Yesterday, I went to Adventureland in Altoona, Iowa, with 16 students from our youth group.
I had never been there before so I was really excited. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from the park, but I had a feeling that it wasn’t as big as some of the other places I’ve visited before, like Six Flags Magic Mountain, or Cedar Point.
Deep down, though, I had a feeling that most of the rides would be pretty tame compared to what I’ve already ridden. Goliath’s 260-foot first drop at Magic Mountain is pretty hard to top. Unless you go to Cedar Point and ride Millennium Force, with its 300-foot-long fall that carries you at an 80 degree drop reaching 93 miles per hour.
Based on my previous record of roller coaster riding, I was confident that I could handle anything Andventureland had to throw at me.
My confidence motivated me to make brazen challenges to other students like, “Anybody who’s tough will make it through the entire day without holding onto any handle during any ride. Arms in the air, all day.”
As expected, I handled the rides with ease.
Anything any student wanted to ride, I was there, ready to go. Front row. Back row. Inversions. Steel coasters. Wood coasters. Water rides. Big drops. You’d find me there, yelling as loud as possible, hands in the air, doing the “rock on” sign throughout the ride. I was even confident enough to take video recordings on the biggest coasters with my iPhone while riding.
During each ride, though, I felt a slight pang in my stomach as Burger King sloshed around, doing it’s worst on my untrained stomach. Foolishly, I had Burger King for the first time in close to a year right before we went into the park.
But I’d be fine. After all, I couldn’t even remember the last time I had thrown up. It had been years. Easily over a decade. And never on a ride.
After a few hours of continuous riding because the lines were so short, the students wanted to ride the Sidewinder. In the Sidewinder, passengers spin in a circle that swings on a pendulum. The simple combination of movement creates very unpredictable forces that periodically combine when the direction of your spin and the swing are in the same motion.
I had a bad feeling just looking at the ride. But I had issued a bold challenge that day. I couldn’t let these high school students show me up. I’ve ridden Goliath, Millennium Force, and the Top Thrill Dragster. I’m an amusement park veteran.
The shoulder harness clicked us in place, and we began to spin. Once the spinning combined with the swinging, I felt the magnitude of my folly.
My usual shouts of conquer and laughter while sitting on the rides turned into groans from gastrointestinal fury. I had abandoned all appearances of strength. My hands clutched the bars with intensity as the ride flung me around.
Mercifully, the ride began to slow. It came to a stop, and the shoulder harness lifted.
“I’m ok. This is all mental. Just hold yourself together.”
With great willpower, I stepped away from the ride, determined that I would beat the Sidewinder. The students and I made our way to the exit. I would probably be out of commission for a few rides, and I’d have to admit my weakness to everybody, but I would be ok.
A few steps more, and I suddenly bent into a crouch. With one swift cough, I spewed forth my pride… and my breakfast.
Isn’t it amazing how we can so easily fail when we think we are strong?
My experience in Adventureland was a great reminder to me that even my strengths are fleeting. All of my success, all of my talent, all of my ability – it’s all a gift from God. When I forget that, I am likely to be caught off guard.
Like Sylvester Stallone’s defeat by Clubber Lang in Rocky 3, we get comfortable when we enjoy frequent success. And when we are comfortable, we don’t always do the necessary work in order to continue succeeding.
Where have you grown comfortable? How might humility help you continue to excel?