December 27, 2016.
I found myself on a train platform in Boston. I stood precariously close to the edge looking down at the tracks below. I saw the ominous “third rail” people always warn about. I started gauging the distance from the edge and considering the height of the platform. Could I jump over it? Maybe as a teen a flat footed leap would have been possible but now I’d need a good run up. I turned around and saw behind me that there was plenty of room to build speed. The voice in my head said “I think you’ve got this…”
It’s always been about calculations.
Ever since I can remember I have been interested in stunts, trajectories and seeing how I could control my energy. In elementary school I was already immersed in launching myself on my bicycle. I could hit a ramp and control if I used my speed to go up high or stay low and go a long distance. Eventually, I would be able to combine both techniques and accomplish my goal. I’d look at a car about five feet tall, seven feet wide and place a 30 inch tall ramp at just the right distance in order to jump over it. It was all speed and timing.
Off the bike, I was fascinated with flinging my body through the air as well. Down the street from my house was a playground with a small flat roof pavilion over a picnic bench or two. This pavilion was graded into a hill so all four corners were different heights. As a monkey boy, of course I learned to climb up the poles and get onto the roof. The lowest corner was about seven feet from the uphill side of the ground. The next corners were about eight, ten and eleven feet respectively. I’d climb up the roof and methodically jump off. I’d land different ways and learn to use my momentum in a lateral direction to tuck and roll so the landing wouldn’t hurt. I’d throw myself off the low corner until I felt confident and then I would move to the next corner, a foot higher, and repeat the process until I had mastered that height. Then off to the next. My plan was to learn to jump off things that were incrementally higher so as one day reach the goal of jumping off the peak of my house and not get hurt.
About ten years ago a friend was having a pool party and I ran home and got my ladder. His house was also built onto a hill. The front gutter was about nine feet high and the back gutter was over the second story. I was a perfect jump to the pool as long as you made it over the concrete patio. A bunch of us were all doing this big jump from the roof when I got an idea. I put a hula hoop in the middle of the pool and went back onto the roof. I told my friends we should try to jump off the roof and go through the hoop. They all thought I was nuts. One even told me I’d knock my teeth out if I hit the hoop. I assured them it was easy and with a quick glance below, I leaped. Once I left the roof, all I could do was straighten my body and keep my arms to the side. I sliced through the center of the hoop and when my head popped above the water’s surface, my friends were cheering.
For someone who has never studied physics, I have a keen sense of force, momentum and trajectories. I picked them up from literal hard knocks. I see distances and heights and think of the sudden, focused burst of power needed to get from A to B. I spent most of my life in tune with my body and gravity enough to win the gamble more times than I’ve lost it.
I see the world as an inadvertent obstacle course. I always have. My whole life family and friends have called me a Daredevil or crazy. I’ve been accused of not knowing better or not giving a damn. I see things differently than they do, almost as if I speak a different language. I’ve met a lot of BMX riders who can decipher this language of here to there but I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to them about it. We can see things the same way.
That day on the platform I remembered jumping off furniture as a small child. Picking a spot on the floor, or an empty laundry basket at a target and hitting my mark. I can’t remember a time where I didn’t see things like that. I realized most people would consider it a curse to see everything in the physical world as a challenge. I turned it into a goal. It’s all I know.
Now approaching 50, I have the experience but not the physical ability to do a lot of the things I want to do, even if I used to do them easily. It’s a tough transition to change the way I think, knowing that now shit hurts and I have to be responsible and not be laid up for weeks. Call it maturity or getting old, the governor is on. I still see these challenges but don’t act on them too often but the calculations are still going on. One day I may be an old man but I know I’ll still be seeing curbs, walls, hills and jumps. I’ll be figuring them out but not being able to do them. It’s almost like being paralyzed. It’s a scary thought. At least I know what it is to fly and I’ll always have that.