The day I was mistaken for a dirt jumper

Published by Emma Lee-Potter in on Wednesday 7th March 2012

My eyes nearly popped out of my head when I saw the email.

“Hi Emma,” it read. “We know quite a few places to do dirt jumping. Are you an experienced rider or are you just beginning to get into the sport?”

For the uninitiated, dirt jumping is a sport that involves cycling at top speed down a ramp, leaping high into the air, maybe doing a couple of twirls on the way down and then landing (hopefully the right way up) on a pile of soil. In other words, it’s a completely mad thing to do. The very thought that a fairly sane, middle-aged city-dweller who prefers to keep her feet firmly on the ground at all times would contemplate taking up dirt jumping made me laugh out loud.

But after a few seconds of puzzling over the email, everything fell into place. I’d been trying to help my bike-crazy son find some new places to pursue his hobby and had emailed a shop up north for advice. And for some reason, they’d assumed that it was me who was the dirt jumper.

Funnily enough, the email arrived soon after I read an interview with Dame Fiona Reynolds, director-general of the National Trust (she’s just announced that she’s stepping down to become Master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge). She told The Times this week that children’s freedom to roam unsupervised has shrunk massively since the 1970s. “Children are missing out on the sheer joy and physical and mental well-being of being able to play outside and experience nature in all its messiness,” she said.

Well, not in this house they aren’t. We’ve lived in towns and cities since my son was five but he’s had more fresh air than any child I know. Not because of anything I’ve done but because as soon as he was old enough to ride a bike he grew obsessed with performing cycling tricks. The higher and scarier the better. In fact one summer he leapt merrily off a local hill on his bike, came adrift in mid-air and crashed down on to his handlebars with a horrendous thud. Result – a collar bone broken in three places and two months off bikes.

So, even though I’m forever worrying about him, my son definitely hasn’t missed out on “the sheer joy and physical and mental well-being of being able to play outside.” If only…

9 comments so far

  • The very thought of you in a bike landing in mud has brought a much needed smile to my face – thank you!
    Same here regarding my children getting plenty of outside time – luckily never which such serious injuries – although two of them at phsyios this week due to training strains and aches…

  • Thanks Linsey. I thought anyone who knows me would laugh at the thought of me soaring off a hill on a bike! It made me laugh when I got the email. Hope your girls are OK with their rowing aches and strains.

  • I can thoroughly empathise with the worrying. My Teen’s been horse-riding since she was 10 and since she moved on to jumping -not very high, only a foot or so off the ground – every lesson she seems to come home with tales of people falling off. I’d rather not watch! I’ve tried to join in pony trekking on holiday but anything beyond a slow walk is uncomfortable and terrifying.

  • Hi Maryom. It helps to know that I’m not the only worrier. I go and watch my son because it feels better being there than sitting at home worrying.

  • I *hate* watching, ever since she flew gracefully off the park swing aged about 5. She was *so* long in the air before coming down with the biggest thud. At home I can find something else to occupy me – gardening, ironing, twitter…

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