cycling · Rowing

First times and fear of falling

When I was kid adults told me to watch out for bees and wasps and to be careful not to get stung. I did as I was told and stayed far away. I was scared of getting stung. But when I was stung for the first time, in grade six, I was sort of shocked. “That’s it?”  I mean, yes, it hurt but not that much and certainly it wasn’t worth being scared about.

Sometimes we build things up to be worse than they are in reality. My partner tells a similar story about getting “the strap” in elementary school. That happened back in our day, corporal punishment by school principals, and we were all scared of it. And his reaction, like mine to bees, was “wow, that’s it? ” It never worked again as a threat in his case.

Falling off your bike, or “coming off the bike” as people say (as if it just happens, like oops, I came off the bike) is kind of like the bee sting. You dread it. You live and ride in fear of it. And then when it happens, you realize it’s not the end of the world. Yes, it hurts. There may be blood. You will be scraped and perhaps bruised and sore. There may even be tears. But if you’re wearing a helmet, likely it’s not the end of the world.

To be clear, I’m not talking about a crash. Coming off your bike at speed hurts and it’s to be avoided. Ditto collisions with other bikes and especially cars. I’m talking here about your basic low speed fall.

This happened to my friend David this week when he was riding on the sidewalk (bad cyclist thing to do usually, though he does have a good excuse). He went on the grass to make room for pedestrians but then caught his wheel in between the pavement and the grass when trying to go back on the sidewalk. Big scrapes but otherwise okay. And it happened to a fellow fitness and feminism blogger when she was first riding with clipless pedals.

You know you’re over it when you fall and your first reaction is to see if the bike is scraped!

My new as-yet-unrealized fear is tipping in a rowing shell. I’m a fine swimmer and we’re never that far away from land so it’s not drowning that’s scaring me. It’s losing control of the boat.


The boats are so tippy that Wikipedia lists that feature in their paragraph about the boats:

“In watercraft, a racing shell (also referred to as just a fine boat (UK) or just shell) is an extremely narrow, and often comparatively long, rowing boat specifically designed for racing or exercise. It is outfitted with long oars, outriggers to hold the oarlocks away from the boat, and sliding seats. The boat’s long length and semicircular cross-section reduce drag to a minimum. This makes the boat both fast and unstable. It must be actively balanced by the rowers to avoid tipping. Being able to balance, or “set” the boat while putting maximum effort into the oars is therefore an essential skill of sport rowing.”

I’ll let you know what it feels like when it happens. I’m hoping it’s like a bee sting or falling off my bike, in that it’s nowhere near as bad as I imagined.

I’m hoping not to have to master this skill:

Is there any bad, but common thing, with your sport or fave physical activity that you’re dreading?

4 thoughts on “First times and fear of falling

  1. When I started climbing, I was told to practice coming off the wall from high up to get over the fear of falling. That helped a lot for bouldering (where the walls aren’t so high and you’re not using ropes). Not worrying about it helps me go for moves I might otherwise not try for (and sometimes I succeed!).
    For rope climbing, I’m yet to fall (due to inexperience rather than skill), and have visions of getting tangled in the rope and smashing back into the wall. It probably won’t be that bad…

  2. I came to rowing from kayaking where learning to fall over (roll) is an essential part of learning to move in fast water. When I first tipped a shell, the most annoying thing was not being able to roll it back up and the second thing was not being able to get back in it without going back to shore. After that I was more ‘afraid’ (not so much fear as annoyance really) just because of the indignity. We all have our pride.

  3. “we build things up to be worse than they are in reality.”

    THIS. I have spent – and lost – a lot of time in my life avoiding doing certain things based on my prediction of how I would feel while doing those things, only to find out that once I actually did those things, my prediction was so far off-base as to actually be quite worthless. It was one of those hard and humbling lessons I was glad to have learned.

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