Fall vs Fail: The Difference Is in the “I”

I have never really been accident prone.

Childhood circa 1970′s-1980′s: no broken bones and only one serious laceration (forget the stitches, this one was life-threatening.)

Then this year happened. In the last few months I have had three falls, two of them MAJOR. The first happened while I was running with my beloved running team at 5 am. I was going faster than my normal pace and it was dark. Running fast in the dark was outside my comfort zone. My toe caught an uneven brick and down I went…hard..on said brick.

My left knee burst open like a watermelon thrown from a rooftop.

I am a doctor and I can honestly say I have NEVER seen anything quite like it. The pain was indescribable, the blood was not very copious but the fluid…there was so much fluid: clear, yellow, sticky fluid just poured down my leg and onto the floor mat of my poor running mate’s car. We sped to the office where my talented, concerned husband met us. He spent an hour digging gravel out of the wound and stitching me up. He looked at me sternly and said “No running for 2 weeks.”

"Knee, meet this brick."

“Knee, meet this brick.”

I cried then. I felt like a failure. I had just gotten in a good groove. Just the week before, I had completed my fastest 5K EVER (27:43.)

It turned out the damage to my knee was greater than I thought. It would take 7 weeks for me to start running again.

As soon as my knee felt ready, I did what every self-loathing, injured person would do. I stepped on the scale. In 7 weeks, I had gained 10 lbs.

I cried then. I was most certainly a failure. And a “fat” one at that.

That week, Chris gave me a really nice road bike for my birthday. The return to running would be slow but biking…biking I could do! With the blessing of one of my closest friends who also happens to be a world class physical therapist, I took to the bike. And man it felt good.

Chris and I rode together countless times logging dozens of miles. Finally, I was ready for a ride with “other” people.

Before I get to the second major fall, let me explain. I am not very graceful or coordinated…I have no internal rhythm and my reflexes are like that of an 80 year-old arthritic woman. But my bike was smooth and fit me so right…what could happen?

Well, what could happen is: 28 degrees=bulky gloves. Bulky gloves not positioned over the brakes= bad planning. Bad planning= disaster when coming into a downhill curve REALLY fast while chatting with a friendly group of more experienced cyclists.

The second I saw it, I knew I was going to hit the fence and was grateful for the large wooden post I took to my left arm and chest wall. The alternative would have been careening over the edge and down the hill into God-knows what.

The first words I heard were my teammate’s “Oh. Shit.”

I knew it was bad. I cried then. I could not be more of a failure.

"Post, meet my arm, "

“Post, meet my arm, “

Then something amazing happened.

The crew I was riding with milled around me for a minute. They gave me space after affirming that I was ok. They let me walk it off. They let me curse and stomp my feet. They let me cry hot, stinging, frustrated, embarrassed tears. Then, when I finally spoke, I told them that I wanted to get back on the bike to finish the 12 mile ride back. They did not argue. Instead, they encouraged me. In short, they believed in me. They did not see my fall as a fail.

These two four letter F-words really can break the mental outlook of even the most seasoned and trained athlete. For us regular folks, they can be disastrous.

Yes, there was a fall (or two) but truly there is no place for “I” in there. Sometimes a fall is “just a fall.”

Here’s my personal revelation. I only became accident prone when I stepped outside of my comfort-zone: running in the dark, biking with OTHERS, biking in the FREEZING cold, biking PERIOD!

Taking risks, trying something new, not being afraid. That my friends is the opposite of failing.


  1. Wow, what a terrific statement. This is my first time reading your blog post and I’m glad I did. My fear of falling keeps me off a bike, literally. but, figuratively it keeps me ‘off’ of many other things.

  2. I’m sorry to hear about your injuries, but love your perspective and how you point out they happened because you pushed out of your comfort zone. Setbacks tend to feel permanent, but the only thing they really predict is our ability to learn and grow. Feel better and take care of yourself.

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