I love to watch the Olympics but these winter sports can be terrifying if you really think about actual people doing them.
Who sails out over the earth at those heights and lives to tell? Who snowboards up high above a cement half pike covered in ice and snow? How do you conquer your fears of falling or getting hurt when one small mistake could spell disaster?
Several competitors concede in the New York Times “When you are going as fast as we are, anywhere on the course can turn into an injury trap if not a death trap.” (Breezy Johnson, US Downhill Racer) “There’s a ton of risk and there’s a ton of fear.” (Fay Gulini, US Snowboarder). (“Fear” NYT Feb. 6, 2022)
Reading about how these young athletes handle their fear, I realized that their mental fortitude was as important as their athleticism. They were as tough mentally as they are physically. Here are some of their strategies.
1. Acknowledge your fear; don’t block it.
2. Contain your fear; don’t allow it to turn to panic.
3. Use your fear; it will help you see danger and stay focused.
Fear in sports, like fear in life, is an essential survival tool. It keeps you alert to danger. People who are not afraid are not paying attention. or they are in denial. But unchecked fear can sap your energy and cloud your judgement. To face life's challenges with confidence you need to find the right balance. Its the balance of acknowling fear without giving in to panic. These days we are all struggling with how to handle our fears. We don’t need to propel ourselves off mountains or push the limits of speed to feel frightened. Our world is a scary place right now. From culture wars to climate change to COVID, we are often on tender hooks.
But I hope we can learn from these young athletes, these twenty-somethings who have wrestled with fear, and found their way through. They have figured out that the way through fear is to accept it, to use it and to balance it with common sense and hard work. I hope we can make our own peace with the anxiety we know and avoid the trap of being paralyzed by our fears.
In the bible, when someone is scared, they are often brought to their knees. At first, it might seem like weakness to be knocked off your feet. But if you resist the embarrassment, resist the urge to scramble back up, resist the need to control the moment, you just might see the world from a new perspective. Perhaps then and only then can you learn to breathe out some of your anxiety and breath in the peace of God.