Updated: Jul 1, 2020
Fear is a funny thing. A biological response designed to protect you from getting hurt and feeling pain, fear is that emotional response that can stop you from experiencing a lot of things in life. It's something that I see routinely while I'm coaching and if I'm being honest, helping riders overcome their fears is a big part of coaching for me. Especially since in a lot of cases, riders have never actually experienced the pain they associate their fears with.
But what if you've actually experience a whole lot of pain associated with the activity that you're doing? What if the fear that you're experiencing comes directly from a traumatic event in the past that could easily happen again?
Courage is not the absence of fear. It is feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Which makes my wife, Kerry amongst the most courageous people I know. Why? Because after experiencing one of those traumatic events, she's been brave enough to get back on a bike. Literally.
Mountain bike riding isn't something that comes naturally for some people. Nor is it a past time that some people are particularly interested in pursuing. But after losing here husband (aka me!) routinely to the trails on most weekends Kerry decided to join me on two wheels. Lacking the keen motivation felt by some of us out on the trails, we decided that the best bike for her would be an e-mountain bike. And so her riding journey began.
For six months Kerry worked on developing her riding skills. Attending some of the club lessons, riding out on different trails and occasionally taking some advice from yours truly (at least as well as a wife takes advice from her husband) - Kerry's riding skills steadily progressed as did her confidence. In fact, there were a few times that there might have been perhaps too much confidence - I might actually have some video evidence of that hidden somewhere in the archives!
Then, on one fateful day, the unthinkable happened. In December 2018 we decided to venture out to Lost World, which would be Kerry's first time out to Nerang's nether regions. And for those that have been out to the famous trail, you'll also be aware that it can be a fairly challenging ride for the experienced rider, let alone someone that was introduced to mountain bike riding a few months prior.
For the most part, Kerry handled the challenges of the journey very well. Other than a slight wobble on Vertigo (the name really says it all), the ride towards Lost World was pretty uneventful, until we were halfway up Grumpy Garry's (otherwise known as GGs).
Along a narrow section of GGs, having to negotiate a turn and a tree root, Kerry stalled, causing her to lose her balance and come off her bike. To one side there was safety. To the other there was a drop which on its own would have been enough to cause injury. However, Kerry was unfortunate enough to have all 22 kilograms of her e-bike land on her leg as she fell. It entangled around her knee as she fell through the air before hitting the ground several feet below the trail. If you've can imagine dropping 20+ kilograms of weight onto your knee, well, you get the idea.
We knew things weren't good when Kerry couldn't put any weight on her right leg at all. Two hours, one guide, three ambos and four SES volunteers later, Kerry was rescued and taken to hospital. However it was a few weeks after the event that we were told Kerry had done some pretty serious damage. Around three months later Kerry had a knee reconstruction. A month after that, thinking it was unlikely that Kerry would want to ride again, we sold her e-bike.
Fast forward to just over 12 months after her knee reconstruction and we now have another e-bike parked in our garage. Without going into the details of the decision, I will just say that the decision to get back on a bike was 100% Kerry's. That being said, mountain biking seems to be a part of our lives that she was never going to escape from. So perhaps it was inevitable.
It is a more careful and cautious version of Kerry that now is riding the trails. That's not to say that she's any less capable as a rider than she was prior to the accident. But the pain she felt on the day of her crash isn't something that is easily forgotten. Nor is the recovery that she went through to get back to being able to use her right knee again. And so not only is it her physical skills that we work on together, but also her mental discipline and confidence to help let go of her fears on the trail. It is a process that will take time.
While I started coaching because of another crash a friend had resulting in a serious injury, it was Kerry's incident that actually influenced a lot of the Balance MTB curriculum. Despite never being seriously hurt myself from riding (hard to believe, I know), on that day I became even more acutely aware of the dangers of attempting things on a mountain bike that you aren't necessarily ready for. When it comes to learning skills on two wheels, there are some skills you can't shortcut - it just takes time, patience and practice to get your brain and body to a place where you are consciously competent. And in some cases, there are a number of basic or core skills you should learn before progressing to more of the advanced maneuvers. And it's a much better idea to take the the time and gain the confidence of riding with practiced skill than rushing into something you're not ready for and risk serious injury. After all, nobody enjoys being off the bike because you've hurt yourself.
Sure, some people will pick up mountain bike skills at an obscenely ridiculous speed - especially if they happen to be 12 to 16 year old kids. The majority of us however, often need a bit more time to embed these skills into our riding. Myself included. So stay safe out on the trails. Explore the edges of your limits by all means - just don't push yourself off the edge! And I found that video...