I believed I could fly

I Believed I Could Fly

How I learned I was not indestructible.

It is a warm night in Brisbane. I am rollerblading down a very steep hill in the dark. I have no safety pads or helmet on. I am nearing the bottom of the hill and have accelerated to about 40 km an hour. I am quite drunk. This is the third time I have done this tonight. 

Am I thinking, “I should probably slow myself down because if I fall I could get seriously hurt?”
No, I am thinking, “It’ll be fine.”

Are there people around me saying I should stop, “This is not going to end well.” “You are going to hurt yourself.” “This is a bad idea.” “You are a feckin eejit?”
No, no one is saying that around me. Instead, they are shrieking with delight as they whiz past me, whooping into the night in exulted drunken joy. What they are saying is, “I can go faster.” ‘I can drink more and maybe we should look for a steeper hill.” 

Oisín and the Land of Promise

There is an old Irish myth about a chap called Oisín who falls in love with fairy woman called Niamh. Oisín goes to live with Niamh in Tir na nÓg which translates to, “the land of the young.” Another name for Tir na nÓg is Tir Tairngire which means, “the land of promise.”

Oisín is very happy with Niamh but after a couple of years he misses his old friends and wants to go and visit them. Niamh tells him that time moves differently in Tir na nÓg and what has felt like 3 years to him has been 300 years in Ireland. If he were to set foot in Ireland the 300 years would catch up with him all at once and he would die. Oisín is upset by this news and misses the land he left even more.

Niamh can’t bear to see Oisín distraught so she lends him her magical horse, Embarr, to return to Ireland on. Once he stays on the Embarr he will remain young and unaffected by the passage of time in Ireland. Oisín sets off for Ireland with Niamh’s words ringing in his ears. “Stay on the horse, Dude.”

It is a sad return for Oisín. All his friends are dead and most of the places he used to frequent are gone. He decides to return to Niamh and Tir na nÓg. As he is leaving he passes a group of me trying to move a large rock. They ask Oisín to help. Oisín is moved to help his countrymen but is careful not to get off Embarr. Instead he leans down from his saddle and with his massive arm moves the rock easily. Just as he does this the strap on his saddle breaks and he falls to the ground. He immediately withers into an old man and dies.

John and the Beach of Dollymount

This part of the story is about me being a baby, a 44-year-old baby. Babies, as you know, have very little experience and this protects them in a way. They can pass through very dangerous situations and once their nervous system is not triggered by the danger they can be completely oblivious to it. 

I had gone through my life to age 44 in a similar way. I had done many dangerous things in my life, like rollerblading down steep hills in the dark while drunk, all without a scratch. It was not so much that I felt indestructible. It was more that the idea of being destructible never really occurred to me. 
That changed in 2008.

It started a year before. I was freshly back in Ireland after living in Australia for 10 years during which time one of my main recreational activities was rollerblading while drunk. Just kidding, the incident I described above was very unusual and probably the most dangerous thing I ever did on skates. Normally I would go rollerblading several times a week, always sober, and always very enjoyable.  

I thought I could continue rollerblading in Ireland. I was wrong. I had forgotten how much it rains in Ireland plus the traffic situation wasn’t really geared up for rollerblading in the way it was in Brisbane. 

This left me scratching my head and ranging around for what I could do instead. I looked at lots of different options and eventually found my way to kitewings which were like a sail that you hung onto. A cross between a mini hang glider and the overhead handrail on a bus. If flying a hang glider was like soaring with the eagles, then using a kitewing was like flying with the chickens – flightless birds that mostly fly-hop.

Doomwheels

Kitewings could be used with skis, surfboards, skateboards, or rollerblades. I found them only moderately interesting until I watched a video of a guy in Holland using a kitewing with rollerblades. He was going very fast along a quiet road. It was obviously very windy based on the speed he was traveling at.
So far so boring. 
Than he turned the kitewing into the wind and jumped. He took off and flew for about 20 seconds. I was captivated by this little flight, it kind of spoke to me.  I knew that the possibility of being able to do it on rollerblades in Ireland wasn’t there for me, at least not where I lived, and the thoughts of driving through Dublin traffic for an hour and a half to get somewhere that I could possibly do it made the whole thing a non starter.

What was near me was a very long beach called Dollymount strand and it had potential. So I went looking for alternatives. I looked at all-terrain skateboards or land boards, as they were called, and they looked good except they were too heavy, you couldn’t get much flight happening with them. Eventually, I came across people on the salt flats of America using a type of all-terrain rollerblade in conjunction with big canopy kites.

There was something about these all-terrain rollerblades, called doomwheels, that seemed like a great fit for Dollymount and a kitewing. Doomwheels were not something you could buy off the shelf. You had to make them yourself so I set about making my own set of doomwheels and while I was at it found myself a kitewing. 

When I told people what I was doing they nearly all said, “That sounds very dangerous.” 
How unsupportive of my dream! Bloody Irish people and their negativity! Didn’t they know I was still full of Australian sunshine and hope and optimism and carefree rollerblading energy? They just didn’t get it so I kept on with my project and just smiled at their rain-soaked pessimism. 

Eventually, my doom wheels were complete and I was ready to soar with the chickens. My first couple of attempts on Dollymount were less than stellar, mainly because there wasn’t any wind.  When the wind did finally show up, it was spectacular and I had a few brief but glorious spurts of speed up and down the beach.

I was a bit uncoordinated, particularly when turning, but I could remember when I started rollerblading and how uncoordinated I was then, and how I eventually gained a degree of mastery. I knew the same would happen with my doomwheels and kitewing. I was just in the awkward uncoordinated phase. 

