Conquer Your Fears
Driving home one crisp fall night - much like the nights this month, I saw several adults sitting in the parking lot at my Kroger, putting on roller skates.
In the dark.
A few weeks later, I saw them on a Friday night. This time they were skating in the parking lot - little lights flashing on their backs, some of them with headlamps on their helmets. Suddenly, they all lined up and ...
out of the parking lot and into the street, they flew off into the Buckhead night. I laughed. It looked like so much fun. I sat at the red light - and wished I knew how to skate. I sighed and drove home.
For a couple years, I occasionally spotted this little tribe of dedicated street skaters in the neighborhood. It always made me smile. I nicknamed them the Buckhead Bombers. I thought, what a wonderful thing to do on a Friday night - but I could never do that. I did not even try skating.
That Christmas, my brother gave me a pair of regular roller skates that looked like red sneakers. I kept them in my car for months, and then - feeling a little foolish, I put them on in the parking lot at the gym where I worked out. I put on some leather baseball batter's gloves and a funky old bicycle helmet, and stumbled around the parking lot. Passing drivers were either laughing with me or at me, but I laughed back. I'm sure I was a strange sight. But it made me smile.
I still saw the Peachtree Road Rollers on occasion, but I never thought of trying to skate with them. They looked too professional, and skated too fast. I felt incompetent by comparison. Then a friend started skating with me at Piedmont Park, and slowly we ventured out onto the city streets. By then the Road Rollers had moved to a shopping center in midtown, and I found out their real name was the Peachtree Road Rollers. And that they met every Monday and Wednesday night at 8:30. I thought, maybe someday ..
I ventured to midtown one Monday night - just to say hello and meet them. Not to skate. I was sure I couldn't stay with them. Then I saw some of them skating, and thought - I could do this. So I got my skates out of the trunk, and sat on the ground in a group of thirty grown people, putting my RollerBlades (I had graduated) and helmet and little flashing lights on, and...
off we went into the midtown night. I laughed the whole time. It was like summer-skiing on asphalt. In the distance, like fireflies - the lights on the backs of the speed skaters slowly left us. I looked after them, and smiled. Maybe someday ...
For several years, I skated off and on, sometimes commuting to work - sometimes not at all for months. I volunteered to help at a skating race sponsored by the Peachtree Road Rollers that starts in Athens, Georgia, and finishes in Piedmont Park - in Atlanta. 86 miles away. I longed to try it, but looking at the exhausted, blistered (sometimes crying) speed skaters collapsing after the finish line, a nasty little voice of self-doubt said you're too old - you started too late. You're not good enough. You're being foolish. Grow up.
Then I decided: I wanted to beat my doubts and fears, and conquer the race.
In late January, 1997, I started skating again. A lot. Almost every day. By April, I was skating two hours a day, six days a week. By May, I began to think I could do it. I went to a speed-skating class. I began climbing stairs before dawn to get my legs ready for the brutal hills from Winder to Stone Mountain. It was hard work, but I laughed and smiled all summer.
Then I started skating some of the race route, and a car crossed the road on a fast downhill. It was a serious crash, bad head injuries - thirty stitches and a concussion. The next night, I skated two hours. I would not allow the gremlins of fear to conquer me.
I worked on focus as much as strength. But the downhills made me pause. I kept seeing the accident unfolding in slow motion.
September 1, I skated The US10K Classic in Cobb County, Georgia, my first race - and finished a short but very hilly course in under thirty minutes. And that was scrubbing off speed on every downhill - still fighting off images skin layered into my zipper, a bloody Camelback, and skate frames that looked like props from a horror movie.
September 19, I completed the 63 mile New York Roller Skating Marathon in 5:16. I wasn't fast, but for my first real season of skating - and my first skate further than 38 miles, I was ecstatic. But I was still slowing down on every hill.
October 12, 1997. Athens-to-Atlanta. Leaving Check Point 1, I decided that if I was ever going to start beating my fear of crashing again - the time was at hand. I jumped on the back of my first pace line (a line of skaters v-e-r-y close together), and rode it down a hill like a roller-coaster. Skating alone, I picked up a quarter of a mile an hour at every checkpoint, completing the last checkpoint at over 14 miles per hour. Slow by the speedskating standards - but a major victory for me.
I completed the 16th Annual Athens-to-Atlanta skating race in 6:46:58 (over an hour under my "happy" time). It was the toughest thing I have ever done. And I would not trade having finished for anything.
At every age, we have fears. When we conquer them, the rewards can be profound.
~ Scott Nilsson
Atlanta, Georgia - USA / 2nilssons.com
Copyright © 1997 by Scott Barricks Nilsson - All Rights Reserved
This article was published in FASST (Fitness and Speed Skating Times)
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