“Stay young in the theatre of your mind.” ~Mary Oliver
It’s Open Education Week, and it’s been awhile since I’ve published a post. In honor of this week of sharing, I’m going to take a minute to tell you about a profound moment of my learning from this past summer when I volunteered for a bike-related event. There’s deeper story that connects to my everyday work, and eventually I’ll tie these ideas together. Eventually: A Memoir.
For now, let me tell you a story.
As some readers may know, I’m on the board of an all women and girls bike team, Queens of Dirt, and our mission is to encourage more girls and women to race bikes.
The Queens of Dirt hosts several events as part of our sponsorship with Liv Cycling and our bike shop sponsor Jack’s Bicycle Center. We ask our team members to volunteer for trail days, local events, and our Mountain Bike Weekend as part of the camaraderie and sponsor benefits of being on a team. I decided to step up my volunteering this summer to make up for the lost time I spent living in Portland. When the women decided to split from our co-ed team, and I was like, hells-to-yeah, ladies, let’s do this. Then I said, oh oops, I’m moving to Vermont. I mean Oregon. Whatever. I wasn’t around for a year, so I needed to up my game in 2017, so whenever I could, I signed up to volunteer.
My first event was with RRAD, my friend Chris Mellick’s, organization who partnered with She Jumps. These two groups give girls a full day of activities such as learning first-aid, Leave No Trace principles, yoga, and mountain biking all for free at Lake Padden. If you have a bike, you’re encouraged to bring one. If you don’t, RRAD sets you up with a bike you can borrow. The girls rotate activities by age group throughout the day, and, I have to admit, I was really nervous about being with girls under 12. I was a baby-sitting machine as a young teenager, but my grown lady years have been childfree save for interacting with my friends’ kids. I’m an adult educator by trade. This was a total experiment for me.
During the morning yoga session, the teacher described poses using animals sounds and she had the girls join in by being a bit silly. It was refreshing to see a yoga teacher play with poses. As she guided them through a bit of meditation, she said, “Think of your favorite color. Clear your mind and just see that color. I like yellow. I see nothing but yellow. Breathe.”
One girl immediately raised her hand and said, “What if you don’t have favorite color? I mean, I like a lot of different colors. It just depends on my mood. Sometimes it depends on what I’m wearing. Or my dreams from that night. Or a book that I’m reading. I don’t have ONE favorite color. I kind of want think of a unicorn. Can I think of a unicorn? I know they don’t exist but I love them. What should I do?”
Omg, that was me at 8 years old. And at 18. And 28. And 38. Every damn day of my life.
I laughed to myself. Girl, I thought, just learn that yoga. Breathe. It’ll help you keep your shit together. I promise.
As each age group rotated through the different stations, and I was there to help demonstrate for the Mountain Bike Group. The coaches took turns teaching the concepts, and I was their Demo Girl. Watch Alyson’s arms in “Attack Pose.” Or we can call it “Strong Girl Pose.” See how Alyson has her elbows out? Ready position means you’re ready to react to the terrain. See how Alyson’s feet are level on her pedals?
The coaches did the teaching. I over-exaggerated all the moves to demo and I led the girls one-by-one so the coaches could give them tips. I was elated to have this train of girls following my every move. Smiling. Sweating. Really trying. Strong Girl Pose.
Before we started with the 6-8 years olds, one coach went through a series of questions.
Have you ever ridden your bike on a side walk?
Yes! In unison.
Have you ridden your bike on the road?
Yes! In unison.
Have you ridden your bike in your yard?
I noticed one girl looked really nervous. She wasn’t saying a word. She was standing awkward next to a bike that was way too big for her. She had that lost look that was either going to devolve in tears or sadness. She kept eyeing the bike like it was going to bite her. She was having a hard time keeping the bike upright.
Parents often buy bikes that kids will grow into, and I totally get it. Parents are doing the best with what they can afford. It’s really hard to ride a bike that’s too big for you. Scary.
So I rolled over to this girl, and said to the coach, I think we need to review these questions again so that she can answer too.
The coach walked over, knelt down at the girl’s level, look her in the eye, and repeated.
Have you ridden your bike on a sidewalk?
Nooooope. She started to smile.
Have you ridden your bike on the road?
Noooooope. She enunciated Nope very distinctly.
Have you ridden your bike in your yard?
Have you ridden your bike in your house?
In the playground?
Have you ever ridden a bike?
Noooooope. That’s why I’m here!
We all started laughing so hard, and the other girls started saying “Nooooope” the same way she did and everything melted into chaos like things do with that age group. Or like with adults in a computer lab trying to learn something new. But I digress.
