“It was great…, it was hard!” Katie Ledecky, age 6

I fell off the bike. It happened. My greatest fear had occurred. However, instead of being the disaster I had created in my head, it was freeing. But wait, let’s travel back a little earlier in the day for some context.

I had decided for my last day of my spa vacation, that instead of getting another massage, I would challenge myself with some mountain biking (yes, I know some of you are thinking – she is crazy). I signed up for the beginner class, feeling both confident and apprehensive: confident because I had mountain biked twice before; but nervous because mountain biking does not come easy to me. To be totally honest, it freaks me out. You may be wondering given my lack of both skill and confidence in this area, why would I choose mountain biking instead of sitting by the pool? Because I believe strongly that there is no better feeling than accomplishing something that takes courage and strength.

So with this in mind, here are three things I learned about facing my fear through mountain biking.

1. You need grit!
To face a fear you need to be gritty. I needed a combination of persistence mixed with perseverance. When I literally could not get on the bike seat (the bike seat on a mountain bike is much higher than on a street bike), I needed to try and try again. When I fell off the bike while trying to get on the seat, I needed to pick myself up and learn from the experience. What I learned was that although it felt safer to stay closer to the ground, this approach was not working. I needed to stand up taller and be further away from the ground to get on the seat. What helped me to do that was staying present as opposed to freaking out in my head. Breathing and looking at where I needed to go was better than spinning in my head. What also helped me was making this ride about purpose. Although I wanted to get on and stay on this bike for myself, I also chose to engage in this activity because it helps me with my patients. Mountain biking helps me tap into the feeling of, and be more empathetic, with my many patients who struggle with fear and anxiety. Thinking about how this activity could benefit others gave me the needed drive to continue and persevere.

2. You need an optimistic mindset.
When riding the bike, I needed to make a conscious effort to maintain a positive mindset and note my improvements as opposed to focusing on what was still not achieved. It is human nature to focus on the negative and what has not been accomplished (e.g., making s-turns in the sand or riding over bigger rocks). I tried to focus on my growth and progress. I am glad to share with you that eventually I was able to consistently get on the bike and stop jamming the bar of the bike into places that cause pain. Having this optimistic and positive mindset allowed me to persist, be more resilient and grow from the experience.

3. You need your cheerleaders.
My ability to fall and pick myself up would not have been possible if I had not been in the company of my best friend and a supportive guide. My cheerleaders set high expectations for me: “Go back and practice those s-turns because we know you can do them!” while at the same time singing my praises when I was able to stop on a dime and go over logs on the road. Their combination of high expectations and unwavering support was essential for this journey.

So it may still seem a little crazy that the highlight of my spa vacation was one in which I fell. (Just so you know, there were awesome massages, food and classes too). But, if you are like me, there is no greater reward than rising to a challenge and mastering it. Thank you Miraval, Marcia (my best friend) and my husband and kids (who took care of the house and dog) for this awesome experience.
I recently had the privilege to present on teen grit at the International Festival for Positive Education in Texas. To see a short interview of my talk go to:


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