Dare to

Dare to: Ride a roller coaster

Updated: 2013-05-20T16:34:53Z

By JENEÉ OSTERHELDT

The Kansas City Star

I know it’s real when the seat belt buckles and the lap bar comes down.

I’m locked in a four-passenger car set on a track spanning 1,345 feet. There’s no turning back, but my back is turned. I chose the seat that doesn’t look the five-story ascension in the face.

But I can hear the rickety sound of the climb, and my fingers curl tighter and tighter around the safety bar until my nails dig into my palms. The pain reminds me that this is not a nightmare. It’s happening.

My anxiety dries my gum out, making it stick to the roof of my mouth. I feel a crazy, nervous smile spread across my face as my stomach falls flat into the soles of my Air Jordans.

I wore them for confidence. Michael Jordan’s not scared to fly. But I’m not like Mike. I want to scream. Instead, I’m scared silent.

Coasters aren’t my thing.

But like a lot of people, I have family memories rooted in long days at amusement parks. When I was a child in Northern Virginia, we made the short road trip to Kings Dominion every summer. I dared to be a thrill junkie and failed.

I might have been 10 when I took on the Berserker, a giant ship that swings back and forth like a pendulum and rudely turns you upside down, bankrupting you of all self-control and sanity. I never got on that ride or dared to try a real coaster after.

Until my teens, when the coaster pressure began. You know what that is. It’s when your peers try to push roller coasters on you like the bullies push drugs in those after-school specials.

“Come on,” they say. “Everyone’s doing it. It’s going to be fun.”

And I caved. I got on the Rebel Yell. It was once featured in an old movie, “Rollercoaster,” and made me think of Billy Idol. It featured twin trains, on wooden tracks. Wooden coasters sound like thousands of bones cracking. Nothing about that is exciting. Back when I rode it, one train went forward and the other backward. I made the mistake of going forward, of bearing witness to the destruction of my happiness at 54 miles per hour on an 85-foot drop.

Hairpin turns, plunging corkscrews and sudden drops? I’m not the one.

I am the girl who holds everyone’s food and bags at the park. I am the girl who goes to Disney World and chases down Eeyore for a photo op instead of standing in line for the Tower of Terror. At the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, I chose the Flight of the Hippogriff, a straight-up kiddie ride, over the Dragon Challenge and its vertical loops and sharp spirals.

For almost 15 years I’ve managed to avoid coasters. But I’m in Kansas City, where Worlds of Fun is part of the culture. Most of my friends have fond childhood memories of the Timber Wolf. Not a summer passes by that I’m not invited for a day of rides. I often talk them into water parks or say I have to work. I’m good at getting out of going. And then my editor happened.

Wouldn’t it be funny if Jeneé rode a coaster as a dare?

Other co-workers liked the idea, too. I stared into their faces and nodded my head like the customers at the used-car lots. It would be hilarious. If we’re daring our readers to break out of their comfort zones, well, I should get on a roller coaster.

For me, that’s not just different, it’s horrifying. But I took the challenge. I did my research. I knew I wasn’t prepared for the 3-minute, 75-mph torture of the Mamba. No. I needed something short and sweet. Enter the Spinning Dragons.

Rated a Level 5 thrill, this coaster is 54 feet tall and, unlike most coasters, it’s a series of individual cars. For Six Flags fans, think Pandemonium. It’s basically a teacup on a coaster. It spins as you plunge and turn for 90 seconds through five stories of “fun.”

As we reached what felt like the top, the highest point before you plummet into twirls and torture, it was quiet. Our photographer gave me confidence and a high-five. He said I could do it.

The last thing I thought before we dropped was, “There’s no way to scream pretty.”

“AYEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!”

And then it was over. I wiped a tear from my eye and let out a nervous laugh and thought, “Let’s do it again.”

As it turns out, the photographer thought the same thing. We rode again.

I’m not an overnight enthusiast. You won’t catch me with my hands in the air. But I did it.

I tamed the dragons. More than that, I faced my fear. Whatever yours may be, you can do it, too.

Go ahead. The summer’s waiting.

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