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Winning the Battle of the Brain

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I remember the day that my son, Nicholas, sat on his first BMX bike like it was an hour ago. The moments of that evening are forever captured in my mind; partially because it was my son's first exposure to a sport he would participate in and also because it marked what would become one of the most life-changing experiences I have gone through. It was a very warm Saturday evening in July 2007. My husband, Greg, and I were outside visiting with a friend and our neighbors when we decided we wanted to go do something. Greg asked Nicholas if he wanted to go to the local BMX track to "check it out" and without hesitation, we were all in the truck on our way. Nicholas was four years old, two months from turning five and he was alive with the fever to race BMX. He sat on another boy's bike, told his father knowingly that he did, in fact, want one and then we spent the night at the races. That night also marked the beginning of a new friendship for Nick and for our family. The boy whose bike he sat on quickly became one of his best friends, and is to this day. His parents are two of our closest friends and confidants in a sport that has shown us you really need to watch what you say, who you say it to, etc. However, I think the reason why I remember that evening so well is because it marked the beginning of a new chapter of parenting for Greg and I. We had never experienced having a child in athletics, dealing with on-the-go chaos, meals, planning, competition and most importantly our son's ability to handle it all. Nicholas is an incredible child; he is affectionate, communicative, loving, smart, energetic and incredibly athletic. It took some coaxing to get Nick to allow us to take his training wheels off his bike at four and a half years old, but the moment we did, he was unstoppable. To say that Nick is good on a bike is a huge understatement; he is good at just about everything he does, including swimming, skating, basketball, baseball, soccer, etc. Nick is PHENOMINAL at BMX racing. In his first race, wearing a helmet, jeans and a t-shirt, he won his first round moto then crashed in his main; jumped up and pronounced he wanted to race again! Within six weeks, he was at the intermediate level and within six months he was an Expert rider, the highest level of racing until Pro. Greg and I are very humbled by Nicholas' capabilities and often joke with folks complimenting us that we didn't breed him for this sport, we just got lucky, if we had known better his birthday would have been in December, after the season-ender Grand Nationals. So, it was with the advice and support of the local track operators, family and friends that we took Nick to Reno, Nevada for his first BMX National. A National event is huge compared to local racing and when Nicholas rode terribly on Saturday, our frustration was far too obvious for a four year old. The following day, Sunday, Nicholas made his main and took a humble sixth place; we were ecstatic. The following week he turned Intermediate and two weeks after that he turned five. We continued onto Southern California for another National where he again, had some obvious anxiety. However, this time it came with tears, jitters and a look of pure fright in his little eyes. We went to bed that Saturday night thinking he was done racing and feeling like the worst parents ever. Well, after a good night's rest and time to sleep on it all, Nick woke up ready to race again. I remember taking him up the chutes to race, I sang to him, popped wheelies for him, anything to keep his mind off the inevitable "big race". Much to our surprise and after a terrible start (one that was becoming all too normal at big races) he pulled it all together and took his first National win at the finish line. The feeling was incredible for all of us and Nicholas was so pleased with himself that he begged us to take him to Arizona three weeks later for another National. We did, and after one of his worst crashes to date, he ended up in the ER with stitches to the chin and four shattered molars Saturday night. Amazingly, he took an easy second place finish on Sunday. Not only was he finding his mental strength, he was showing us just how tough he was and passionate about his sport. We went home that weekend feeling beat from the drive and emotional stress and concerned for the future because Nick had some serious mouth damage but we just didn't know how bad. His pediatric dentist gave us the news and one week later he was under anesthesia having surgery for the first time in his life. His perfect, beautiful teeth were now capped with silver and although he was fine, as a mother I was scarred and on the defensive, ready to explain that no, they were not sugar teeth and that he had a bad accident. In hindsight, none of that mattered because everyone who loved him knew what happened. Three weeks after surgery we went to Oregon where Nick took his final three wins as an Intermediate rider to become an accomplished Expert. He won every moto, semi and main that weekend and marked the beginning of the best season all year by any kid his age. He ended up winning 11 Nationals his first year out, eight as an Expert. He went on to finish as the Nor Cal State Champion and Redline Cup Champion as well. So, here we are, a brand new season in 2009 and ready to go again. Or so we thought. After so much winning we never thought that we would be back to where we were a year ago with his stress and anxiety. We are two months into the new season and Nick is so petrified of the "fast kids" and of losing that he doesn't even want to race. Well, he wants to but doesn't... He will win his moto and cry, shake and scream bloody murder to not race his main. Greg and I feel we have tried everything and now realize that none of our tactics were the right way to handle Nicholas and his anxiety. I have done A LOT of reading in the past month, come to realize that Nick is a Highly Sensitive Child (HSC) and that no, he doesn't need therapy or drugs, just a loving environment and some very good coping skills. Okay, so here's my question, I know what they say to do, breath deep, encourage, love, let him come to us, don't force the topic, don't force the race, etc., etc., etc. How do we get him to use these skills? He is only six years old, he doesn't know how to talk himself down from anxiety, he forgets that he's beaten all these kids before, doesn't care about last seasons wins, all he knows is he is petrified to race but desperately wants to. Greg and I are on the cusp of a trip to another National - we skipped the last two and had some nice family time and calm racing at home but now he wants to go again and the signs are coming again, fast. He wants to go, doesn't want to go, not sure... We are going and we will have fun with our friends, BBQ, ride scooters and play; hopefully he will race too. This time when we visit the track before racing begins, Greg and I are going to point out that the gate is the same as home, the starting hill is the same height, the track shorter than home, same jumps and the same skills he uses to ride and win at home will be used here; there will just be more people watching and bigger trophies. We don't know what else to do but start at square one again. Most importantly I feel as though my faith in God is being tested, that perhaps God gave me an exceptionally gifted child in more ways than one and this is my opportunity to truly become the mother and parent that I pray every day to be. I can go on and on but HSC are incredibly intuitive and "wise beyond their years". They can be perfectionists in many ways and seldom, if never, need scolding but always need love and ears to hear their worries. I let him pick his own clothes now, feed him what he knows and loves instead of trying new things; we talk quieter but we are still struggling with him. Most importantly we want Nicholas to know that we have not given up on him and that his spirit is stronger than ever, that what happens today, builds the man he will be someday. I can tell you this with complete certainty, he will make an incredible man, a better husband and a phenomenal father someday, but today I want him to have the success and glory that his talent and efforts afford him. Only time will tell and I continue to read and absorb advice and help; my reason for being here now. Thanks for reading this today and please feel free to offer any advice that has helped in a similar situation. Allison Adams