Friday, August 22, 2014

Facing Fear

This summer, I have had the pleasure of hanging out with paragliding pilots from around the world. So each day when my tour group goes for a bike ride around an alpine lake in Bavaria, I get to listen to their conversations, which often go something like this: 

Jess: So what are we going to do today? 
Bella: I don't know. I don't really feel like flying, maybe we can rent e-bikes and bike around Alpsee lake before going for a swim.
Jess: Maybe we can go paddle boating

And all I can do is sit in awe. It's like sitting at the cool kids' table when you're the chubby newcomer. They do things that I have never even imagined doing. 

Here's some background info; I am not an active person. Actually, a more accurate description would be that I have never considered myself to be an active person. I think exercise is voluntary torture and my attempts at being sporty includes cheerleading and a short lived time protecting my face from the ball when I tried to play football. I run only when I have to. So seeing people push their bodies to the limit is fascinating. And it inspires me to do the same. 

For the past four months, I've been riding my bike to work and hiking almost every day in the Bavarian Alps. And my body has responded in amazing ways, including the formation of some cool new thigh muscles. I can hike faster and longer. I'm stronger and healthier. But when I compared myself to the pilots, I was sad because I was still worlds away from their levels. 

Things really came to a head when one of the pilots invited me to come mushroom picking in the mountains and I had to decline because I was afraid I would slow him down. On my own, the hike would have been fine. But I doubted that I would be able to keep up with a man who was practically born with hiking boots on his feet.

Pilots, Ivan and David, chilling before flights
The incident really put me off and I was so disappointed for not even trying. Here was an opportunity to push myself and I turned it down. 

But, here's the wonderful thing about the universe: it will present you with additional opportunities to learn important lessons. 

Due to kindness on my part towards his nephew-in-law, Ivan invited me to a tandem paragliding session, for free. I would be strapped to his harness and he would do all of the work. All I had to do was run towards a 930 meter high cliff as fast as I could. 

Now, people, running towards a cliff is NOT the normal thing to do and your brain knows this. I was so excited before the take-off, but when we got to the actual cliff, I froze. I just couldn't bring myself to start running. The other pilots tried to get me to go since the wind was perfect and the wing was already filling with air. But I just could not do it. 

We ended up detaching from the wing and letting the other pilots fly and I felt horrible. I wanted to do it, but the fear was paralyzing. I apologized to Ivan for wasting his time and started to dread facing the other pilots. How could I possibly face them, people who do this for a living and I couldn't even do a tandem flight? 

After a few minutes, Ivan suggested we give it one more try. I looked at the cliff and then focused on a small green hut on the neighboring mountain. 

I was not going to be that person. 
I was not going to be afraid to do new things. 
I was not going to watch people do the things I wanted to do.
I was going to test myself.

I agreed and we reattached to the wing. We took a few steps to let it fill with air. Then Ivan said, "Now," and I asked, "Do I run?" He said yes and the world went black. The next thing I remember is him telling me I can stop running and to sit down in the harness. I could hear the people from the take-off cheering us in the background. We were airborne and it felt glorious. 

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