The onlooker pessimism continued, and almost increased, possibly because I was actually doing something about it and not just talking. There was a feeling of, “He’s actually serious about this crazy idea.” 
I just smiled and continued on with my feeling of being indestructible. I might take a couple of tumbles, but that was all part of the learning process.

Squashed

Like most accidents, it happened very quickly. It was a day on Dollymount like any other day trying to figure it all out. The wind was strong. I was making a turn, misread the wind and instead of the kitewing pulling me forward, it became like a giant compactor and squashed me into the ground. It doesn’t sound like a big deal and it wouldn’t have been if my feet were not strapped into inflexible doomwheels.

Skiers figured this out years ago. The flexibility thing. That is why if you fall while skiing the skis will disconnect from your boot. That way you don’t damage yourself. 

This was not the case with my doomwheels which were similar to short skis in that they extended out in front of and behind my boots. In total they were nearly a metre long. 

When I was pushed to the ground my right skate was fine, it was perpendicular to the direction of force so in effect just fell over. This had happened several times before and was no problem. 

My left foot was not so favorably placed. It was facing exactly the same direction as the wind which had the effect of planting it in the ground. The kitewing forced my body down and forward over my left ankle in an exaggerated lung. My left ankle hyperflexed so much that my big toe almost touched my shin. It is not supposed to do that.

I discovered my Achilles tendon is very strong that day because even under this incredible compressive force it didn’t snap. 
The rest of the tendons in my ankle, not so much. Most of them snapped but not my Achilles.
Also, as I was squashed downward in this exaggerated lunge my left knee slammed into my abdomen under my ribcage causing a pattern of restriction that wouldn’t become apparent until much later. 

But I didn’t know any of that yet. I just knew that something bad had happened. I took off my doomwheels and limp-dragged myself back to my car.  Later that evening the pain was intense and my ankle had swelled up to the size of a small football. 

It took years for my ankle to repair and to this day it is still a little weak and looks noticeably different to my other ankle. My range of mobility is limited and my gait is affected. This, plus the the impact of my left knee into my abdomen and ribcage, has left me with a pattern of trauma I am still dealing with today.

Trauma

If you bump your leg off a coffee table and get a bruise you don’t give a second thought to, “fixing,” your leg. In one way our bodies are like self-repairing cars. Physical trauma leaves an impression or dent in the car and the car just pops the dents out.
Most of the time.
We run into problems if the dent is too big or too deep, then the auto-repair mechanism becomes overwhelmed. 
Hitting the steering wheel at 50 miles an hour is an example of an impact that would overwhlem our naturally occuring repair mechanism.

What makes it even more complex is that our naturally occuring self-repair mechanisms is also influenced, and inhibited, by the emotions we have at the time of impact or trauma.

For example, you skid on ice while driving and hit a tree sending you into the steering wheel at speed. There is a huge difference between having no feelings as you hit the steering wheel and feeling that the crash was in some way your fault and that you are an idiot.  These kinds of negative emotions about the trauma add a layer of complication to the process of healing or self-repair.

As my ankle was collapsing on Dollymount strand I was not emotionally neutral. I was not thinking, “Oh dear it feels like extensive damage is happening in my ankle. What can I do to help the repair process from this unfortunate accident?”

No, that is not what was going through my mind and heart. I can very clearly remember what I thought as I went down, “They were right. The naysayers were right.” More than the wind I felt like the whole cultural negativity of Ireland had flattened me to the ground with their cynicism. I felt crushed not only in a physical way but worse still in my spirit.

I didn’t feel like there would be any kind of understanding, no appreciation for trying something, for having a go. There would just be gloating and, “Well what did you expect ye feckin eegit,” and the most damaging part was I agreed with them. I fancied myself like Oisín falling from his horse, author of his own destruction, and having the lifeforce drained out of him by the told-you-so’s of Ireland.

More than the physical trauma, the emotional conclusion I arrived at as I went down is what has kept the effects of the trauma in place all these years. It is a wound that is still in the process of healing.
Becasue Ireland is so negative?
No, it had very little to do with Ireland. If I had been born in Russia I would have concluded I was the author of my own destruction, and had the lifeforce drained out of me by the told-you-so’s of Russia.

What I was dealing with, just like we all are, was my unconsciousness. It resonates, particularly in childhood, with the unconsciousness of those around us. It is almost like we are playing a game of forgetting with ourselves. “Let’s see how much I can remember when I forget everything on purpose.” Unconsiousness is the energy of forgetting and it resonates with the forgetting in others.

Dollymount was the beach of my childhood. It was one of the places I absorbed all the forgetting of my parents and siblings. It is where the forgetting intensified and it was where it came back up to the surface when I was getting crushed under my kitewing. Now I had tangible proof that I was in fact, a fool to dream. Now began the game of remembering in the face of tangible proof to the contrary.

Lightly Darling Lightly

Something broke in me that day, and I’m not talking about the tendons in my ankle. I lost the protection of innocence. I still wanted to fly, but I was very conscious of crashing to earth. It hasn’t stopped me doing dangerous things, but I do them in a very different way now. Previously, I would take risks with no calculation, now I have a math degree in risk calculation. If I put my little body in danger I am very conscious of the danger and keep the risk to an absolute minimum. 

More importantly I have gently walked myself out of the unconsciousness that locked the trauma in place. I dare to fly, I dare to dream big, and I bring the unconsciousness with me. I gently demonstrate to the unconsciousness in me that I can fly, I can dream and the dreams can come true. Little by little I remember more of who I am each day.

It has taken me many years to get off that beach. Not the 2007 Dollymount but the Dollymount of my childhood. To get back on my feet. To stand under the weight of the grey sky of unconsciousness and dream of flying again.


I chronicled my kite wing adventures in a series of videos which you can see below. They are great little videos and go right up to the point before I had my accident so are all optimism and sunshine. 


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