As I’ve mentioned before, in December I leave for India again – this time to spend a month – about half of which will be spent on my bike. There’s just one potential challenge: My left knee sometimes hurts.
Now there’s not a great deal of pain – I would compare it to when someone shakes your hand a little bit too hard. But it does increase slowly over the kilometres so I wanted to have it looked at before I go lest it be something serious that could leave me stopped on the side of the road somewhere remote.
So I go to a doctor and he is able to tell almost instantly what the problem is. There’s a muscle imbalance between my left and right legs. My left leg, where the knee is bugging me, is weaker and that means my kneecap, which is apparently a little more mobile than others’ moves around and bumps on my leg bones and gets a little irritated.
I go to the physiotherapist and the first thing she does is asks me to do some tests. She tells me to stand on one leg and then the other, and to hop up and down on one. It’s obvious when she asks me to do this that my balance on my right leg is OK, but standing on my left leg is much harder. She tells me that this is due to the condition I’m there for. I’ve always had trouble standing on one leg but it is clear that one leg has much more trouble than the other which I don’t remember. We plan to start some strengthening exercises, foam rolling, and stretching.
Three days later, Sage, Daegan and I find ourselves on an adventure that Daegan suggested: Skateboarding. In the past several months he has started enjoying skateboarding. I remember its being briefly popular in 1976 but I was only 6 and would just sit on my friend’s skateboard and ride it down the sidewalk in front of my grandparents’ house. After that brief time of us living with her, we moved to a house several miles down a dirt road. There would be no skateboarding possible for me – at least nearby, and so I never even tried riding one standing up.
I planned this adventure before my physiotherapist told me point blank that my balance is bad. On the way to the skate park I consider giving myself a pass to cancel. After all, a medical professional said my balance was bad, wouldn’t it be a bad idea?
But the weather is really nice, and everyone else in the family is excited to see me try this so I figure “What’s the worst that’ll happen? I’ll get scraped up a little.”
We get to the park and it is pretty packed. People from 5 to 45 are out there and everyone is better at it than I am. Some people are extremely good doing tricks that I don’t even think should be physically possible – flipping the board in the air and landing on it and continuing.
We find a sidewalk a bit away from everyone else where I am not worried about crashing in to someone else and Daegan tells me to just stand on the board first. Even this is a challenge as the board leans forward and backward and I wobble with it. And then, finally, I gain control and am able to keep myself upright and not feel like I’m standing on a ship in stormy seas.
Next up is to learn to move. Daegan demonstrates how to kick and build up speed and then ride for a while. It seems like a good theory and he makes it look good but then it’s my turn. I step on the board, wobble a bit and then stand on it just like he did – and in less than ten feet the board gradually moves to the left and stops in the grass.
Or sometimes I just can’t figure out how to get on the board:
But we persist and persist and I eventually learn to start on the other side of the sidewalk than I seem to be pulling toward. My technique hasn’t improved but I also can ride a little longer without ending up on the grass.
Time for a new tactic. I take the board up to a higher part of the gently sloping sidewalk and aim it down the hill. Then I give a quick push and down the hill I go. My ship is back on the stormy waters again and I leap from the board before I crash.
After watching a bit, Sage offers to get us all snacks and heads off in search of food. Daegan and I decide to give the actual skate park a try and find a relatively quiet area. The pavement here is much smoother and I move a bit better. My confidence builds but then a whole bunch of people notice that the area we’re in isn’t very busy and also decide to move here and once again I’m worried I’ll get in a collision. And so we move to another area and another. This must be what being a trendsetter feels like because every time I discover somewhere quiet someone else notices it as well.
Sometimes it gets so busy I just watch and I’m happy with what I see. Boys and girls are all out there skateboarding together or riding rollerblades or scooters. Yes, people are doing amazing tricks. But as I look more closely, people are also trying new and difficult things, pushing their limits and failing, sometimes spectacularly. And instead of being laughed at, they are being helped up or praised for trying. It’s such a supportive learning and practice space and I completely did not expect this and it makes me feel much less self-conscious as a nearly fifty year old person just starting out.
As I am standing in one corner with Daegan explaining again how to get up to speed on a flat surface, I am distracted. Right next to us is a thirty-something man and his child of about seven years old. This dad is explaining to his son how to skateboard and how he could improve his skills. The mirroring of generations teaching each other makes me happy.
In the end, after about 2 hours, I am back up on the sloping sidewalk. Before we go I want to have one last try. I get on the skateboard, wobble a little and push off. And I go…and go…and go… And while I don’t feel particularly competent or graceful, I also don’t feel worried about falling off or like I’m on a rocking boat anymore. I’m riding a skateboard down a hill – until I get to the bottom and slow to a halt and am cheering inside.
I’ve talked here before about how I was sent to the doctor when I was five for an evaluation. (I was reading in kindergarten and my teacher, thinking it impossible, insisted I go to the doctor to be assessed to find out why I was staring, catatonic, at books I couldn’t read). To the surprise of the teacher, the doctor diagnosed me as literate, but he also said something else that stuck in my mind for over forty years now. He told my mom “He is a little uncoordinated.” This kept me from drawing for years and later, when I was ten it came up again when I asked to learn to play the saxophone: (Mom: “You’re not that coordinated and there are a lot of keys – don’t you want to try something simple like the trumpet?”).
That doctor made a diagnosis – that at the time I wasn’t that coordinated. That physiotherapist made a diagnosis – that my balance isn’t good. But in both cases these diagnoses are just a statement of where I was starting from, not where I would end up. It was a diagnosis not a sentence. And so, I did get that saxophone – and played it for almost ten years and did quite well, participating in several audition-only music festivals, our town band (a paid position as a musician – albeit only a little but still, I was a professional musician!) and one of my proudest achievements – playing in a community jazz band at 16 along with people all at least ten years older including a couple of times with Big Joe Burrell who played with the likes of B.B. King and Count Basie.
And I feel the same way about skateboarding. If I had the same joy and love for it as playing the saxophone held for me as a kid, I know I could overcome my physiotherapist’s diagnosis and feel completely confident on the board.
It makes me wonder what other comments I’ve taken too seriously that are also holding me back. And what about you? What’s holding you back from trying something you would love to do?