Courtney Ball

Thrill of the Crash

Last week I was riding my bike to Matthew 25 for a meeting. I needed to cross First Avenue, a busy four-lane street through the center of town. As I rode down the sidewalk on the north side of the street, I watched for a big enough break in the traffic for me to cross. I’m a bit lawless and impatient when I ride my bike in town. I ride on sidewalks, don’t wait for traffic lights, and cross the street whenever it’s convenient rather than waiting for intersections.

I saw an opening that, if I hustled, would allow me to cross before a gray SUV traveling east in the far lane. I hopped the curb and pedaled hard. I have a light-weight, fairly fast road bike that makes it a little easier to accelerate in a pinch.

The problem with that bike is it also has skinny tires. Somewhere in between the curb and the center of the street, I lost control. I don’t even know what happened for sure—maybe sand on the road?—but the next thing I knew I had rolled my bike, landed hard on my right elbow and knee, coming to a stop sprawled out in the middle of the busy street.

I quickly looked up to make sure I wasn’t about to get run over by that gray SUV. Luckily, I came to a stop in the center turning lane. I was a bit banged up, but otherwise okay, thankful that I had been wearing a helmet.

Later, I reflected that it had probably been decades since I last crashed while riding a bike. I also realized that, in a way, I enjoyed the fall. As strange as it sounds, I couldn’t deny that it was actually kind of fun to experience such a spectacular wipe-out.

I remembered the same sort of buzz when I accidentally ran a red light and (coincidentally) a gray SUV smashed into the passenger side of the rental car I was driving last December. The car’s safety features worked well, so I wasn’t injured, but wow did I get blasted out of the intersection!

Yes, I felt very guilty about causing the accident, about ruining the other driver’s day, about destroying a rental car, and all the hassle it caused. But I have to admit it was also kind of fun when all was said and done.

After thinking about this a little longer, it dawned on me that I have never been in a crash that I didn’t enjoy on some level.

Now, I should be clear and tell you that the worst that’s ever happened to me in a crash is getting knocked unconscious. Twice that occurred while snowboarding. I also once received a fairly painful strained ligament in my shoulder after an accident while playing tag, of all things, but otherwise no major injuries. No broken bones. Safety equipment like helmets, seat belts and airbags have been helpful.

Maybe it’s insensitive to actual victims to talk this way: people who have been paralyzed, killed, or had their lives permanently altered by an accident. I think of my cousins who lost their mother when a plane their father was piloting dropped out of the sky.

Still, even my uncle, who went through months of hospitalization, multiple surgeries, and a painful recovery process (both physically and emotionally), even he remained something of a daredevil afterward. It was in his nature. People knew that about him since he was a child.

He was a snowboarder in his sixties when it was a sport for kids. He completed RAGBRAI (a bike ride meandering hundreds of miles across the state of Iowa in July) more than once. He did this in his seventies, after the airplane crash that left him so broken the doctors weren’t sure if he would walk again.

I don’t know what this all means, but I’ve been contemplating it lately. Not everyone enjoys risk, but plenty of us do. Of course, we all have different ideas about where to draw the line, when to say, “No, thanks. I’ll sit this one out.”

It is incredible what can be accomplished, though, by those who spend their lives pushing that line a bit further each day. I think of the small steps my daughter takes each week in her gymnastics class. Gradually barriers of fear or inexperience give way as she is gently pushed a little more each time. She can now do things with her body that I never have and never will be able to accomplish.

Somewhere in this is a balanced position, a place where we stay smart enough to not foolishly throw our lives away, but where we also taste the satisfaction of jumping and maybe even crashing. This, to me, seems to be the most enjoyable space in which to live.

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Courtney Ball

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