I got my first bicycle when I was 6 years old. It had a beautiful pink sheen, a white banana seat with pink daisies, and streamers coming off the handlebars. I thought it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen and I struggled to contain my excitement.
Our house was on a hill and there was a long staircase to get down to the sidewalk. My father told me to wait until he carried my bike down the stairs. I, however, was an excited 6 year old. I was still in the stage of life where I considered myself invincible; fear hadn’t yet found a comfortable place to settle within me. It was a beautiful sunny day with just a slight breeze and I was already dressed and ready. The sun and my new bicycle were screaming at me to come play and my father was taking way too long, in my opinion. I thought, “I’ll just ride back and forth in front of the house until he comes out.”
I quietly left the house and, as soon as the door closed, I realized I wasn’t strong enough to carry the bike down the stairs by myself. “That’s ok”, I thought, “I’m really good at riding my Big Wheel and this is just a big girl version. I will just ride it down the hill.” I smiled at the thought of the adventure ahead.
I then got on the bike, pedaled twice, and flew down the hill at breakneck speed with no control whatsoever. The bicycle twisted and bucked, like it had come alive and was imitating a wild stallion. I flew over the handlebars, through the air, and somehow managed to smash, knees and face first, into a large unyielding tree. I was covered in blood and bits of bark, my knee was cracked open, my face had road rash, and my first experience in learning fear (from something or someone other than my mother) had just occurred. The world was no longer a friendly place. It was a place where bicycles turned ugly and trees beat up on little girls.
It was another year before I could be coaxed into getting anywhere near a bicycle. When I turned 7, my father bought me a new bike and conned me by telling me he was putting training wheels on it. He demonstrated how it would be impossible (his words, not mine) to fall if I had training wheels; I’d be totally safe. Not only that, but he would run behind me whenever I rode, for as long as it took…he promised. I warily got back on the bike. He would run behind me and I’d do fine until I realized he wasn’t there anymore. If I’d even teeter, I’d jump off the bike, hysterical, and run back to him. That only went on for a few months and then the weather started making it too difficult to even try. That winter, my father got sick. He passed away a few days after my 8th birthday. There was nobody left to run behind me.
Although I hadn’t had any significant falls since my rendezvous with the tree, the mere thought of it terrified me. My father being gone made it worse. Several years passed and I rode as infrequently as possible. Then I turned 10 and riding a bike became the cool thing to do. Even then, I still rode with training wheels. I knew, deep down, it wasn’t fashionable or age appropriate to do so but my fear was bigger than my concern about being socially appropriate.
At 12, I still had training wheels. One day, I was riding around my neighborhood and one of the neighbor boys called me a “sissy” and pointed and laughed at my training wheels as I went by. By that point in my life, I had endured more than most people do in 3 lifetimes. I lived in a reality where surviving from day to day was a miracle. Fear was all I knew.
I think I knew at some level, though, that I had strength that went to unfathomable depths. I was a quiet, meek kid who tried to stay as unnoticed as possible but something about having my strength challenged, set me off. “Sissy” was like a trigger word for me. I would go to great lengths to make whoever dared to utter those words, regret it. I rode to a neighbor’s house, borrowed some tools, rode back down the street, maneuvering the bike with one hand and gripping the training wheels with the other. I rode up to him and literally threw my training wheels at him as I rode by, hitting him in the head. “I am NOT a sissy!!”, I yelled defiantly as I rode past. He was too busy crying to notice.
It is highly likely that I hadn’t actually needed the training wheels for several years, but fear often makes you hold on to things you don’t really need. Just as my first day on a bicycle had been my first major lesson in fear, the day I removed my training wheels was my second. I learned that fear can be overcome if there is something that is bigger or more important to you than holding on to it. I had been laughed at and called a big baby prior to that day but there was something about the word sissy that made me want to fight it. Sissy was my “something bigger”. What I have learned over the years is that there is always a “something bigger”. You just have to find it.
What are the training wheels in your life?
Photo credit: striatic / Foter.com / CC BY