Dropping In

When I was growing up, aggressive in-line skating had found its way from the west coast of California to a small subdivision of Granite City IL, called Sunny Del Acres. My neighbor Shannon was a few years older than me, yet became a close friend and an early mentor of mine. From his perspective there were two types of groups at Granite City High School, the Preps and the Freaks; Shannon liked to hang out with the Freaks. He was an artist by nature and though he was athletic, he was never a  “jock” and absolutely despised the idea of “popularity”.  So it was no surprise when he began to channel his artistic nature through the use of his body. He covered himself head to toe with tattoos and body piercings; and began preaching without a pulpit, claiming it was better to stand out than to blend in. Shannon’s primary passion in the 90’s became that of aggressive in-line. In the summer of ’94, he and his step dad found some blue prints, bought some supplies and began building a half-pipe with 8′ foot towers on either end. From local neighborhoods all the way to St. Louis, extreme skaters came to Shannon’s house to master the art of aggressive in-line on a half-pipe.

Now, because I was overweight and hyperactive, I wasn’t the best skater. But I wore the Jinco’s, faded tee shirts and had a bowl cut,  so I considered myself a skater. But really, I was more like… what you might refer to as a poser. For instance, I wore a hat Shannon gave me with a little skater guy on it that said C.Y.K.O. I wore that hat for a year before realizing it suggested I was a psycho. Shannon on the other hand was an actual skater and was fearless when it came to attempting  new tricks.

One particular evening in the summer of ’97, Shannon and I had the ramp to ourselves. He was jumping off the guard rail from the back of the 8 foot high platform onto the ramp, nearly flying off the other side; he was trying to be more extreme or some crap, while I’m down on the ground waiting for my turn to pump back and forth. When his run had finished, he told me today was the day I was going to drop in.  He could see that I was nervous when he told me to start from the bottom and work my way up. Nervous or not, I felt his confidence in me, and began like always; skating from one side to the other until I had enough speed and height to reach the top of the platform. I pulled myself up and over the grinding bar, then sat on the edge waiting further instruction.  This exercise was repeated a hundred times before. I’d sit starring down the ramp gripped in fear, trying to build up enough courage to let go and drop in. On this day however, I felt ready, relaxed, confident that I would finally drop in. But once I reached the top and I’m peering down the towering slope of death, the fear that gripped me so many times in the past was back and seemed to be stronger than it was before. Shannon would holler from below, “don’t think about it, just do it! You got this!” But there I sat – quiet, still and frozen.

He could see I was timid and unsure; so he climbed the tower, stood silently at the edge of the drop for a moment, and then sat down next to me. He began with instruction, telling me to lean forward once I let go, and then plant my feet right before the incline. Seemed easy enough, but I saw a different outcome. Once I went down, I would fall backwards; my helmet would shatter into a hundred pieces. Then my head would crack open as it hit off the ramp, surrounding me in a pool of my own blood. Of course I didn’t say any of that to him, but all I could see was a terrible outcome. As we sat there waiting for me to let go, he started talking about fear and how everyone deals with it in their own way; but sooner or later I would have to overcome those fears. He said the only way to do that, was to face them head on. He said I would face challenges throughout my entire life, but I would never know what I was made of until I let go. Then he said, so let go.. and go.

But I didn’t.

The sun had started to set about the time we heard my mom yelling from the back porch for me to come in. What followed was no surprise; I slide down the incline on my ass, took my skates off and went home. I didn’t skate much after that; eventually Shannon and his family moved away, the half-pipe was no more, and I never dropped in.

It’s funny how the people, who care about us most, begin teaching us lessons at a young age. Often, these lessons don’t make sense until we are older. Almost twenty years have passed since that summer; I was all of fifteen years old when Shannon began coaching me on the trials of life. Then in the spring of 2006, with no warning offered, he went to sleep and never woke up. Shannon died long before I realized what his friendship meant, and how much I appreciated the time he took to take me behind the curtain, and teach me the life lessons he knew I would soon need. Although he is no longer here to offer advice, I still find myself reflecting on those conversations, like the one we had on top of the ramp; and I know now – that he was right.

Fear is an uninvited guest on the ride of life, and we are all accompanied by its persistent nature. From the big moments like marriage, having kids or starting a business; to small moments like, asking a girl to dance or trying oysters. Fear will grip us, shame us, and taunt us in the attempt to keep us from finding out what we are made of. I never did own the ramp, but because Shannon took a few minutes to encourage a timid young boy, I now understand what it means to drop in.

To read more of the story, click the link below.

Dropping In – Full Story

 

Dropping In

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