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I used to be frightened of roller coasters. Deadly frightened. “It’s too tall, it’s too fast” I used to tell myself, justifying my fear of these mega machines. It wasn’t until I faced my fear that I learned one of my biggest lessons in life. Hey, it’s your boy Ky and today’s Quick Vibe is titled: Find Your Rolling Thunder (Facing Your Fear)
I cannot recall what year it was exactly. All I genuinely remember is that I was young and incredibly afraid of roller coasters. So naturally, my dad took me to Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, New Jersey, one of the biggest theme parks in the world, in hopes of helping me conquer my fear of roller coasters.
We spent most of the day riding smaller, less scary rides. Little did I know, my dad, bless his heart, was subliminally working me up to a big coaster.
The day was going great. I had great food, not scary rides, delicious ice cream, and I had my dad.
I look back on that day and revel at how excited my dad was to take me to the park that day. I revel at how important it was to him that I had fun. I look back and smile because I know he had one goal in mind: “Make sure Keenan had the best day of his life.”
In the moment I couldn’t see it, but now as an adult with aspirations of having children of my own, I understand it now. I see how important it was to him that I was the happiest little boy in the world.
Toward the end of our day, we had worked our way toward the Frontier section of the theme park. As I approached this area of the park, I knew exactly why we were heading there: Rolling Thunder. I didn’t say it out loud that I knew Rolling Thunder was the goal… but I knew. Deep down I knew. I look back at it now and I realized that it was the first time in my life that I had an existential crisis.
Rolling Thunder was a wooden racing coaster at Great Adventure. Designed by William Cobb, it opened in 1979 as the park’s first wooden coaster. 1979, coincidentally, was the 100 year anniversary of roller coasters.
So here I was, a young boy in the mid-90’s, walking toward this huge roller coaster. Now, to me, the roller coaster was gigantic. Standing at a whopping 96 feet tall, reaching a top speed of 56 miles per hour.
Now, you might be laughing because when you compare it to other roller coasters, it’s quite small. For comparison sake, Rolling Thunder was 96 feet tall… the roller coaster that was built next to it many years later, El Toro, stands at 181 feet tall. But I digress.
To me, as a young boy, I was staring at a giant. I had never been on something that tall before. I had never been on something that fast before. As my dad and I walked toward it, he asked me if I was ready to ride.
I honestly don’t know what came over me that day, but I, for some reason, said yes. For some reason, I woke up that morning and chose death. Death by Rolling Thunder. I over exaggerate, of course, but I decided in that moment that I was going to face one of my biggest fears.
We walk under the tall awning which had the Rolling Thunder logo on it. Even though I could have easily turned around, there was something about walking under that awning that made me feel like I could no longer turn back. So I kept walking.
What’s really funny is that as we were waiting in line, I think I was playing it cool. Acting like I wasn’t shivering in my white Nike sneakers. I’m sure my dad could tell I was scared because I just went silent. I don’t think I said a word the entire time we waited in line.
After about 30 minutes, we had finally reached the station. We kept closer and closer to the trains. As people exited the trains that returned to the station, I remember not being able to tell if they were happy, scared, or content with the ride. I think it was a little bit of everything, which scared me even more because I was looking for them to provide me some insight about the adventure I was about to go on.
The air gates finally opened for us. For all I know, my dad and I were the only people on the train. As soon as I sat down, the only thing I remember was me, my dad sitting to my right, the lap bar, and the lift hill which was directly in front of us.
This was really happening.
The next thing I remember, the train was leaving the station. Even though I was secured into my seat with a seatbelt and a lap bar, I still found the most comfort holding on to my dad’s arm. His arm was the only thing that mattered to me as we slowly crept up the lift hill. Knowing my dad was next to me was the only thing I needed at that moment.
Click. Click. Click. Click. Click.
Up the lift we went. The lift chain dragging my dad and I up into what I felt was the clouds. As we reached the top, it felt as though time stopped. I closed my eyes and I weirdly accepted that this was it for me. After this, is certain death.
I feel my body slowly lift out of the chair. “This is it, you’re dying” I was saying to myself. And just when I felt like my body was going to fly out of my seat… it came back down. Confused, I open my eyes and realize that we’re at the bottom of the first drop.
Oh my God… I made it.
Now we’re going back up. And we reach the top of the next hill where my body experiences the same feeling of flight. The same feeling of feeling as though I’m surely leaving this vessel… but I don’t. I come back down.
For the next 90 seconds, this feeling repeats itself over and over and over again. I look over at my dad, who come to find out was looking over at me, I’m assuming the entire time. He was smiling. Laughing as if he knew that everything was going to be okay. Obviously, it was.
That fear I had suddenly turned into excitement. As the ride progressed, I realized that I had almost allowed my fear to prevent me from having the most enjoyable experiences of my life with my dad.
It was at that moment that I began thinking to myself… How many other things am I afraid of? How many other things am I stopping myself from enjoying? What made me scared of this ride in the first place?
I was scared because it was tall. I was scared because it was fast. I was scared because I was going to experience something I had never known. We, as humans, don’t like what we don’t understand. In fact, it scares us. But once we allow ourselves to experience it, we understand it. We understand why.
Since that day, I’ve grown an affinity for roller coasters. I’ve traveled the country by myself for the sole purpose of riding roller coasters. Since then, I’ve been on over 100 roller coasters around the United States.
The fear you face in your daily life may not be literal roller coasters. But they are definitely things that scare you. They may be ambitions that are too tall. They may be dreams that are too big. They may be relationships that are moving too fast.
Fear is a wall that we build around ourselves for protection. Protection from things we don’t understand. I’m not going to sit here and tell you to never be afraid. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that you need to conquer every fear. I am, however, going to tell you that conquering my fear with my dad that day was the best decision I ever made.
If you can, knock down those walls of fear. Walk under that awning knowing that there is no turning back now. Find that protective seat belt, that protective lap bar… that protective arm. Find that feeling of being lifted up out of your seat knowing you’re well protected. Find that smile that comforts you as they watch you conquer your fear.
Find your Rolling Thunder.