It’s Not a Fail if You Survive

The scars of childhood.

By Joey Kennedy

There is a video series I regularly watch on YouTube called “Fail Army.” Mostly, it consists of clip after clip of people—women, men, girls, boys—falling while skiing, or biking, or running, or while trying to do those impossible standing back flips, or just showing off while drunk. My curiosity can be mindless.

There are lots of skateboarding mishaps on “Fail Army.”

I had a skateboard as a kid. My board had a green shark on top. I never once fell off that skateboard because I never once stood up on it. I traveled my neighborhood on that shark skateboard resting on my knees, pushing with my hands. That worked just fine, and I saw no reason to stand up. So I never fell.

On “Fail Army,” most of the skateboarders and bikers are wearing helmets and pads. These must have been invented after my biking and skateboarding days, because I didn’t wear any protection at all. Neither did my friends.

Still, I know firsthand how resilient kids are, because as a pre-teen, I had two traits that when combined are awfully dangerous: I was fearless, and I was clumsy.

My earliest injury that I remember came while my family was visiting friends in Dayton, the small Southeast Texas town where I was born. I couldn’t have been more than six or seven years old.

Our family’s friends lived near the Dayton High School football stadium. A group of us kids decided we wanted to explore the stadium, but it was surrounded by a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire. As I remember, I volunteered to scale the fence and try to find a way into the stadium from the inside.

I was a climber, and this fence was certainly no challenge. I made it up to the barbed wire, reached out to pull it down so I could go over, and my sneaker slipped. A barb imbedded itself in my left palm, ripping the skin as I fell. I jerked to a stop, hanging there by barbed wire, starting to bleed down my now-extended left arm. A couple of my friends climbed the chain link fence far enough to lift me up and off the wire. We ran home, the tear on my palm bleeding freely.

My parents didn’t see an emergency. There was no trip to the hospital to get stitched up. My mom squeezed the gash together and, after stopping the bleeding, held the skin tight with a couple of Band-Aids. I recovered nicely but still wear that scar on my palm.

One of my UAB friends, “Belle,” is an honors student. Smart woman. Today. In third grade, she says she had a beloved pogo-stick that she always left in the rain to rust.

“Despite the unvaried, poor care I took of it, I was pretty good,” Belle says. “I could pogo-stick while twirling a baton in one hand and a hula-hoop on the other arm. I suppose I could still join the circus if I don’t get into medical school next year.”

Belle continues: “One day, I was jumping in my backyard and, due to the rust, the pogo-stick spring became locked, essentially turning it into a spring-loaded rocket. I decided to conduct a very scientific experiment in which I would jump on the pogo-stick to see if I could unlock the spring. However, I didn’t think ahead. To what should not have been a surprise, the pogo-stick did unstick, but straight into my face. Blood, blood everywhere and a sideways nose.

“I ran into my house to tell my parents what happened,” says Belle. “A trip to the hospital, stitches, and a scar that I still have on my face (thanks, dimples, for hiding it). I learned to take care of my things.”

For me, climbing accidents were common. We would climb as high into trees as we could. Once, a friend and I were climbing a tree split into a “V.” A thick chain joined each trunk, I guess to keep the trunks from spreading farther apart than they were. I worked myself pretty high up when I misjudged a limb. I fell directly onto that chain, one leg on one side, the other leg on the other. After I untangled myself from the chain and was limping around trying to recover, a lady came out of her house and suggested I have my parents rush me to the doctor.

“I saw where that chain hit you,” she said ominously. She was, however, incorrect.

The chain didn’t hit there, but zipped up my leg, leaving a nice chain rash on the inside of my left thigh. I resumed climbing once a nice scab was in place.

Any of these “freak” accidents would have made “Fail Army”—and I would have watched them. But we didn’t have cell phones with cameras then.

We wore no helmets, no knee pads, no safety gear at all. We just took our licks, and kept coming back. I’m happy we have helmet laws today, and that skaters and bikers protect themselves much better than we did. I’m fine with the nanny state.

Neither do I regret that freedom of climbing, and biking, and swishing through the streets, knees firmly planted, on a green shark skateboard.

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