09 September 2012

Archival footage: Wheels changed me

The following post was originally published in July 2003 at FlagstaffBiking.org.

I only-half-jokingly tell my students at the beginning of each school year, while we’re all still taking the time to get to know one another, that I am genetically incapable of playing any sport that involves a ball.

While I’m unsure if my indisposition is genuinely genetic, I’m nevertheless quite certain: I’ve never been good at ball-sports, be they played with round or oblong, big or little, hard or soft balls, or should they require throwing, catching, shooting, or carrying said balls. The bottom line: I am a gimp on the ball field.

A reality. But, man, what a difficult, harsh reality to face when you’re ten. I tell my students this at the beginning of each school year for two reasons. The first: to let the gimpy kids know that I am kin, a fellow gimp. Second, to let them know, particularly while they’re still young, that I believe it is possible to outgrow one’s gimpiness (1), but that I didn’t really begin to outgrow my own gimpiness until I found wheels.

Skis came along a little earlier for me, and they helped along the way. This is a trait I’ve found I share with other ball-gimps; skis taught and encouraged the mastery of a coordinated skill-set that didn’t require a ball (2). But skiing is strictly seasonal, making it tough to hang on to, speaking in terms of its boost to a gimp’s self-esteem, throughout the live-long year.

Like most folks, I initially found the wheel in childhood using it as both toy and transport, but gave it up when I got my first car. My personal moment of epiphany, when I truly found the wheel, would wait until I was in my mid-twenties: broke, bored, and ready for change. As an isolated twenty-something new to Flag-town the wheel began to change me. After class, with nothing else to do and bereft of companionship (3), the woods and my cheap-but-capable bike were pretty much the only options I had.

Combining my assets, I began to ride. And the wheels began to change me.

It all sounds rather melodramatic, but for a lifelong ball-gimp, the ability to practice at something athletic and see marked progress, and at times even excel at it, was quite an uncommon experience. I rode. Got better. Made friends that rode. Got better still.

The wheels changed me.

All this might sound like bragging, but it isn’t. Extend a gimp some credit for finding something that worked, that helped him overcome a lifetime of being last-picked, passed over, and benched. Better still, give your own kid a break today and show them an alternative to the ball-oriented caste system that has already been engrained in their self-image; take them for a bike ride. Show them how much bikes matter to you; encourage them to value bikes over cars.

Save your kid from a lifetime of gimpiness: give your kid wheels (4)!


1. Gimpiness in this context should not be misconstrued as being synonymous with geekiness. By definition (mine) gimpiness is a purely situational malady, in many ways akin to being the proverbial fish out of water. Geekiness, on the other hand, is without question a genetic predisposition; it cannot be outgrown, outrun, or outsmarted. It can only be adapted to, to the best of the individual’s ability. I am living proof.

2. At first, like most, I skied alpine-style, fixed-heel boot, parallel turns on groomed corduroy, like everyone else I knew at the time. However, I was always curious and intrigued by the grizzled free-heel Telemark skiers that I would see gracefully making long turns below the lift on occasion. While there was nothing simple about the skills required to master alpine-style skiing, I didn’t really begin to appreciated the real artfulness of skiing until I began to Tele many years later.

3. By choice.  Mostly.

4. In my parent’s defense, they bought me many bikes and took me on many wonderful bike rides throughout my childhood. But, at the end of the day, they saw the bike as a toy, a bike ride as something to do for just for fun. Bikes did not define my parents. To some degree then bikes did not, until much later in my own life, begin to define me.


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May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. -- Ed Abbey