Imagine this: It’s the mid-90s. Figure skating is in the news all the time. Tara Lipinski and Michelle Kwan are about to make even the skater-haters’ heads swivel with their athleticism and grace. Surya Bonaly has just thrown out all of the rules with her punk rock back flips on ice. Browning, Stojko and Gordeeva are bona fide pop culture presences.
And there is a young 9 year old girl in small town Ontario who is dumbstruck by the sport of figure skating. In her small town, the arena is a way of life. This young girl – in case we aren’t clear, it’s me – is no rosy-cheeked, delicate snow princess. She’s about twice as tall as the other girls. She’s thick and uncomfortable in tight clothing. She is made fun of for her off-brand outfits that aren’t meant for figure skating because figure skating outfits don’t come in long torso, so they give her wedgies.
But MAN did this kid love to skate. Eventually, she coached and competed a little. She could spin and do some jumps. She only broke one leg, one time. She was spending hours a night on the ice. It felt like home. She fell often, and she fell hard. And she bounced back up and kept on rolling most of the time. In this way, she is like most kids.
Kids are durable. They bounce.
Last month, I picked up my skates for the first time in eight years. I bought a shiny new pair of high quality skates because they’re the ones that let you go deep, and bend, and change directions quickly. They’re the ones that let you play on the ice.
This season, the emergency room is filled with broken bones. In my non-scientific estimation, I think they fall into two camps: the young and restless, and the old and frail. The young and the restless are self-explanatory. They are the gung-ho bravelings who do everything hard and fast. They break themselves and they bounce. The old and frail aren’t as obvious.
The old and frail aren’t just those with thin bones and sagging muscles. And they aren’t just old people. Old and frail is a mindset characterized by the fear of falling, and the fear of falling apart. There are some who have every reason to be afraid of falling: they are on blood thinners, they don’t have anyone around to get them back up, they tend to smash hips, etc.
The first time I stepped onto that ice last month, I was old and frail. I moved rigidly. I was very preoccupied with how hard the ice would be if I did fall. That was the fear of falling. I was thinking how dumb it would be if finishing my residency was delayed because I broke a wrist. That was the fear of falling apart.
And I had zero fun.
At some point, I realized I wasn’t having fun and tried to tap into what that was about. I was in total risk-mitigation mode – a very necessary, adult, mature mode – and unable to connect with that country kid who lept onto the ice every day and bore down that rink with glee. I refuse to believe that each additional year of life is traded off with fun, with strength, with vitality.
So I figured I needed to fall. Over the course of my first hour on the ice, I started moving faster. I got deeper into my edges. I got more comfortable stopping quickly and generating speed going backwards. And then I went to do a regular one-footed spin. And I did it!
Then I got cocky, tried to do it again and BAM. Went from inside the spin to hard on my right butt in a flash. I looked up and some 12 year-old girls were laughing at me. Original. My butt was sore. I was covered in ice fluff. But no fractures! It felt good to fall. I got up and kept rolling. A little faster. And a lot more fun.
When I see the old and the frail in the emergency room, I see those of all ages and sizes fixed firm in the fear of falling. They have no idea how durable they actually are. And it is only by falling that you can push yourself a little harder only to realize how strong you are and how much there actually is left in the tank.
It is your job to live durably. Our litigious society will implore you to live in fear and I humbly request you to ignore those calls. Get down on your knees and play. Pick up the heavy box (with your legs, not your back). Take the stairs. Learn a new sport. Stop saying “I’m not that sporty” because it isn’t about sports. Breath heavy. Get your heart beating. Fall.
Your body is way better than you think it is.