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Fear & Injury Pt. 1

Updated: May 9, 2019

In my chosen hobbies, progression goes hand in hand with exposing yourself to risk, danger and consequently... injury. In skiing, the slopes you ski are steeper, harder packed, wind affected, narrower and more variable snow conditions. The climbs get harder with less options for protection and longer stretches between pieces of pro which means bigger falls. Mountain biking gets steeper and looser, with large jagged boulders littering the trails making line choice an absolute critical component of any trail you ride. Each time you push a little further in these sports, the risk of injury increases but so does the pay off. To put it simply, the bigger the risk... the bigger the payoff. Much like in gambling. It's no wonder these sports are addictive.

I'm not saying that I've been skiing, climbing or biking at anywhere near a professional level, but in comparison to even a year ago... I have progressed a lot. I think that's all that really matters. If you're looking for motivation to progress in a sport there's no point comparing yourself to others (especially professionals). Compare yourself to where you were a year, a month or a week ago and use this as motivation. Setting realistic goals is important.

So yeah... it's safe to say in the past year I've been the most scared I've ever been in respect to sports and adventure. Most of the time, I stayed safe throughout these. However, particularly where mountain biking is concerned, I've had my fair share of bails. Last summer was brutal. Every ride I was coming off and went to work that evening with a new bruise, scrape or ailment. The first black trail I rode was Rupert, a Squamish classic (and is now one of my favourite trails of all time). I came off the second feature of the trail; a long, low angle rock slab, and went over my handle bars to slide along my stomach down the remainder of the slab. I had road rash on my forearms where I had grated down the rock and I was shaking from the fall... but I got up right away and did it again because I knew if I didn't I would be scared of that feature and dwell on it until I rode it again. I did it the second try, and that week I wore my road rash, also known as the Squamish tattoo, with pride because it was proof that I had pushed myself beyond my comfort... and survived! That was my first really bad fall last summer, followed by many many more that left me battered and bruised. I also nearly lost my two bottom teeth from a climbing fall in which I had the rope in my mouth about to clip the next bolt and my foot slipped, yanking the rope out of my mouth with the full force of my body weight and about 6 feet of slack. That ended in a double root canal and a promise to never put the rope in my mouth again. To be honest I still do that, but I'm always aware if I feel myself falling, to relax and not clench my jaw.

After getting use to managing my fear and understanding what is the right amount to push myself, I came to crave that feeling. The sweaty palms, the overwhelming desire for it to be over, the determination not to pussy out... these are all part of the thrill, part of the addiction. Once you can compartmentalize fear and learn to understand which of these fears are legitimate and justified, and which ones you can rationalize your way around, it becomes easier to know how to push your limits. When descending a mountain bike trail, I know I don't have the skills to hit a mandatory drop. But I do know that I can find a decent line down a loose chute and trust myself and my bike to get me down it in one piece. This is something that you can only accomplish through practice though. So if you're not getting scared then you are probably never going to progress. It's as simple as that. The main tool that helps me when I feel I am overcome with fear is to accept the fear. I'll tell whoever I'm with that I'm nervous, which is always followed by the response, "you got this!". Me acknowledging my fear helps me move past it. Yes, it's there, but it's not going to help me finish what I'm doing so put it aside and focus.

I think the most intoxicating thing about doing things that scare me is that it helps me learn how to control my emotion. For my entire life, I've been trying to learn how to not overreact to things, how to not catastrophize and blow things out of proportion. As far as my mental health goes, reacting this way to stressors in my life has only resulted in negative consequences; inability to eat, crippling anxiety, and self medicating with drugs and alcohol. These are the tactics I chose to silence the noise manifesting in my head. A whirlwind of self-sabotaging thoughts fuelled this negative cycle and left me in a nihilistic, depressed and anxious mind set. I had no successful coping strategies that worked 100% of the time. I wrote, and I meditated. Yoga helped... sometimes... so long as there were no mirrors. I skied still, but nothing that ever scared me. When I discovered mountain biking, climbing and backcountry skiing, it was like a light went off in my head. This was it. This was my therapy, my medicine. These sports require so much focus in the heat of the moment, your mind has no ability to stress about anything other than what you are doing. And even then, it's not a stress so much as a problem solving mindset. How do I do this?

I learnt early on that when your mind wanders you fall. You fall, you get hurt. You get hurt then your confidence is shaken and you have to go back ad rebuild it. Not to say that falling is bad. After falling enough times, I learnt how to fall. When to ditch the bike and roll. When to stay on and try to ride it through. How to avoid smashing your face on rocks. Most of all, I learnt that you need to focus on what you're doing. Training my brain to stay alert to the task at hand has proven to be a game changer. Somehow I never truly mastered this when I was in university. But after a summer of crashing it became pretty clear that to survive, I needed this skill.

Part of my personality is that there's no middle ground for me. Whatever I do, I do it 100% or not at all. I take the same approach with my hobbies in that I become obsessed with them. I want to do them all day every day. I dream about them and when I'm not doing them, I'm reading about them or watching You Tube videos. I pour my heart into them because the more I give the more I get back. The problem with this mindset is that if the ability to do these sports are taken away by say, fatigue, time constraints, sickness or injury, then what do I have left except for a giant hole where my passion for these sports once filled? How do I get my therapy when I can't physically walk? I've been so dependent on my hobbies to keep me mentally healthy that when the ability to do these hobbies is taken away, my mental health suffers to the point where I fall back into that dark and desperate hole I spent so long climbing my way out of.

I knew the time would come when I would get injured one day. It's statistically inevitable living the lifestyle I have. Part of me had been preparing for it almost; making myself take mandatory rest days where the most I do is take my dog for a walk. I had been trying to train myself to take days off and to be mentally okay with taking rest days. When I broke my foot two weeks ago, my initial reaction asides from the pain shooting through my nervous system was to stress that I would not be able to do anything for a few days. This stress began to worsen as I hobbled the rest of the trail I had been running. I had rolled my ankle, and thought I had just sprained it, but the further I hobbled the bigger my doubt became that this was just a sprain. I still help optimistic that I would only be out for a few days however. You can imagine my disappointment when the doctor told me I had fractured my metatarsal in two places and would be out for six weeks.

It could be worse, I am well aware of that. I am thankful that it wasn't! But this accident has brought a whole new set of challenges to overcome. The main one being; How do I stay sane when I can't do the things that make me happy, give me peace, and help me thrive?

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