Motocross Freed Me From CF Depression

Finding out that I couldn't swim because of the risk of further infections crushed me. It was hard to find a replacement activity that was fulfilling -- until I discovered the thrill of dirt bike racing.

| 5 min read
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Maya Nibbe
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I used to beg my parents to take me to the swimming pool every chance I had. In the summer, I spent my days swimming outside in the sun, getting involved in epic water fights, learning how to dive off the diving board, and competing with other kids to see who could hold their breath the longest. In the winter, I'd do the same at my local indoor pool, but the indoor swimming pool also had a collection of two-story tall water slides, which I just couldn't get enough of. 

When I was 14, I visited Niagara Falls in Canada and returned home with a productive cough, which was something I'd rarely encountered. I went to the hospital where throat cultures were taken, and a few days later, I was prescribed tobramycin to combat a Pseudomonas infection that had made its home in my lungs. My lung function dropped by almost 20 percent during that time, and I was forced to breathe in the thick, sticky tobramycin twice a day for 30 days. 

Fresh and stagnant water became my enemies. I finally understood why my doctors warned me against swimming in hot tubs or in stagnant ponds or having freshwater fish and amphibious animals as pets. Needless to say, I was crushed. I wasn't allowed to swim at my local swimming pools I grew to love, due to the high risk of getting a Pseudomonas infection from that water. Although I explored the idea of swimming in saltwater pools instead, I worried about encountering Pseudomonas in the showers, so I decided to find something else to fulfill my athletic and mental health needs. 

I'd already been in taekwondo for almost two years by the time I caught my first Pseudomonas infection. Although the martial arts discipline met my athletic needs, it failed to fulfill my emotional needs. As I climbed up the belt ranks and got into sparring, I felt no real satisfaction from taekwondo. It seemed repetitive and strict, and I never worked very well in such an environment.

I craved freedom and adventure. I wanted to encounter something new every time I did something. Punching the air 1,000 consecutive times for the 100th consecutive week in taekwondo class just wasn't doing it for me, and I got really bored. Because nothing else was going on in my life, I got bored with life, too. That boredom eventually morphed into depression and that depression made it very difficult for me to find any motivation to continue doing my treatments, taking my pills, and eating the right foods

Then, when I was 15, my dad took me to a Nitro Circus Live show, which kick-started my obsession with freestyle motocross. 

That Christmas, I got a miniature dirt bike, also known as a pit bike. I was told that as soon as I destroyed it, I could get an actual, full-sized dirt bike.

My enthusiasm returned to life almost as soon as I twisted the throttle for the first time, and my goal was to destroy it.
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The first time I took my dirt bike out on the trail. This was taken on Rollins Pass trail near the Moffat Tunnel in Colorado. Circa 2018.

I learned how to crash, how to brush myself off, and how to crash again. I learned how to keep my balance and my cool even in very difficult situations. Freestyle motocross required my undivided attention, so for the time I spent riding around on the pit bike, I never once thought about cystic fibrosis or the things it took from me.

Toward the end of my first summer riding the pit bike, a crash left me pinned underneath it. I was wearing motocross boots, but that didn't protect my foot from getting branded by the glowing hot muffler, which remained in contact with my foot for 45 seconds until my dad could finally rescue me. Instead of scaring me out of motocross, that injury only encouraged me to take freestyle motocross more seriously, because I knew I could take the pain with ease. 

A couple months later, my dad got me a 1996 Honda CR80, which has been my dirt bike ever since. Although I've crashed a few times, had plenty of close-calls, and dished out a decent amount of cash for repairs, my love for freestyle motocross has only grown with time. I love the adventure and the freedom a good, long dirt bike ride provides me. I've taken my dirt bike throughout the Colorado Rockies where I live, to the plains of my maternal grandpa's farm in North Dakota, and to the rolling blufflands of my paternal grandparents' farm in Minnesota.

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Freestyle motocross has granted me freedom like nothing else in this world. I don't worry about crashing, my health, my chores, or really anything when I'm riding. Adrenaline numbs any soreness or breathlessness I may feel, and I make sure to wear a bandanna under my helmet to protect me from the dust that gets kicked up. More importantly, I don't get upset about the swimming pools I'll never swim in, or the ponds I'll never fish from, or the pets I'll never have. Instead, when I ride, only one thing matters: whatever is directly in front of me.

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This site contains general information about cystic fibrosis, as well as personal insight from the CF community. Opinions and experiences shared by members of our community, including but not limited to people with CF and their families, belong solely to the blog post author and do not represent those of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, unless explicitly stated. In addition, the site is not intended as a substitute for treatment advice from a medical professional. Consult your doctor before making any changes to your treatment.

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Born and raised in Colorado, Maya Nibbe was diagnosed with a heart condition called pulmonary atresia at birth and with cystic fibrosis two weeks later. Now 18 years old, Maya is working with her mom at a real estate office in downtown Denver and writing a memoir. Soon, she will be attending college. When she isn't popping pills and taking on treatments, Maya enjoys riding dirt bikes with her dad, exploring the mountains, horseback riding, hunting, painting, cooking, and of course, writing. You can connect with Maya on Facebook.

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