauling me and my siblings to nearly inaccessible campgrounds all over the state and teaching us to dirt bike and water-ski. They were taking us on jaunts halfway across the world so that we could learn about other cultures, barter in dizzying markets, sip kava with villagers, swim with sting rays, snorkel and scuba dive with tropical fish, and find out how to navigate in a foreign country’s public transit system. Plain and simple, they taught us to be adventurers–and they led the way.

Which is why I was so disappointed when she gave up.

I can completely understand why: It just wasn’t her thing. She felt that she was “too old” and simply didn’t want to fall. She had already mastered a handful of other sports in her 20s and didn’t feel she needed to put herself in harm’s way now that she was about 40. I get it. But I also remember that something changed in me that day. My biggest hero had thrown in the towel after one attempt at the activity, and I couldn’t help but feel that would be my fate, too: If I tried something and fell, that meant I had failed (or at least I thought so).

Without warning, falling became scary.

Coming from a girl who could’ve made a career out of catapulting off a bicycle or dirtbike, this seemed to be a reasonable development. (I’m surprised I never broke my nose, jaw, or teeth, considering how many times I “caught” myself with my face.) But I digress. The years went on, my skills improved, and I stopped falling.

I stopped falling.

And slowly, with “conservative” riding, came conservative thinking, conservative relationships, conservative life choices.

At this juncture, however, I’m not so sure a conservative nature serves me well anymore. Looking back, I realize that I became so afraid of getting hurt that I stopped enjoying the ride–and the view. And in spending so many years afraid of the fall–falling from grace, falling in love–I almost forgot just how liberating it can be.

The same friend quoted above elaborated on his “You need to fall” theory. “You have to learn how to fall.” What I learned from it is that you want to tuck and roll, also true in life. Yeah, if you crash, it’s probably going to hurt, you might even bleed or break a bone. But if you know how to fall, you’ll be able (and want) to jump right back up and continue to ride.

After all, as I’ve discovered, the higher you climb, the farther the fall–but the better the view.

2 thoughts on “Learning How to Fall

  1. You are awe-inspiring and completely and totally awesome! I love you 🙂 and I hope you continue to fall on your arse and enjoy every second of life.

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