April 3, 2020
Overcoming Fear in the Age of COVID-19
By: Taryn Spates
On Saturday March 14th, two days after the NBA halted their season and Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson announced that they tested positive for the Coronavirus, I was sitting in my Jeep at a stoplight en route to the pool for what I assumed would be one of my final swim workouts for a while, when I noticed a motorcycle idling on my left, and thought, “When this is all over, that’s gonna be me.” By “this,” I mean the COVID-19 pandemic, and by “that,” I mean conquering my fear of handling the most dangerous two-wheeled vehicle on earth, a motorcycle.
I love to ride bicycles and motorcycles. I am a long-course triathlete and I rode a 125cc 2-stroke dirt bike around a motocross track on my wedding day. I stalled once. But I quickly cranked the engine again, rode a loop around the track, then exchanged vows with my dashing husband. Just your average wedding ceremony in Southern California.
We’ve owned three street motorcycles and two dirt bikes in the last fifteen years. I’ve taken classes, passed the DMV requirements, yet I’ve never overcome my throat-closing fear of handling a motorcycle on the road.
I have a similar fear when descending steep hills on my bike.
I respect that fear during training and races. I tell myself that fear is there to keep me safe. I believe it has a purpose. Although I have tried to manage it and improve my skills while riding with teammates and coaches, it always steals back control just when I am gaining confidence.
Now more than ever I want to break free from the fear I can control, because there is so much out there that I can’t. I should be able to control how I feel riding my bike downhill, whereas a worldwide pandemic is slightly out of my hands. Also, our street motorcycles are long gone, and since the early season races I was training for are postponed, I figure now is the time to face and surpass my fear of descending hills on my bike for good.
According to Psychology Today, an effective method of overcoming fear is through Exposure Therapy, a method where a patient is repeatedly exposed to their fear in a safe environment. Descending steep hills repeatedly on my bike would be an excellent method of Exposure Therapy, but not considered at all safe in our current COVID-19 reality. I will need to be creative, but I believe I can still use Exposure Therapy in many ways to overcome my fear.
I can close my eyes while pedaling at a high cadence on my trainer. I can begin daily guided meditations of descending steep hills that I have ridden during training rides and races. I can watch videos on YouTube of cyclists bombing down hills I’d never dream of attempting myself, but watching their point of view could build my confidence when I do. I can research future routes I want to ride, driving the turns so when I do get the chance to ride them, they won’t be surprising.
Most of all, I can use this COVID-19 interruption to look forward to the next opportunity to test my fear, because while either climbing or descending, feeling afraid or exhausted, pedaling inside or out, riding bikes is when I feel alive; a privilege I appreciate more everyday.