Falling Down

What does falling down have to do with coaching and learning, focus and thankfulness?

I’m kind of trying to work that out right here, right now.

I’ve only ever had two road bike crashes that required any recuperation. The not so funny thing is that they both occurred in Tuscany. On the first day of vacation a dozen years ago I went sliding down the road. It was painful, but more than anything, it was really annoying. I came to a stop with a giant patch of road rash on my left calf, plenty more on my thigh and my upper arm. My bike didn’t have a scratch on it. The sleeveless jersey was fine. the shorts didn’t fare so well. I made it home to our hilltop villa okay but swore that I wouldn’t rent anything on top of a hill ever again.

The worst thing about the rides when you crash is the same as the worst things on super hard rides, which for me is that it’s hard to remember much except the self-inflicted suffering. This year I agreed to ride with some friends who said that I had to join them since they were going to Tuscany and there was no way I should miss a chance to show off my Italian skills - so being duly flattered, I went. I spent the first week in Chianti with my family drinking it all in; literally. When my friends arrived a few days later I crashed in the first hour of the first day of riding. I broke the top of my left femur and my left clavicle. My friends told me that I grimaced when the ambulance guys plopped me on their stretcher, but the real pain was in realizing how I had inadvertently screwed up a bunch of peoples expected good time. My wife who was supposed be flying home the next day to start teaching, my riding friends who were traumatized by seeing me crack up, and at some level, the folks that I work with who would be getting extra work to do while I endured my forced sabbatical.

The surgeon was great. The trip home a week after falling off my bike was a drag, but it all worked out and this past Monday I was cleared to work. I really do like my work and am very grateful that I could stay home and recover for three months, but I anticipate a period of adjustment that I think is something anyone who has had a disruption in their normal routine has had to figure out. In fact, I like reading the sports section to find the bits from athletes who describe how they have learned to have and keep a balanced perspective. A couple of recent examples came out of this fall’s World Series. In the example I’m citing here, a pitcher named Stephen Strasburg who was expected to be a star and has been with his team (the Washington Nationals) for ten years described what he keeps in mind when he is under pressure. Over the years Strasburg has mostly played up to the star level that was expected of him, but ten years is a long time and there have been plenty of times that he’s been criticized. In this New York Times interview after clinching the Series Strasburg said, “The ups, the downs, it only makes you stronger mentally. I think, without those things, it would have been a lot harder to focus on what I can control out there.”

Strasburg acknowledged that he had matured from all the scrutiny, and had learned over time to be the best version of himself. How does he block out the noise?

“Remind myself what’s most important — it’s these guys in the clubhouse, it’s my two little girls, my wife and family, all those things,” he said. “You focus on your support system and everything else is just there.”

Generally, the athletes who get to explain how they achieve this balanced mindfulness are the ones who just won – that’s fine and seems pretty natural, but it’s the work that has gone on before they have that winning moment that matters.

I am not looking forward to navigating the winter NYC commute while limping, but I will try to stay focused on what matters the most, and in this season of thanksgiving, I am thankful for all of the people in my personal and professional worlds who support me.