This is why mountain biking is significant to my mental health journey
“[Sport] has an almost unmatched role to play in promoting understanding, healing wounds, mobilising support for social causes, and breaking down barriers” - Kofi Annan
As I head out for my last few KMs on my 215km ride for awareness (details), I want to tell you about the significance of mountain biking to me and my own path towards healing.
Trauma is a tricky monster. A part of us yet also apart from us, it haunts each of us in different ways, and we each learn to deal with it by using tools available to us. For me, this monster once instilled such deep anxiety and fear that it rendered me afraid to speak, afraid to participate in life, and unable to trust my instincts or decisions. I was living, but “thriving” was a distant seemingly unattainable concept. I woke up every morning with this terrifying monster hovering over me, ready to chase me throughout my day. As a young adult, stuck in a state of frustrating fear, I decided I’d had enough of The Monster, and I turned to face it.
I fought The Monster by forcing myself to take risks and engage in challenges, which may seem easy to some but was like climbing Everest without oxygen to me. As I was in CEGEP (college) at the time, I began by asking one question in every class. Next on my list was making a new friend. Given my social anxiety and utter terror of speaking in public, neither of those two first tasks was anything close to simple! After I'd (somewhat) conquered speaking with strangers, I took on something that scared the absolute bejesus out of me but would ultimately change my life: learning a new sport in a public space.
I remember sitting on the curb at The Old Port in Montreal, alone in a sea of onlookers, roller blades on my feet, elbows and knees padded, and The Monster in my mind crouched in a cage with a shoddy lock. I mindfully calmed my breathing. I told myself that soon I wouldn't need a cage for The Monster. The Monster was about to meet its match. Then, flame-cheeked and wobbly as all hell, I stood up and committed.
I fell, I got up, I fell, I got up, I fell and got up. I fell and people helped me up. I fell and laughed when I did. I fell and got up together with others. After innumerable falls and still undefeated, new friends by my side, The Monster deflated. That's when I stopped falling.
By the same time the following year, I was skating to university, 30 minutes each way, through a busy park, along sidewalks, potholed side streets, smiling and proud and greeting people who had once been strangers, my Monster (somewhat) defeated. I still have scars, one on my hand and another on my shoulder, from one of my learning-curve falls, and I wear them with pride because they represent my first big victory against The Monster. From there, I took on rock climbing, then ice climbing, back-country skiing, glacier caving, skate skiing, and my most recent challenge is mountain biking. I'm not a "master" at any of it, but that was not my goal - I'm Happy. The Monster is still crouched in a crack in the depths of my mind, and at times jumps out, teeth bared, claws extended, threatening my peace. But every time I take on a new learning challenge, I gain more power over It.
My mountain bike ride for awareness is as much about bringing awareness to the need for change in the youth protection system as it is about tackling The Monster within (that every kid in youth protection is painfully familiar with), in a safe way that leads to constructive results. Well … in a relatively safe way anyway 😜
A HUGE thanks to @goldencyclingclub for all the work put into building/maintaining trails and making my latest challenge both possible and such a pleasure!
From my heart, I thank the Metis, Ktunaxa, and Shuswap nations for sharing their beautiful land and its resources, allowing me to thrive in peace, health, and unity. I see you. Thank you.
For more about tackling "monsters" through sport and re-building oneself after trauma, check out the following articles.
"The Importance of Sports in Recovery from Trauma: lessons from and for Christchurch" (Scott White, in The Conversation) https://theconversation.com/the-importance-of-sports-in-recovery-from-trauma-lessons-from-and-for-christchurch-114368
Kofi Annan: We must use the power of sport as an agent for social change" (Kofi Annan Foundation)
"In the Sport I am Here: therapeutic processes and health effects of sport and exercise on PTSD" (Clemens Ley, Maria Rato Barrio, Andreas Koch, in Sage Journals) https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1049732317744533
"The Role of Physical Activity and Sport in Mental Health" (The Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine UK & Sports and Exercise Psychiatry Special Interest Group of the Royal College of Psychiatrists) https://www.fsem.ac.uk/position_statement/the-role-of-physical-activity-and-sport-in-mental-health/
"Here's How Picking Up a New Skill Can Help Your Brain" (Emma Brancatisano, in HuffPost Australia)
"By taking on mentally challenging skills, we can potentially capitalise upon neuroplasticity to strengthen existing connections in the brain, or even forge new connections."
- Muireann Irish, Associate Professor from Sydney University's School of Psychology and Brain and Mind Centre, in HuffPost Australia