Have you ever been at the start of something where, like David Byrne you wondered, “Well, how did I get here?” Well just like those Talking Heads lyrics, that seems to have been the story of my sports life….  Always egotistical enough to think I should be included, but seldom good enough that success was guaranteed.

If you’re like me, you’ve always wanted to be “that guy” or “that girl” (wait, that’s not what I meant).  But because of a lack of time, the fact you were taught to swim in the shallow end of the gene pool, or you were never willing to live in a van, after all this time you still circle “intermediate” on the waiver form.  If you know what being damned by faint praise is, you know what I mean.

JF Ravenelle and the Author testing Commencal bikes at Bootleg Canyon, Nevada

So, whenever my friends and I found ourselves at the top of some bulletproof double black diamond ski run, the start of some gnarly, rocky, MTB trail, or stepping off the beach on our windsurfers into head-high waves, there was often a moment where I wondered “would anyone care if I suddenly pulled a hamstring”?  But mainly because Canada has free healthcare, I seldom did.

When you find yourself standing at the edge of greatness (or the great abyss as I now refer to it) you may find your crew is much better than you, and you’re there only out of a sense of loyalty, pity, or vengeance.  As you summon the courage to drop in, the taste of bile is there to remind you of this fact.  So, you ask yourself if anyone will notice if you’re the last to drop in.  The answer is always a resounding “Nah”.  If no one is there to see, you can always fake an injury and meet them at the bar later.

Corbett's Couloir in the 80's

If like me, your mom said “when in doubt, make a list”, here’s mine after more than 5 decades of believing or being talked into being better than I was….

1. Ignore the consequences right up until you can’t.

2. If things do happen to work out in your favor, don’t initiate the high-fives/fist bumps.  Stay cool.

3. If you do fail as you inevitably will, try your best to point out the root or rock that was your undoing.  Or karma.  Even if it was only a lack of ability, fake it or your friends may not ask you again.

3. If someone tells you that ______ is life, you probably have a better investment advisor than they do.

4. Bring spares.  Of everything.  Especially clothing.  And mercurochrome. 

5. Re-do’s are ok.  In fact, they are the only thing that guarantees you can relive the nightmare again and again.

6. Ability is the inverse of age squared, and common-sense increases half as fast as age.  Or maybe decreases, since my last concussion I really can’t recall.

7. When you see the smirk on the face of the guy who brought you hoping you’d hold a yard sale, stay quiet, it will add an element of surprise next time you’re together.

8. Reefs can strip flesh from bone faster than most taxidermists.

9. If your activity partner doesn’t think that apres-ski beer and hot wings are the main reason you came, they’re likely gluten-intolerant.  Or you’re skiing on Vancouver Island mid-week.

10. You CAN get seasick without a boat.

11. The feeling you get from surviving to fight another day is worth more than the pain of turning around.  Well, mostly.

12. Sharing the possibility of a life-changing injury with good friends makes the whole process more rewarding.  When no one is there to notice, you ski blue groomers.

13. There is nothing more self-confirming than nailing that glade run, rock step-up, or gybe in front of witnesses.  If there are no witnesses, you will only find an audience if you’re buying the pre-dinner drinks.

14. If you fail and your equipment remains unbroken, it never happened.  Dust yourself off and hope no one noticed.

Photo Credit: Volkl

Is there a moral to this story?  There sure is!  Wherever you find yourself, it’s your choice as to which way to go.  If the toughest decision ahead is the steepness of the slope you’re dropping into, the size of your sail, or whether or not to drop your seat, thank your lucky stars that you’re even there to make that choice.  Most people never get the opportunity to fail that badly.

So, push off that ledge, step off that beach, or pedal down that rock-strewn trail.  Isn’t knowing whether your obit reads “He died doing something he loved” better than stepping back and never knowing if you could have achieved immortality, even if the thought was fleeting?  Remember, that next level of consciousness is only available on the other side of where you are right now.