I’ve grown up with a very adventurous spirit and a love for learning new extreme sports. In all the confidence and fearlessness brought on by my childhood sense of invincibility, I had a tendency to believe it was always best to just dive right in and fully submerge yourself. There was, after all, nothing that I wasn’t capable of in my youth.
A moment that comes to mind on this snow saturated day is when I first started learning to snowboard. It wasn’t really snowboarding, although I didn’t know that at the time. I had a kid’s board that had grippy plastic but did not require any strapping in. Like a skateboard you merely stood on it free footed. There was a string attached to the board with a handle at the end for maneuvering and navigating. I had a small hill outside my house that I quickly mastered and grew board of. I wanted a big mountain to ride! My parents, probably seeing that there is no way this tiny piece of plastic would work on a large mountain, refused to take me anywhere. I probably could have done what other kids do to make boring things more fun by adding obstacles, doing it one footed, no hands, etc. That just wasn’t me though. I was destined to be a professional. I would quickly learn all the tricks and skills and there would not be a mountain anywhere that I could not cruise down.
It was among these thoughts that my eye caught the snow covered roof of our shed. Ah, my mountain! It was tall and steep. The walls of the shed were only about two to three feet high. The rest was a long roof. All in all, it was probably about 10 feet off the ground from the top. I could slide down the roof and then I would gain air for a couple feet. Maybe if I got good at this, I could use that bit of air to do a flip of some sort. Maybe if I had a real snowboard and maybe if I was actually talented at the sport. I thought if I did somehow fall, the snow would be a soft cushion, right? I should have remembered how much it hurts and knocks the wind out of you to be hit with a snowball. Snow is not all that soft.
I climbed to the top with the little board dragging behind me. A friend of mine was watching. The shed was old and we weren’t entirely sure the roof wouldn’t completely cave in before we got to the top. There were holes, missing shingles, rotting nails, and all these other foreshadowing details. I managed to get myself to the top with some effort. Looking down, it looked much further than it seemed looking up. This only amplified my excitement. I was going to be the best.
At first, for a minute, things were almost smooth. I was making it down. Then I started flipping though not for stunt. Certainly it was not planned. It all went really fast and before I know it I was smacked on the ground. I looked up and everything was spinning like I was on the teacup ride. I stayed in place. My friend asked if she should get my mom. As great as this plan had sounded the whole time, when I thought about explaining it to my mom, it suddenly sounded like it was the worst plan ever. She must not know. I waited for things to slow down and then tried to get up. Why couldn’t I get up? Why couldn’t I move? I had the overflow of panic that I had really done something horribly wrong to myself. Then I realized my body could move, I just couldn’t lift my head. Probably a pound or so of hard snow was crushed into my hair making my head twice as heavy as normal. Using my hands I lifted my head and brought myself to standing. I started pulling the snow off and struggling to see straight. I could move all my limbs and everything except my vision seemed alright, so I decided this wasn’t a complete failure.
I did, however, decide to take a step back with my snowboarding. Instead of flying off roofs, I had my dog pull me so I could pretend to be in the sled dog races. I moved really fast and much further than the hill, so this pacified my desire for the mountains. At least for that point in time.
This would not be the first time or the last that I jumped into something a little too soon. When I was a bit older, I took up skateboarding. That was something I was really doing well at. I could ride down any hill, maneuver any speed, and perform some tricks. I went to the skateboard park in hopes of meeting some new friends and trying out some of their things. When I got there, I saw this large, glossy, wooden half pipe. It was just like I had seen on TV. I could picture myself on it flipping through the air. I was going to be the best female skater there was, and it would be relatively easy because there weren’t too many girls in the sport. I needed to dominate that half pipe first. It was suggested to me that I start rolling back and forth across the bottom and slowly work my way higher and higher.
It made sense but although I was fantastic at riding, I wasn’t the best at making quick turns which I felt were needed to do this. I decided to just drop in from the top because this gave more room for wide, big turns. If you are questioning my logic, I don’t blame you. You probably should. I went to the top thinking that since I had watched Tony Hawk’s Tips video, I was prepared. I got my board in position, or at least I think. What was the position exactly? I couldn’t quite remember. I asked for advice and my friends shared their thoughts but suggested if I didn’t know for sure, I probably shouldn’t do it. Yeah, yeah. Whatever. I had this. I really hadn’t taken any falls ever. I swear, I was actually really pretty good at this for once. I pushed down and instantly tumbled off. My ankle was unbearable pain and not moving. I was helped up and brought home. Just a sprain. At least not a break. Well in the sense that broken bones are expensive and time consuming with visits to the doctors. Not at least in terms of suffering. Having a sprained ankle is hard. You don’t have crutches which means you can’t use the elevator at school. Teachers don’t really seem to care as much what a struggle it is making it to classes. You still pretty much can’t walk, but it is not taken as seriously. It also lasts forever!
I didn’t give up on my skateboarding goals. I just learned that perhaps the slow build up is the way to go. Perhaps being really efficient at turning is the better starting point after all.
I had a similar experience with my first childhood exposure to rock climbing. It was before I knew there was gear, technique, specific shoes, etc. I was climbing around boulders at the beach barefooted in my bathing suit. I was young at this point too and had many of my same faulty thought processes. I was climbing up and up. No thought to how high or how far the ground was beneath me. I wandered around traverse and climbing above the sound of crashing waves. The sun blazing. The further away and higher I got, the less people were around. I stumbled upon a gap. On the other side lay miles of continuous beautiful boulders. I needed to get to them. But the gap was pretty big. The gap was what appeared to be a hundred foot drop onto sharp pointed rocks and only about a foot of water. I imagined falling, smacking my head, and slowly drifting out to sea never to be seen again. No one knew where I was after all and no one would see me fall. I should have turned back, but of course I didn’t. Did you really think I would. I slowly slide down with my leg extended trying to get a better sense of the width and if it was possible to jump or push myself over. Without knowing what chimneying was, I knew I could accomplish it. As I was stretching my leg, I slipped. I reached out quickly to grab the rock behind me. With my back to the wall, I hung in Mission Impossible position. My back against the wall, my arms reaching behind me to pull up. With the strength that pure adrenaline must have provided. I managed to hold on, swing my feet up, and press myself up.
I got to where I was before and decided to retreat this time. I had some fantastic climbing right where I was anyway.
I don’t regret any of these experiences as painful or stupid as they might sound. They are now great memories of fun times and valuable lessons learned. Sometimes we do need to go for things with incredible confidence and set our expectations high, but we also need to take the time to do them right. Sometimes looking back I still wish I had all that fearless invincibility that helped me overcome anything and believe in myself 100 percent, but I also value my patience and thoughtfulness that I put into new hobbies. Ideally a little bit of both is probably the happiest position.
I encourage you to always boldly move forward and dream big, but make sure you put in all the steps and keep rational fears in check as well.It is okay to admit we aren’t ready for things yet, but it is important that we always try hard and strive to get there.