Someone once told me that everyone who races downhill gets scared, and I believe that is probably true. However, sometimes there comes a point when fear overtakes desire, and confidence is crippled, paralyzed, beaten down and left at the start gate. That unfortunately is where I have now arrived. For the past several years, downhill racing has defined who I am; it has been my passion, fellow competitors my “family”.
Racing filled the tremendous void left in my soul when I lost my horse to a broken leg 8 years ago, thus separating me from the only life I had known for 35 years – that of the horse-show world. And now, my heart is breaking once again, as I find that I can no longer manage the terror that rises up in me when the beeps start at the top of the course, or force myself to let my bike carry me over the rocks and ruts that make up the trail snaking its way down the side of the mountain. I can no longer hold back the tears when I realize that I am afraid, and timidly walking sections of trail that just a couple of years ago I easily rode, or would at least attempt. Suddenly, I feel the weight of my ever advancing age when I notice how much more I have in common with the parents on the sidelines cheering on their daughters who are competing with me in the races, and I can no longer find the joy.
The excitement has been replaced with embarrassment – I am ashamed of my overwhelming fear despite layers of body armor and long travel bikes, ashamed of my inability to conquer that fear and convert it into the adrenaline needed to tackle the courses. I am defeated because I do not understand what is happening or how to correct it. I want desperately to be able to ride well, and I have tried everything I can think of – clinics, private coaching sessions; I take my bike out all the time and try to just enjoy riding, yet the skills continue to elude me. Rather than improving, I find that I am regressing, becoming more and more hesitant as a rider. Worse, the memories of losing so much of my social connection and lifestyle upon the loss of my horse alarms me with respect to the prospect of losing my downhill racing “family” now that I can no longer participate, and may be relegated to the outsider-looking-in status. At this point, I can only console myself in the hopes that during my time as a downhiller maybe I was able to inspire at least one person to stretch their limits and attempt things they never thought possible, and hopefully to achieve those things. If that is true, then perhaps I will not have failed, no matter where this life’s journey may next lead me.