Monday, June 15, 2009

Swinging from the sky

A few months ago, perhaps after a pitcher at the Liberty tavern, a few ski instructor friends convinced me that in order to see them in the summer, we'd go do Trapeze together. Yes, as in, flying trapeze, like they do in the circus, only much, much simpler and with ropes and nets to catch me. It turns out, ski instructors all bike and party in the summer too, so we've hung out without having to hang upside down.

But, this was an especially good plan since another friend of ours co-operates the trapeze school, which recently relocated from Baltimore to D.C. so they can have a year-round rig. So we met up in a parking lot near the convention center, signed our lives away, and started with "Ground School". It should be no surprise to me that the instructors were good - Brian is one of the best skiing clinicians I've worked with and quickly working his way up the PSIA ladder to eventually be an examiner. I expected his staff to be well-versed in presenting information, dealing with fear, and having fun. They were.

After we were cinched into our safety belts (even the skinny people get pooch tummies from this process), we learned that we would be learning a knee hang and a backflip dismount from a swinging bar some 20 feet above the bouncy net. But the key - do "what they say when they say it". Okay, I really think I can follow directions. I hope.

I'll admit that the first time up the ladder to the platform was pretty overwhelming. I really saw how the trust built on the ground was essential for success here. The instructor at the top told me to lean forward while they held my belt so that I could reach for the bar. Two hands on, improbably leaning forward into space, gripping a swing. How did I get here?

On "Hep", I hop and am off into space. Whew, this is scary fun. But then the hard part - I'm supposed to do something? Wait, who said this was gonna be work? Legs on the bar. Ha. If you fail to time it like they say (back to the "what they say when they say part"), this is nearly impossible for someone with less than a lotta abs. Of course, when I later listened at the right time, it was much easier - momentum is a wonderful thing.

Once I got my legs up over the bar, I had to let go with my hands, hanging upside down! What fun. Once right-side-up again, a swift set of kicks and letting go at the right time leads to a backflip. Which, I of course discovered, can also turn into landing on your face. Gently, of course, because those safety lines are being held by someone who slows you to prevent the face on net experience.

Toward the end of the class, an amazingly strong Neil from South Africa (I think!) climbs a rope (like in elementary school, only missing the knots) to another bar and starts swinging. If I can time all that knee hang stuff right, this rather attractive guy with an accent is going to catch me?! (truth be told, he also got to catch Shea and Zeke and Brian). Under the pressure of timing for the catch, I got my knee hang on the first try and made it! How cool.

In talking with Brian while at the rig, he pointed out that we, as teachers and coaches and athletes and people, should be a beginner at something every once in a while. As coaches, learning something new lets us feel the fear that our skiing students have - how do I look? am I wearing the right thing? can I do this? will I be the only one who can't? wow, it's really high up here... As an athlete, it's good to be moving in new ways and figuring out how to listen to directions again without existing movement patterns getting in the way. Plus, when you do something new with friends, well, it's just plain fun.

Sidenote: Fun pictures coming as soon as those with the camera upload them.

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