I remember the day I learned to ride my bike. I say that like, one day, it just happened – but, in reality, it took several weeks. The memories aren’t exactly crisp anymore – more like the fuzzy remnants of a dream you’re not quite certain you’ve even had, except for the “main event”.
I don’t remember how old I was? If I had to guess, I’d say it was the summer that I turned 5. My dad bought me a bike. It was a blue and white “CARE BEARS” bicycle, with sunshine and rainbow stickers, training wheels, and a basket with “Tenderheart Bear” sitting proudly on top. I loved it! I couldn’t wait to ride it, knowing I’d finally be able to keep up with the neighborhood kids and my sister when they’d disappear for what seemed like hours, going on a “bike ride”.
Riding that bike up and down our street, in and out of all the alleyways, made me feel so free! But it wasn’t long until my neighborhood friend, Eddie, started telling me that I needed to ditch the training wheels. They were loud and annoying, and “only babies need training wheels.”
“You’re not a baby, are you, Aubs?”, he asked.
That night, when my dad got home from work, I asked him to take the training wheels off of my bike. I saw him hold in his laugh, stifling it with a smile, but he grabbed his toolbox anyway and followed me outside to where I already had my bike propped up and ready.
Once removed, he carried my bike down to the sidewalk and held it up as I climbed on. It was mere seconds before I crashed it to the ground. I tried again – and again, before I finally listened to the calm, rational words of reason my dad was speaking gently to me. “Why not try just one training wheel for awhile?”, so that’s what we did. We put just one training wheel back on the bike, and I tried to ride again. This time, I was successful. Whenever I felt unstable, instead of crashing, I’d lean on my trainer to steady myself – and pretty soon I was doing alright, all on my own.
About a week later, my dad suggested we take the remaining training wheel off. This time, I was the hesitant one. I had grown to depend upon it. It was my safety net, keeping me safe from another fall. It kept me grounded and held me steady – it gave me the confidence I needed to keep moving forward.
I remember crying as my dad removed this little wheel from the left side of my bike. I remember how sweaty my palms were as I held onto his arm, before climbing back up on it. He told me he’d be there, his hand on the back of my bike seat, as we started to pedal ourselves down that alleyway. He said he wouldn’t let go and I believed him. I started telling him all about my day, my friends, and how cool it was going to be because I was the only kindergartner in the neighborhood that could ride a bike without her training wheels. That’s when I realized my dad was no longer acknowledging me. I couldn’t hear his breath or feel the largeness of his presence behind me. I looked back to see him standing all the way back by our house, at the entrance of the alley, and I had pedaled (all by myself) to the farthest end, approaching the next city street!
I panicked… and crashed.
My dad came running, smiles and all, as I picked myself up, crying. I had scrapes on my knees and gravel imbedded in the plams of my hands. I was crying hot tears, full of anger and fear. I yelled at him as he brushed off my legs and picked up my bike. He never stopped smiling. When I was finished screaming, calming down and catching my breath, he pointed down the alley at the distance which I had ridden my bike… ALL BY MYSELF.
“You don’t need me.”, he said. “I let go because you were doing by yourself.”
“You didn’t believe me when I said that you could do it – but then you did actually do it, so I let you go.”, he continued. “You only crashed because you stopped believing in yourself.”
Now here I am, nearly 40 years later, reflecting upon those moments, as I am faced with leveling up once more. In a previous blog, I mentioned how I’ve been making tremendous progress in physical therapy each week. Even as I wrote that, I was still believing that I had so much further yet to go, and had already come to terms with the commitment of continuing this program well into next year. But it seems it’s time to take the training wheels off, once again.
I do still have a long way to go, in regards to achieving my goals. But, when it comes to in-person physical therapy to address the stabilization of my spine and improvement in mobility, Dane has taught me everything I need to know in order to keep moving forward on my own.
We still have a couple of remaining appointments scheduled out but, kind of like leaving that one single training wheel attached, I am only to use them if I absolutely have to.
He wouldn’t do this if he didn’t believe I was ready, if I wasn’t able to maintain on my own. And it definitely occurred to me yesterday, as I was running on the treadmill there, that the majority of other patients in the room were working hard to simply walk, or gain some other form of mobility and increased range of motion with which they can continue to live their daily lives. It was then that I realized that I have begun to look forward to these appointments like I look forward to hitting the gym with Nick on Fridays – but this is physical therapy, not personal training. It’s definitely time for me to move on.
That being said, if you or anyone you know ever suffers from a spinal injury, is recovering from spine surgery, or even just chronic, degenerative back pain and have the desire to avoid spine surgery altogether, Dane Eberle (currently employed at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania) is the greatest physical therapist that I have ever met, and he specializes in such issues!
He is but one chapter in the story of my own return running, but it has been a very important 4-month long chapter that I will never forget! It has rehabilitated my body from injury and educated my mind so that I may continue moving forward in my journey and, hopefully, never again fall back.