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Facing Fears Head-On

Posted Jan 02 2010 9:51pm

As a kid, I was a total thrill-seeker who LOVED roller-coasters.

The scarier the twists, the bigger the drop, the more loops — the better.

A serious dare-devil who loved the adrenaline rush, I longed for that sensation of my heart stopping as I screamed my way into euphoric bliss.

I probably drove my family crazy with my shrieks of, “Again!” “Again”! as they’d have to wait for me to get through the ridiculously long lines at amusement parks for the hottest new coaster at the time, but they never complained and so my childhood love of loops went.

I remember the first time I rode the Great American Scream Machine at Six Flags Great Adventure  (the tallest steel coaster with the highest drop at the time — which felt lame years later when I did it again!), and the Sidewinder at Hershey Park (a looping coaster which goes backwards, too).

These were defining moments of my dare-devil, roller coaster-riding tenure.

To be sure, I loved the adrenaline rush … but there was something more to my affection for roller-coasters.

The truth is, I rode them mostly to prove to myself that I could do it; that I was brave enough (crazy enough?) to strap myself in and put my life in the hands of velocity and centrifugal force.

Each new amusement park meant a ride I had to “conquer,” and then once I did it, I felt like “more of a person,”  like I was part of some “club” of crazy people willing to give over their trust to 15-yr old amusement park employees.

Silly, I know, but that’s how I thought at the time.

Then the summer before my senior year of college, my fearlessness literally came to a screeching halt. I stopped loving the idea of putting myself in deliberate (potential) danger and stopped craving the high that came from huge drops and loops.

The last time I went to King’s Dominion with my dear friend Jason (also a thrill-seeker) the summer of 2000 (before his cancer diagnosis), we both had awful headaches and stomach aches after all the twists, turns and loops on whatever the latest coaster was at the time (I think it was the Batman ride .. You “flew” face-down and it was freaking scary!).

Anyway, afterwards, we looked at each other in mutual agreement, thinking, “Whoa … I can’t do that again.”And we were on the same page.

This was our third or fourth annual outing to King’s Dominion and the first time we were queasy. I felt like such a sissy, but at the same time, I couldn’t help it. I didn’t lust for that euphoria anymore and was much more content on the log flumes and flying swings.

And since my husband (who I began dating that fall of senior year) isn’t crazy about roller-coasters, I never really had much of a reason to go on them in the 9+ years we’ve been together.

… Which brings me to this past New Year’s Eve day.

My husband and I and good friends of ours went snow-tubing and tobagganing at a local winter sports park. The snow-tubing was ridiculously fun and I enjoyed it a ton, but the tobagganing was a whole different story.

I couldn’t see the track when we first got there, but once we got to the top (the launching area), I nearly had a heart attack, seeing how steep the toboggan tracks were, and how each sled was going, oh, roughly 60 mph.

The anxiety I felt was comparable to that first looping coaster when I was 11, although being much older and wiser now, I didn’t have that same desire to “prove myself.”

That said, I didn’t want to chicken out (and even my non-thrill-seeker hubby was stoked to get on board), but let me tell you, my heart was in my stomach as I got on that long blue sled.

And so I the four of us piled on, and I chose to sit in the back which was probably a mistake (since I caught the brunt of the pull) but my reasoning was I didn’t want to see anything!

Per the attendant’s instructions, we each wrapped our legs around the person in front of us, and then I buried my head in my husband’s back, wrapped my arms around him, held on for dear life and waited for the terror to begin.

I’d like to say I laughed at the bottom and mused, “Oh, it wasn’t that bad!” and tell you that I loved it and was so glad I faced the fear head-on … but the truth is, I can’t remember being that frightened in a loooong time.

Icy packed snow on both sides of us, a huge drop … it was seriously terror-inducing for me.

After the initial drop (which was huge — much steeper than this picture looks) we careened, the sled tipping a little into the carved tracks, and I literally screamed bloody murder the whole time and was shaking when it ended and we came to a stop. I started choking back tears (no joke!) and felt like a total baby for being so afraid of a ride!

But I was alone in being scared to death; my friends and husband loved it and wanted to do it again!

Though I felt lame chickening out for a second and third run,  I had to listen to my gut, which told me “I conquered it, and don’t need to do it again.” And you know what? I’m really proud of myself for sticking to that decision.

It had taken a great leap of faith for me (the former dare-devil) to get on that sled in the first place, and meant I’d put myself in an uncomfortable position to do the toboggan run the first time — which was enough risk-taking for the day.

Having done that, I saw no point to making myself sick with anxiety just to be brave and do it again. Instead, I listened to my gut and got a great shot of the three of them coming down again, and then did an extra run with my snow-tube when they did their third run and everyone was happy. :)

The moral of this ridiculously long story? Sometimes it’s good to face our fears head on (it makes us braver, stronger, more resilient), but it’s also OK to know yourself well enough to be confident in saying, “OK, I did it, now enough’s enough.”

How about you? How have you faced your fears head-on and was there a time where you had to say, “I’m done now”?

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