Growing up and strapping on that helmet

By Holly Vanorse | Jun 02, 2010

The other day, talks of motorcycling filled not just the newsroom, but most of the building. The warm late spring air has everyone itching to get out and on a motorcycle if they have one.

My boss, Ken, asked if I had a bike, and I replied "I've got a mountain bike." Then a comment was made jokingly about asking to borrow my mountain bike helmet for a potential passenger on a motorcycle. With that, not only did I realize never once has a bicycle helmet touched my head, but neither has a motorcycle helmet — even though I do have one.

Helmets, or head protection in general is common in sports. Drag racing, stock car racing, motocross, football, lacrosse, Baja racers, mountain biking, rock climbing, white water riders, baseball and softball batters and more all wear them. It's like a seat belt, for your noggin. Protects that squishy thing upstairs called your brain.

Why are there people out there, like me, who hate even the thought of them? Those cool sports guys who make the big bucks wear them without a second thought, why can't everyone else?

I don't know how many times I've heard the expression "Life's tough, get a helmet." Each time the word "helmet" is brought up, I cringe. I hate closed faced helmets because I have this thing about breathing my own breath against my face, an odd duck I suppose you could say. As for a bicycle helmet which just sits atop your head, I simply find them obnoxious.

I hated playing softball because of the helmet. It made my world around me seem like a dull echo. I was always saying, "What?" I'd take it off, get yelled at, narrowly miss getting nailed in the head with a ball. Hey, my reflexes are quick, that's why I was always last man, I mean woman, standing at dodge ball.

Most people, actually all of the rock climbing public strap a helmet on before climbing and belaying away. The few times I've been fortunate enough to have experienced rock climbing, my climbing counterparts argued that if you're falling from halfway up or the top, you're going to wish you had something protecting your head. After every limb in my body could possibly be broken? Call me a pessimist if you will, but no thanks. I'll risk it.

Growing up, four-wheeling and dirt biking with my friends, not only did I not don the helmet, but no eye protection either. My friends were always leary, especially after the throttle stuck on the dirt bike I was on and it crashed into a big rock. I of course abandoned ship before the crash. I didn't care if I got mud in my hair. Cut on my forehead? I dig scars. I was the typical fearless teen.

Yes, my parents tried to enforce the helmet rule when I'd take off on my bicycle, or skate away on my rollerblades down the road. Did I listen? No. My helmet was always with my bike, just strapped to the front instead of my head.

It's not that I was cocky and thought that I'd never fall and smack my head. I'd had my fair share of dumps and spills along the way. I wasn't even a fan of the baseball hat. I hated things on my head. I still do.

Then I started hanging around people who had motorcycles. I threw caution to the wind once again, hopped on the back and went riding. I always made sure my arms, legs and feet were covered with at least pants, sneakers and a long sleeve shirt. I didn't want to miss anything out there in the open on the back of a motorcycle so I never asked, bought or even thought about putting a helmet on.

The few times friends would let me take their motorcycles for quick scoots around downtown Rockland, or through Camden on my own, not even a skull cap or a bowl helmet sat on my head. I'd tie my hair up so I wouldn't have to battle knots later that night when I got home. I also knew if I'd worn a helmet, that wouldn't have been an issue, but didn't care.

I knew approaching motorcycles without a helmet would cause a stir in my family. Having lost a family member almost three decades ago to a motorcycle accident, it's a hard subject.

My boyfriend, Justin, declared at the end of last summer, I can no longer ride on his motorcycle without a helmet. After hemming and hawing for months and, since I don't have a motorcycle of my own so I could say, "Fine, I'll just take my own," I finally joined him in the search for one. Thankfully, I've yet to wear it as we're remodeling a home we just bought and time to hop on the bike and take a ride through town just isn't available.

Over the past year or so, I found myself slowing down at the gung-ho, let's-get-up-this-thing-in-a-way-your-average-Joe wouldn't.

I've looked back on all of my adventures so far in my little more than a quarter decade, and make the same cringing motion I make when I think of the noggin-protector I should've been wearing. I won't always be fast enough to dodge that softball, jump off that bike as it's careening down a hill uncontrollably, or know that car at the intersection is going to not see me coming and cut me off.

After tearing down the walls and ceilings in our home for the remodel, I sat on the side deck, examined all the bruises and cuts that made me look as though I'd gone through a plate glass window. I'd taken a small chunk out of my ear with falling plaster and had a small cut on my nose from a flying stray nail.

I had a grown-up moment and thought, "I should have grabbed Justin's hard hat I guess."

I realized that not only should people wear helmets in sports, be it ball sports, extreme sports, motorcycling or just going for a bicycle ride, but maybe we really should be donning them in life too.

Life's too short to risk going through it without protecting one of your most valuable assets — your head.

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