Inspiring Stories: Ditching the Training Wheels, at 26

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Riding a bike is a rite of passage. When you're still a little tyke, Mom and Dad surprise you with a shiny new two-wheeler for your birthday, plus a helmet (and maybe knee/elbow pads if you're as clumsy as I am).

You're so excited! It's just what you wanted! Now you can ride with all the other kids in your neighborhood instead of watching them longingly from your tricycle.

With training wheels, biking is easy. You're not afraid to fall, so you ride faster and faster. You take pride in your accomplishment, but you know that some day those training wheels will come off and it'll be just you and your balance versus gravity.

Riding on two wheels is scary and exciting at first. You're afraid you'll fall--and sometimes you do. But you get up, brush the gravel from your knees and the tears from your eyes and you persevere until you get it.

That's how the story usually goes. However, my bike-riding story lasted almost 22 years, with two decades of defeat and denial.
For my fifth birthday, I got a shiny new bike, with purple palm trees adorned the padding on the bars. "Miami Miss" was her name, and my dad immediately set out to teach me. A cautious bookworm of a child who was never into sports, I didn't mind riding with training wheels. Up and down my grandparents quarter-mile rural driveway, I rode, my confidence growing each time. Faster and faster, I pedaled. The training wheels were there. I was safe.

Then my dad took off the training wheels, and I froze. Despite years of ballet lessons, my balance on a bike was awful, and I fell over and over. I was fine until he let go of the bike. As soon as I realized my safety net was gone, I'd fall.

We soon moved, to a town where kids didn't really ride bikes. For the next 20 years, there was little need to ride a bike. Miami Miss languished in our garage, her shiny body rusted and her purple trimmings faded. Sadly, some time ago, she was put out on garbage day.

I was able to hide my secret. No one asked, and I never told.

I decided in my early 20s that I never needed to learn how to ride a bike. My younger sister also can't ride a bike, and her father-in-law (a very successful real-estate investor and former Naval officer) can't either. My friend Cynthia, a PhD candidate at Harvard, can't ride a bike. Plenty of successful people can't ride bikes, I thought.

In recent years, not riding a bike has become a bigger deal. My boyfriend and most of my friends bike, I live in a city where biking is common, and gas prices are rising, making biking all that much more appealing.

Also, I've "gone green." I recycle, buy organic, and try to limit what I buy. I use only natural cleaning products, reuse glass jars, and combine trips to save gas. I lower the thermostat, use newspaper as gift wrap, and shop at thrift stores when possible. Biking is a logical hobby/mode of transport for the eco-minded person.

More often, people asked me why I didn't ride a bike. Finally, I had to start admitting: I can't ride a bike. Their reactions were mixed, but many offered to teach me.

Last winter, I decided I was going to learn, and on a rainy and cold Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago, my two best friends and my boyfriend took me to a city park for lesson. The first 30 minutes were rough. I kept dragging my feet to stop, couldn't catch my balance, and was afraid of falling.

Eventually I kept my balance and actually rode! We rode along a trail for about 15 minutes. I was so proud of myself!

I did it! I fell once, but my injuries were limited to a scraped knee and a bruised shin.

I kept talking about how fun it was and that I wanted to buy a bike soon. My boyfriend was apparently listening, because for my birthday in May, he surprised me with a shiny new red mountain bike. I cried.

For 20 years, I avoided bike riding and ignored my defeat. It would have been easy to go my entire life without learning how to ride a bike. I'm so proud of myself for reaching this goal--something I never thought I was capable of doing! I credit SparkPeople, in part, for the extra push. I've always been a motivated person (aside from bike riding), but since I started working here, I've become even more inspired and motivated! I've seen what some of our members have done, and I think, "Wow! If they can do that, then surely I can learn to ride a bike!"

It took a lot of strength to decide to face my fears and set aside my ego to learn to ride a bike at 26. I have had some people judge me, and I admit that I was a bit embarrassed to pedal my bike wobbly past 4-year-olds learning how to ride and be passed by 10-year-olds on the trail. But you know what? I did it, and that's all that matters!

Update: On Friday, my boyfriend and I rode our bikes 80 miles on the trail for an overnight trip. Three months ago, I couldn't ride a bike, and now I hit the trail every weekend!