I had mixed feelings about getting schooled by a 10-year-old. The other women in their 30s at the bike park were standing on the sidelines, watching their kids roll in and out of the pump track or boost off dirt jumps, where I waited for my turn, feeling slightly self-conscious. But when I clipped in my white and purple bike shoes and dropped in, all embarrassment disappeared, replaced by the pure elation of speed, gravity, and lack thereof.
I’ve been riding bikes my whole life, but only bought a full-suspension mountain bike shortly after my 30th birthday. And, man, am I glad I did. No sort of “I’m too old to try that” excuse could outweigh the multitude of benefits I’ve reaped from stepping out in a new sport. I’m not just talking about the days of singletrack bliss I’ve enjoyed—I’m talking about life lessons I would have completely missed out on, had I just stuck with what was familiar.
If you’re like me, you’re probably pretty happy to finally shed your aimless, know-it-all 20s and feel like you’re finally coming into your own. Trying a new sport can help keep you from that unflattering trait that’s so easy to pick up when you’ve been into the same sport year after year: cockiness. When you’re desperately snowplowing down the bunny slopes while 8‑year-olds whiz by, there’s not much room for ego. And I’ve noticed that people with smaller egos are often much more attractive, in general. If that’s something you’re interested in.
When you’re desperately snowplowing down the bunny slopes while 8‑year-olds whiz by, there’s not much room for ego.
Learning to smile and embrace the learning process of a new sport is a skill that also carries over into relationships and work life. Did your boss just drop an assignment on you that’s totally outside your experience range? No problem. Getting pumped on the challenge of perfecting new skills is fresh on your mind. As a beginning climber, I looked up at my first offwidth and thought: There’s no way in hell I can get up that. But I did. I can’t think of a more clear metaphor for life. Continuing to try new sports throughout life helps remind you that you’re capable of far more than you think, if you approach with confidence and patience.
It’s also one of the best ways to make new friends. When you move to a new town—or your best friend starts hanging out more with her new boyfriend and less with you—getting into a new sport give you an excuse to join Meetup groups or sign up for a class. Changing careers at 30 left me feeling slightly adrift socially. But mountain bikers are quick to meet up for post-ride beers, and there’s nothing like shared alpine starts and belay ledges to seal bonds of friendship. Once I reached out, it felt like there was no end to the number of riding—and beer—buddies out there.
Getting into a new sport in your 30s also opens up your eyes to see the world from new angles. Before I turned 31, most of my experiences with rivers and streams had been hopping over them to a climbing route or pedaling through them, trying not to lose balance and bite it. Giving fly fishing a try for the first time was a revelation. Lush, complicated ecosystems flourished right underneath the river’s surface and along its banks—a world of life that I’d never seen before, and now have a huge appreciation for. Stepping into the water as a newbie has changed the way I think about the environment, even affecting my consumer choices.
A new sport helps fuel the stoke for fitness, too. As a new mountain biker, I would long desperately all day for 5 p.m., when I could dash out of the office to hit the dirt. Slimming down, tightening my core and sculpting my legs and arms came naturally when I spent all my spare time huffing up hills and then trying to keep it together on technical descents. When your sport is new and fun to you, staying fit becomes a byproduct of your fun—and it doesn’t get much better than that.