So many reasons to say yes

We arrived before the party even started. It didn’t make sense. Why show up early when I wanted to spend as little time there as possible? I guess we did it for Eli. Saturday was his season-end shindig. A cookout, a camp out, a chance to hang out with his coaches and teammates and not ride a bike. The fall mountain biking season will end this weekend. Last weekend, there wasn’t a race, so we had a party instead.

As soon as we got there, Eli and I ditched Susan. We left her with the coaches and their wives. The ones who set things up. Eli and I rode the trail. Since mid-August, Eli met his team every Tuesday and Thursday evening for a ninety-minute practice. He’s ridden countless three-mile loops. Saturday, he wanted to ride one with me. Slightly terrified, I followed him into the woods.

At fifty-seven, I’m not sure I can handle a fall. This is the last time I fell hard: Seven years ago, mountain biking with some friends, I crashed. The bike slid left, I fell right, flat on my stomach. I bruised my hip bone; I bent my derailleur. A hundred yards later we hit a fire road. I bailed on the group and rode back to my car. I haven’t been mountain biking since.

Susan has. A month ago, Eli wanted to ride a trail system he learned about from his team. I wanted to go too, but I wanted to run the trails not bike them. Susan volunteered to ride with Eli. At the end of my run, I emerged from the woods onto an open field. Eli rode up to me. “Mom fell and hurt her neck.” I turned up the steam; I still had seventy yards to run.

Susan hit a rock and rolled head first over her handlebars. She landed on her back. We’re all lucky she didn’t get killed. Lucky she can still walk. Bloody and bruised, her crash was my cautionary tale. I’m not a kid anymore; like Susan, I break now. So off I rode; I followed Eli into the woods. Other than sore hands and shoulders from my death-grip on the handlebars, everything went fine. I could ride all the obstacles, and I mostly kept up.

The ride was the easy part. When we returned, the party had started—thirty parents making small talk… or real talk depending on how well they knew each other. All my relationships are in the small talk category, a skill in which I truly suck. I got by for a while talking about the mountain bike course, and then biking in general, and then I dried up. Long silences, people excusing themselves. I simply don’t know what to say. Susan and I were the first ones to leave.

One of the topics that came up that evening was whether I was interested in coaching. In Gettysburg, I’m known as a cyclist. Before my job accounting for my county’s library system, and before that at my county’s domestic violence organization, I accounted for my county’s YWCA. I instructed spin classes at the Y. I rode my bike to my job at the Y. To the thousands of people who belong to the Y, I’m a cyclist, a coach. One of Eli’s coaches actually used to take my spin class. A couple of the other coaches think I’d be a good fit for the team.

There’s temptation in this. Flattery at being asked. Two mandatory evening workouts every week. Getting back my mountain bike mojo. Spending time with Eli. Giving me something to do on his race weekends besides awkwardly hanging around the team tent. I could be that coach who sits with the socially anxious parents at the team dinner. There are so many reasons to say yes.

But there’s a huge reason to say no. I’ll be out of my comfort zone. I’ll be around other people… all season. It drains me; it’s awkward. I can’t converse. I won’t be able to wear my hearing aids when I ride, will I even be able to talk with the kids and the coaches? What about the parents? And then there’s my Tourette tics—weird faces, weirder noises. Something else to feel self-conscious about. I wonder if Eli even wants me to coach. We talked about it briefly. He didn’t say no, but I don’t remember him saying yes either. He’s got a great relationship with the coaching staff. He feels comfortable around them. Would it screw everything up to have his father around?

I don’t need to really think about this for six months. That’s when the planning starts. And the trail-work, lots of trail-work. It’s on my mind now because his last race is coming up. If I get involved will he be more likely to ride through the winter? Less? I want him to ride. This is the first group activity he’s ever liked. Maybe it will wind up that way for me too.

17 thoughts on “So many reasons to say yes

  1. I totally get your doubts and hesitations, Jeff. Maybe coaching would expand your comfort zone. But if you think it’s too much for at this stage of life, I think that’s okay. You could support Eli and his interests in another way.

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  2. I totally get your fearS. I would have similar ones too. Since the monkey bars incident I have moved all the athletic like things I could do before into a new category – things that are likely to get me injured. Glad Susan is okay. And I used mountain bike too. I have a Cannondale hanging in my garage, rusting. But I be the more you do it, the more comfortable you become. And you’re a cyclist, so you have the skill for sure. The coaching, the socialization, does my kid even want me there. That is great you got some time to figure it out. Hopefully when you know what the right choice is, you KNOW.

