Learning moments come in all shapes and sizes [no pun intended] and they come despite good intentions. When circumstance overcomes confidence is often times when the greatest learning moments are experienced. This is a true story of one such moment.
It was Christmas day in Charlotte, North Carolina, one of the few places on this earth where one day it can be seventy degrees and sleeting the next. Had it been sleeting I may not have had this particular learning moment. But it wasn’t sleeting; it was closer to seventy degrees and perfect weather to try out my new roller blades.
My son had recently begun to play hockey and the natural progression of that sport usually meant roller blades so street hockey could continue to hone his skills in the cul-de-sac out in front of our house. He’d learned to skate backwards and had become quite skilled on either ice or asphalt. As I watched him progress, I had the notion that ‘Hey, I could do that too.’ And being vocal about that notion, Santa Clause graced me with brand new roller blades and all the protective gear a novice should wear.
We had just finished a huge turkey supper, and I was gorged with food. What better time to think about losing weight? So I strapped on my armor and my roller blades with every intention to go work off a few pounds. When fully outfitted I stood nearly seven feet all; an impressive sight. 270 pounds of Robo Cop…on wheels.
I struggled up the steep rise at the end of our driveway and out onto the flat asphalt of the cul-de-sac and headed out toward the main drag out of our neighborhood. A little shaky at first, but memory of skating on four-wheeled skates came back to me quickly despite the time passed without wheels strapped to my feet. Confidence began to fill my brain and all the body armor only served to validate my comfort of mastering the blades. I mean how hard could it be? My 10-year old son was doing it every day.
I skated for nearly a quarter of a mile up a slight rise that plateaued and then went uphill again at a sharper angle to another cul-de-sac at the top of the hill. I made it to the top in one piece and though winded felt I had figured it all out. After catching my breath, I made the decision to take it easy and just glide back down and then repeat the maneuver. My brain said there would be two or three pounds shaved off with every trip. I made one trip, and it was not continuous.
Over the next few minutes or so I learned that a fat man with wheels on his feet; three degrees of incline; and gravity would be a recipe for disaster. Self-confidence, however, eliminated any need to consider those ingredients as potentially dangerous. This was a clear case on not knowing what I did not know. I think that’s called unconscious incompetence. I was wrapped in the comfort of not knowing what was going to happen.
My mind paused for only a second; rationalized ‘How hard could this be?’ A gentle stroke from gravity and I started to roll. Brain said, ‘This was going to be easy.’ And it was for about a hundred yards or so. Confidence swelled in my chest and I stood fully upright, hands on my hips and swamped by a “king of the world moment”. The wind was blowing my hair that stuck out beneath the helmet. Life was good and I was losing weight the whole time.
Gravity got a bit more aggressive with me and I soon realized that I was not just going faster I was accelerating. When acceleration exceeded the limits of my confidence I was introduced to momentum. I progressed from a fat man rolling faster to something known as hurtling. Fear dropped into my head shortly after making my acquaintance with momentum. So I started to hunker down. Not a good idea.
Ever watch a downhill skier? They hunker down too, and they do this to go faster. Apparently that works for fat men on roller blades too. And I did. Being decidedly more aerodynamic despite my girth I plunged down the hill of maybe three degrees of incline. My brain cast off panic and said, ‘Just hang on, this slope ends in about fifty more yards.’ So I hunkered down as low as the belly full of Christmas supper would permit.
The skates began to shimmy. I don’t know why. But the shimmy started to invite panic back into the moment. Then survival logic took over, reconfirming I did not know what I did not know. Logic said, ‘Jump up off the surface…realign your skates…and that will stop the shimmy.’ Wrong. But then I did not know what made perfect sense at the time could possibly be so wrong. So I jumped up…realigned my skates, and for a split second the shimming stopped. When I returned to terra firma my skates were indeed aligned, but the alignment was just a tad to the left of the direction I was hurtling.
That was one of those moments where I would have loved to see a super slow motion video of how far I flew with skates going left and momentum propelling the rest of me straight ahead. It had to a graceful thing to see. Every piece of protective gear I had on made contact with the asphalt…wrist guard…elbow guard…front of the helmet…knee guard…other wrist guard…other elbow guard…other knee guard. I never expected that plastic striking asphalt would cause sparks but I swear I saw sparks.
It was not until my big ol’ butt landed that I received a complete introduction to momentum. I did not slide. I did not skip like a stone off the surface of a still pond. I dug in, and I came to an immediate stop. Air bag deployed. My Christmas supper kept going, and I felt my stomach thrash inside of me to someplace new. It hurt and I just knew something vital had been ripped loose inside of me.
I laid in the street spread eagle for a long time; wheels still turning, and waited for evidence of something badly wrong internally to manifest. It never did. I never went back to the spot of the crash, but to this day I know I had to have made a dent in that asphalt.
After recovering, my brain said, “Well that wasn’t so bad…that’s why you have all the gear on, right? Get your fat butt up and let’s continue.” So I did. The next downhill segment was not as steep, but momentum returned with a vengeance. This time I bypassed the shimmy and headed for the near curb and the safety of the grass in a neighbor’s yard. Still crashed and burned but not until I had taken three or four huge leaping strides to remain on my feet before I planted. This time I did dig up a divot. Laughter took over. I mean what can you do after being stupid enough to do what you had just confirmed you could not do a few seconds earlier?
Pride severely wounded and refusing to take off the blades, I got back in the street at the bottom of the last incline and slowly skated/limped back into my home cul-de-sac. When I got to my house, my son was standing in the driveway laughing. “Dad, you really ate it didn’t you?”
Great! He saw my incompetence. So what did I do? Removed all doubt he may have had about my prowess and crested the driveway for the grand finale. I rocketed down the short little incline headed for the open garage door. Now I’d seen my son do this maneuver where you open your feet and arc around backward and make a graceful sweeping stop. Again, super slow motion would’ve been a treat to watch. I started into a graceful sweeping arc just as my brain had convinced me would happen. Once again not knowing just how fast one should be going when executing this maneuver, and the simple fact that ice is much different than concrete; I wound up crashing once more and slid underneath the rear of the car sitting in the garage.
My son collapsed beside me laughing so hard he snorted. “Dad, that’s the coolest thing you’ve ever done!” I looked up at him and a chunk of turf from my previous plant fell off my helmet and landed on the garage floor. I had to laugh too. What else could you do?
After extracting myself from underneath the car I examined my safety gear. Every single piece had multiple road scabs. Pride bruised and stomach aching I unstrapped the helmet and made two decisions; I was done with roller blading; and it was time for another piece of pumpkin pie to ease my pain. To this day my son laughs about my grand entrance into the garage. I’m only glad he did not see my momentary flight to the scene of the crash at the top of the first hill; though I might have gained some street cred from him by getting up and climbing back atop my blades.
Can I please have some whipped crème on this pie?