Normally we experience a range of emotions at a track day; excitement, elation, fear, occasionally terror, and profound enjoyment and satisfaction when the day ends well.
Recently however, I experienced a new emotion while at the track.
In my role as a rider coach I work with a lot of people, students with skill levels ranging from first timers to old pros, riders with under 100 miles total experience to former AMA pro road racers coming back to the track to relive their glory days.
Working with all these students is a joy and privilege. I enjoy the opportunity to share knowledge and also enjoy hearing their stories and learning from them.
One particular case will live with me forever, its the kind of moment that makes all the 4:30am wakeups worth while.
After coaching a student on the track with our Sena radios, we continued the coaching in the pits, exchanging ideas on how best to deal with the unique challenges and obstacles the student had to deal with in order to maximise his safety on the track. When we were done we parted ways with a hearty handshake and a promise to work together again soon. However before I even took a step toward my pit area I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around and saw a well dressed elderly lady looking up at me with emotion welling up in her eyes.
She asked I forgive any interruption and said she had been wanting to thank me for a while. It seems I had coached her son earlier in the day and she heard everything that was said. Apparently she had been concerned about his new found preoccupation (obsession?) with riding his motorcycle both on the street and on the track. But after listening to me coaching him, she admitted, with tears welling up in her eyes, that she felt much better about his attitude and skill level. She said she felt that her son would be much safer after hearing the lessons I shared with him about riding both on the track and on the way to work.
She reached up and gave me a big hug, thanking me over and over for making her son a safer rider, for putting her mind at ease, and for potentially saving his life by impressing upon him the danger of poor decision making on the street.
Now I've had students and their family members thank me in the past. I once had a mother/son pair in my MSF class and she thanked me for not only teaching them both what they needed to know to ride, but also making these lessons interesting and fun to learn.
But this was different.
I know that with the numbers of students I've worked with (easily over 10,000 since 2003) the chances that all of them have escaped injury is next to zero. I balance this with the fact that the chances they have all had some intensely fun experiences is as close to 100% as its possible to be.
In this case however, the mothers relief at seeing her son hear, and listen, to lessons that could save his life struck a deep, personal chord. I've never lost a loved one to a motorcycle accident, but I know parents do all the time. My own parents were distressed when I started riding a motorcycle on the street but this was balanced by their knowledge that I had been riding off-road since I was a child.
Hearing, and seeing, the gratitude in this mothers eyes imprinted upon me the power of a valuable lesson, indeed one that can save a life, taught in a way that commands the respect of the student. I have seen students roll their eyes or just look away when I tell them the dangers of their poor decisions. I've seen the look of derision in their eyes when they say to themselves "that can never happen to me. I'm invincible". I've also heard the pain in a mothers voice when she talks about the loss she feels every day since her son was killed in a wreck that I can see was the result of poor decision, one that could have been avoided had her son just realised the dangers involved in a vehicle as powerful as a modern motorcycle.
I would rather face the derision and disbelief any day.
I will do everything I can to explain the dangers present every time a rider puts on their helmet.
I will fight to come up with any method I can to more effectively show students the dangers of poor decision making.
I will spend almost every waking hour thinking about how I can teach these lessons more effectively, how I can hold the attention of my students just a little bit longer.
I want them to listen not just to wait their turn to talk, but listen with the intention of learning.