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  3. I think it’s awesome that you have “a monkey bars incident”. It’s sort of like jumping the shark. Three years ago, I was much more muscular and I didn’t feel anywhere near as fragile as I do now. It might just take getting back on the weights. Maybe I should borrow your mountain bike. That crash was the final straw for the one I was riding. I pulled some parts off for another bike and threw it in the garbage.

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  4. Is this just an either/or thing? Is there a way you can accept the coaching role, but with the limits that will make it enjoyable for you and for Eli? I sense a level of desire to accept in your post, but you’ve got rational and reasonable concerns that have you considering declining. Surely there’s a way to make sure Eli’s best interests rise to the top, while your own desire to do more mountain biking – some with Eli – and participate socially in an activity he enjoys, are honored? Maybe less worrying about how others perceive you, and more focus on how you can benefit the team while enjoying this small window of time with Susan and Eli? And if you want concrete advice: I say go for it, with boundaries.

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    • Either/Or. You’ve hit on an important part of my personality. I’m instinctively drawn to the extremes of anything I do and I need to consciously fight that. Yes, I’m sure there’s a way to participate without going “all in” where Eli and I can both enjoy my presence. As for not worrying about what others think of me, my go-to strategy has been to avoid people. It’s going to require a fairly large shift in thinking to make that switch. All good advice, thanks.

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  5. I have a congenital defect in my vocal chords. I cannot converse in loud environments, so I often have to decline invitations because the events would be too frustrating. Sometimes we have limits that we need to respect and ask others to understand as well.

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    • You can’t talk, I can’t hear. We’re made for one another. In loud environments like a restaurant, I can’t here a thing. I try to look attentive even though I’m essentially sitting there alone for the duration of the dinner. I’m sure people think I’m weird. You can hear, but you can’t respond. Same result. We both sit there with nothing to say, and if you’re like me, feeling badly about yourself. I wonder what percentage of the people out there deal with this problem.

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  6. I say do it!! What do you have to lose? Sounds like a growth opportunity. You’ll have loads to talk about with these kids once you get to know them and see their skills. Let people know about your hearing aids when you don’t have them in. And you being ‘different’ with your tics and such will teach others to be open and tolerant. Plus ya got the riding skills….I would, however, have a heart to heart with Eli – I’m sure he would love to have his pops around. Last comment, they’ll be awkward silences…and who cares? Silence is golden. The older I get the more silence I want in life! I don’t feel the need to connect with every person who crosses my path anymore.

    PS. Glad Susan didn’t have a serious injury. I broke a rib mountain biking one time. Took me two weeks to realize it…only because I was barely moving when I fell. I didn’t think there was ANY way I could have broken a rib 😂😂😂

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  7. I’m just here to say I think it’s awesome that Eli mountain bikes as a group activity. You do have some legitimate concerns with doing it but, I say if Eli is okay with it then go for it. Because while you have the concerns, it sounds like you’re really interested in doing this and not just for Eli. Plus, if you get a good bike and know you’re limits you can stay safe in my opinion. My dad rides and he hasn’t been injured. We also have a friend who’s in his seventies crushing it on the bike. At the end of the day though, you gotta do what’s right for you.

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  8. I like the idea of a seventy year old still riding. I might have a bit of life left in me yet. My wife and I were talking about it last night and we agreed that regardless of whether I coach, I need to get a bike because Eli’s going to want a convenient biking partner. Right now I’ve only got road bikes. Maybe I can sell one to fund a mountain bike.

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  9. Hmmmm. Love this post. Feels homey somehow, I guess because isn’t this the way so many of our human minds work? It’s not definitive, there are no right answers, ultimately the gut will decide off-paper, or off-trail, and for the best.

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    • This was an interesting post to write. I wrote half of it without knowing where it was going. Then I had a really introspective walk to work, and I was ready to finish it. I think I’m in an unusual place with this. Something I truly want/something I truly fear. I can’t think of another time I felt that when things went well.

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  10. That’s a tough one, Jeff. If I could give my 2 cents (and I’m going to whether I’m allowed or not), I would say anything that brings you closer to your kids is something you should do. I am also reminded of the advice of my trail running partner: “train to your weaknesses”. Stay safe on the trails!

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