Same chaos. I loved it.
Chris came over and asked her if she wanted to try a smaller bike.
Nooooooope. I want to ride my bike, silly!
He said, okay, throw a leg over your bike and let’s see how you do.
She fell over immediately. He caught her.
He said, okay, let’s take your pedals off so that you can just roll around.
Okay, she said. I could tell she had no idea what he meant until he started to remove the pedals.
He lowered her seat, and as soon as she got on her bike, she started rolling around like mad. He turned her bike into Skuut-like substitute. Her eyes were bright and she was suddenly very excited. Riding my bike, she yelled!
The coach said, okay, time to come back together.
Noooooope. Just kidding, she said, and she scooted over to the line-up.
At that moment, I loved that girl so much, and I now say Noooooope just like her every time I can.
Later in the day, she was burning up the grass kicking those legs around the field. The Nope Girl loved her bike. She just needed somebody to help her get started. She just needed somebody to help her find the right tool for her ability.
When the next group rolled in, we had the 9-10 year olds, and they weren’t as into the unison-answering-question thing. Not cool. So we got right to the coaching and the demo moves. I loved how the coaches adapted their approach with a new group. Same lesson plan and goals, different delivery. Some of these girls had a lot of experience riding.
Part of the mountain bike segment of the day was using wooden stunts that imitate bridges or rolling terrain. There are a few “skinnies” to ride which are really long wooden boards about three inches off the ground to help build balancing skills. When I demoed the skinnies, I pretended like I couldn’t ride them to show how to bail safely. Plus, it’s awesome when the girls can do it and they think they are better than the old lady doing the demos. Super fun.
One girl pedaled like crazy, hit one of the rollers with speed, and crushed big time. Total yard sale. Bike went flying. She went over the handle bars. Endo City. Everyone stopped to stare.
Me and two of the other coaches looked at each other like, “Faaaaawk! Broken arm. OMFG. Parents are going to hate us. Ack!” Eyes wide. We ran over to her.
Then the girl bounded up like a gymnast who just stuck her landing pose and screamed, “I DID IT!”
Arms in a V. Looked around for praise. We clapped and said awesome. Then we started cracking up.
She did that exact pedal-like-she-stole-it-to-yard-sale-endo seven times. Every time yelling “I DID IT!” She actually never rode over any of the stunts successfully. Crash-tastic Girl was brave as hell and having the time of her life. She had zero fear to go fast. Her knee was bloody, but she was still pedaling fast. Once she learns how to control her bike, she’s going to be amazing.
After the event, when the coaches and I were reflecting about the day, I brought up Crash-tastic Girl. You guys, I said, she was so incredible. To her, she was totally DOING it because she was trying. Her “I did it!” moment wasn’t about failure, but rather, she was trying and thus totally doing IT in her book. We should all learn from her, I said. The head coach shared that she was happy that Crash-tastic didn’t break her arm and she’s never seen such fearlessness and joy in crashing. We laughed really hard together and imitated her gymnast-I-DID-IT-pose.
What really got me hooked on the idea learning how to coach wasn’t the Nope Girl or Crash-tastic, it was one of the mothers. When she arrived to pick her daughter up, I encouraged one of the girls to show her mom what she learned.
“Look at me, Mommy, I can rip the skinny.”
Her mom said, Uh, I don’t know what that means.
Don’t worry, I said, just watch her.
The girl was out of the saddle balancing her way across the skinny. Then she hit the bridge. The roller. Joked with another girl. Stopped to make sure Crash-tastic knew she saw her totally doing it too. They high-fived. You ready to go home? Noooooope.
The mom had tears in her eyes.
I don’t even recognize my daughter, she said. She’s like a different person. I’ve never seen her so happy and confident. What did you do?
“Mommy, I’m going to rip it again. Okay?”
The mom said I’m going to go video this. Her dad won’t believe it. We’ve had a hard year as a family. I guess we need to buy her a bike. Thank you, Coach.
I’m not a coach, technically speaking, but I will be someday. I’m going to do it.
I found a new love thanks to that mom, Nope Girl, and Crash-tastic, and I’m going to use this bloggy to share my learning on my path to becoming a Level One Coach as part of the Bicycle Instructor Program. On March 17, I’m going to take the WMBC ride leader certification with March Northwest and thanks to generosity of the bike community of Bellingham, I won a scholarship for this certification. I can’t wait to give back.
Thank you, WMBC, and Mahalo for reading, my friends.