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  • Sarah Merrell

Getting Up After a Fall

I was once asked what prepared me the most for being a motorcyclist. Without missing a beat I responded that it was my childhood. I grew up riding and showing horses, and I have a particular experience burned in my childhood memory that has helped guide me as both an adult and motorcyclist.

I was probably eight or nine years old and at a riding lesson and was learning how to jump fences. I was scared, and everytime I got close to the fence I would steer the horse around it. After a strong pep talk from my instructor, I finally mustered up my courage, squeezed my legs, and pushed the horse towards the fence at a brisk trot. Right in front of the fence the horse came to a dead stop--but I kept going--and landed on top of the wood fence. I sat on the ground crying and my mom came over. She didn't coddle me. She told me to get up and get back on the horse and try again. I didn't want to. It was the last thing I wanted to do. But she said if I didn't get right back on and take that jump, I wouldn't overcome my fear. And if you have a mom that's anything like mine, when she tells you to do something you do what she says. So I did. And I made it over that fence. 10 years later, I achieved a dream and competed in national championships in eventing at the Kentucky Horse Park, over much, much higher fences. I would never have had that experience if I had given up after falling down.

No matter how many times I fell of the horse, my mother's words always resonated with me and I always, ALWAYS got back on no matter how scared I was.

Fast forward years later and I got my first motorcycle. A Suzuki DRZ supermoto. I decided to take the MSF (Motorcycle Safety Foundation) course before riding it, and it was in that course I had my first fall. I made the rookie mistake of grabbing the front brake while navigating a tight "S" turn and went "splat" on the ground, severely spraining my ankle. I was embarrassed and in pain, but I got back on and finished out the day. I still had one more day to go, and the next morning, as I tried to stuff my swollen ankle into my boot and winced in pain, I thought about calling it quits. But I thought about my mother's words and I couldn't let the fear of falling down crush my dream of being a motorcyclist. So sprained ankle and all, I finished out the final day and completed the course.

It wasn't the last time I questioned whether I could ever be a motorcyclist though. After the MSF course, I practiced in the parking lot of a local community college. During one of the practice sessions, I went to turn to head up a hill and hit the throttle a little too hard and lost control. I fell down and realized my poor choice of attire pretty quickly. My jeans were torn to shreds and I was bleeding. My husband took me home and had to pick the gravel out of my knees with tweezers. I wondered then, "Am I really cut out for this? How can I get back on when I'm so scared?" So I made myself a deal. I would take that advice my mom gave me as a kid and would get back on, and once I was back on the bike, I would decide whether or not I would continue. Sure enough, once I was back on the bike and tried that same turn again and did it without any trouble, I felt more confident and decided I would keep working towards my riding.

There were more times after that when I struggled. Like during my early years on The Dragon when I hit uneven pavement and the bike slide out from under me. I fell again years after that from going a little too fast on new, cold tires. Each time, I got back on the bike and learned something--most of the time, it was learning what NOT to do. That first fall I had during the MSF course taught me not to snatch abruptly at the brake in a corner. The fall in the parking lot taught me the value of proper, protective riding gear. The fall on the road taught me to beware of pot holes and uneven pavement and to take it easy on cold tires.

Once I started racing pit bikes, on small squirrely tires, I learned that falling down was not just part of learning, but also a means of finding my limits and the bike's limits and pushing outside of my comfort zone. In fact, at the very first pit bike race, I went too hot into a corner during practice and slid underneath a cable wire that caught me in the neck before hitting a post. I had to wear turtlenecks for a couple weeks to hide the bruises and burn across my neck, and then later found out I also broke a rib. But I knew I couldn't let that keep me from racing. The next race, I was so scared I was shaking and had butterflies in my stomach, but once I was back on the bike, the fear melted away and I was glad I got back on.

I've been riding motorcycles for 10 years now and racing pit bikes for nine. Thanks to Yamaha Champions Riding School, instruction at track days and taking advantage of classes like Total Rider Tech and learning from other riders, I've become a much more confident, controlled rider. I'm thankful for my childhood and what horseback riding and my mom taught me. If I hadn't learned that lesson early on and had it ingrained in my mind, I'm not sure if I would be a motorcyclist today. I might have given up at that first fall. I'm so glad I didn't. Just like achieving my dream of competing in national championships wouldn't have come to fruition if I had never gotten back on the horse, I wouldn't be living the life I am today if I had never gotten back on the motorcycle. Today, motorcycles are my life and my passion. I live for the weekends when I can be back on my bike riding through the mountains or on the track. It's a passion I share with my husband too and in many ways it's brought us closer together.

The advice I received as a child has also benefited me in more ways than motorcycles. It's helped me in other areas of my life, like relationships, work and my career. It's a character builder. Falling down and getting back up teaches us perseverance, determination, motivation and that the things in life that are most worthwhile are usually hard. But most importantly, it gets you closer to becoming who you want to be.

After all, what defines us is how well we rise after falling.

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