Fear Friday: Learn How to Luge

March 18, 2016


As I was standing in line at the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex, waiting to sign in for my Public Luge Clinic, I started chatting with the woman behind me. She told me that she’d taken the same luge lesson with her family the year before and had won a silver medal during the small ceremony they have at the end of each session.

“The bigger you are, the better,” she said, pointing to her own sturdy girth, and explaining that gravity works in your favor, making you go faster down the track.

You guys! It was like I had been training for this sport MY ENTIRE LIFE!

Confident that I had size on my side, I handed over my health insurance card and signed a waiver that I’m pretty sure told me I was going to die, but I didn’t bother reading because sometimes I’d just rather not know.

Then I was told to head outside to our luge classroom. Which just so happened to be a yurt. Because, of course, it was.


In the yurt, we were handed helmets and elbow pads and given a short tutorial on luging. Our instructor first demonstrated how to lie down on the luge, and explained the importance of relaxing. This seemed like yet another sign that I’d finally found a sport I might actually be good at. I mean, not to brag or anything, but I’m really awesome at lying down on stuff and relaxing. I’ve been doing that on my sofa for years!

But then she got to the part about how we needed to steer. Steering? Wait. What? That sounded like it required some actual thinking. And motor skills. Thinking and motor skills have never been my strong suit– especially when I’m facing down death. (Did I ever tell you about the time I laughed hysterically while sliding down the side of a mountain in Japan? Yeah, I am not one of those people who thinks well while under pressure. Instead, I giggle like a maniac until I pee my pants.)

At the end of the tutorial, the instructor wished us well and informed us that they’d had more injuries on the ice rink than they’d ever had on the luge track. I guess we were supposed to find this fact comforting, but it just cemented my decision to never, ever go ice skating again.

My classmates and I each grabbed a luge and made our way towards a set of wooden stairs that led to the top of the track. At the top, I watched the people before me hurtling themselves toward the bottom, and that’s when I realized how eminent my death was. I made sure to have the guy behind me take a picture of me with my luge, so there’d be a photo for my obituary. I imagined the photo running above the lines: “She died doing what she loved — scaring the shit out of herself, so she’d have something to write for a blog post.”


When it came my turn, I tried to remember everything our instructor had said about relaxing, but, as good as I am at relaxing, it’s really hard to feel all Zen about things when you’re hurtling down an icy track at thirty miles per hour.

It’s also really hard to hold on. I flipped off the sled three times. I also hit the walls more times than I care to remember, causing bruises up and down my arms despite my elbow pads and abundant bodily padding. In the four times I went down, I only made it to the finish line once.

I didn’t even bother sticking around for the awards ceremony at the end of my lesson. Instead, I handed in my luge and my helmet, and headed to downtown Muskegon where I drank microbrew beer and ate a pizza the size of the universe.


Because, sure, I may not have been good at luging this year. But there’s always next year to start training for. And, in the words of my new silver medalist friend, “The bigger, the better.” (I’m pretty sure this applies to both the person luging and the pizza that’s being eaten, by the way.)


What’s the scariest sport you’ve ever tried?


I've blathered on long enough! Now it's your turn!

  1. On March 19, 2016 at 5:13 am Leslie in Oregon said:

    Congratulations! I love any sport that involves snow, but I’ve never had a chance to try any ice sports other than skating. Were you thrilled during any of your luge runs? Did you ever feel like you were going to fly off the track? For a self-professed “unbrave girl,” you do a lot of brave things! Bravo!!

    The scariest sport I’ve ever tried was maybe parachute jumping, decades ago. I was very well trained, however, with a thoroughness that does not occur these days, so I was under the illusion that I would be able to handle any situation that arose as long as I was conscious. I ended up jumping 64 times, of which jumps 3, 4 and 5 were probably the scariest. I loved it, incurred no injuries and never would have stopped had I not started law school while continuing to fly for an international airline. Parachuting was not a sport in which I could dabble, so I quit because of the lack of time and money to do it regularly. My brother, however, continued and accumulated over 2000 jumps.

    • On March 20, 2016 at 12:44 pm Sally said:

      I would not use the word “thrilled” to describe my luging experience. More like “completely petrified.” But I was able to relax (a bit) after going down a few times, and that’s when I was able to make it all the way to the finish line.
      And, whoa, that parachute jumping sounds INTENSE. I don’t know if I could ever do that. I’m petrified of heights. I can barely make it up a ladder.

      • On March 20, 2016 at 8:07 pm Leslie in Oregon said:

        Completely petrified or not, you did several rides, and that took courage!!

        I too am petrified by heights, but when parachuting, you are so high until the last seconds that it doesn’t register as height in the same way as on a ladder or in a tree. Plus you have a parachute, so it’s okay to fall! I think jumps 3, 4 and 5 were the most scary for me because my brain was beginning to realize what I was actually doing. Even so, the great training I had received (over 5 weekends, from an ex-Marine drill sergeant) left me confident that I could and would handle any emergency that circumstances could pose. And, for those first few jumps, my jumpmaster/trainer jumped right after me. (We were not attached, the way tandem jumping is done today for beginners. As far as I’m concerned, that is no substitute for good training.)

  2. On March 19, 2016 at 3:36 pm Monica Harris said:

    You’re a brave woman indeed! Having something going that fast with very little control seems ridiculously crazy but hey….you can only die once, right?

    Scariest thing I’ve tried / done? Hmm….there’s been a few….parachuting from a plane (like your friend Leslie), paragliding in the Alps, hiking through a river canyon when a storm was coming (flash floods are deadly), and zip lining in Costa Rica. BUT, that all being said, I think one of the most unnerving things I did was go out in a small boat AT NIGHT in Borneo searching for crocodiles to capture. Yep…a very humbling experience when you realize that some of them could easily pull you from the boat and you’d be a nice snack. The best part was having a knowledgable guide who, at one point, motioned for the boat to go towards a set of eye glows (the crocs eyes glow when your head lamp shines on them). As we approached, he suddenly yelled out “BACK UP! BACK UP! TOO BIG….TOO BIG!” Yeah…..good idea 🙂

    • On March 20, 2016 at 12:42 pm Sally said:

      OMIGOD. THIS SOUNDS LIKE THE WORST IDEA EVER. (But, ummm, good for you for doing it. Because about the time someone suggest I go hunt crocodiles would be about the time I got on a plane and got the heck out of there!)

  3. On March 20, 2016 at 8:09 pm Leslie in Oregon said:

    Amazing story, Monica. What was the plan for subduing the croc enough to keep it in the small boat?

    Of the scariest things you’ve done, which did you enjoy the most?


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