My Foray into Extreme Sports

Matthew Kupferschmidt

I’ve always been competitive. I remember growing up being able to do a lot of physically impressive things. I could sprint my way through a soccer game no problem, or fearlessly jump off a 20 foot cliff on a family camping trip. My body was fragile and tiny but my brain didn’t see myself that way, and you certainly couldn’t convince me of my fragility if you tried. When my blood got pumping, I felt like I could do anything.

In retrospect, I kind of think this mentality made me better at things.

But things change.

With age comes certain experience and perhaps a lack of risk taking results in mental weakness, or a lacklustre belief in your own physical ability. Perhaps your brain just comes to realize things it once before couldn’t see. I find that its harder to believe in your physical ability as you get older.

Maybe this is wisdom. Could be fear.

What gives kids their naive sense of confidence that things will be okay when they try to ski down the stairs to the basement, or what makes them think that jumping off the roof into a swimming pool is going to actually be the best thrill of their life?

Maybe it’s the adrenaline, more likely the part of our brain that controls fear isn’t quite developed.

I think I’ve become safer as I’ve gotten older and I am fully aware of this. I often wonder how this maturity has caused me to miss out on things. I need to consciously take risks, but sometimes taking a risk is just stupid.

This was no doubt going through my head as I sat on my undersized mountain bike at the top of a downhill dirt run with my younger brother. This was my first time out on a mountain bike trail in probably ten years.

My younger brother, who is 6 years my junior, has been more consistently mountain biking over the last couple of years and is really good…like embarrassingly good for a new rider. I had already been down the run in front of me twice but I was taking it easy. Seeing my brother effortlessly pick up speed on the pump track and land every jump with perfect form really brought me back to my competitive mindset when I believed I could do anything.

I couldn’t let myself be this badly outdone. I made a conscious choice to take a risk because I was being so boring and lame.

When I heard the crack of my helmet hitting the ground and my elbow felt the gravel puncture my skin and the breath leave my lungs, I knew why I had been playing it safe these last ten years. An ambulance ride, a cast and a concussion later, my mind hasn’t changed much. I’m happy to be safe and not take risks but I’ll need a bigger bike next year if I’m going to land anything.

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