Exactly 14 years ago today, Universal Studios Islands of Adventure put an amazing roller coaster into service. The Incredible Hulk is a steel roller coaster located in Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Florida, USA. It is named for the popular comic book superhero character, the Hulk. Voted the #1 roller coaster by Discovery Channel viewers in 1999, the roller coaster is unique because it features a launch lift hill as opposed to conventional chain lifts. This means the train accelerates to 40 mph (64 km/h) in a short time (approximately two seconds) before speeding through several inversions. When the Incredible Hulk opened, it featured the world’s tallest cobra roll (110 feet (34 m). As a native Floridian, I was psyched to ride this monster! Imagine my horror and embarrassment when I got into the line fourteen years ago and found that I was *gasp* too fat to fit. Sadly, this was the story of my roller-coaster riding life as more and more coasters adapted to the Hulk’s steel style or twists, turns, inversions and flips. No longer could I enjoy the rides I loved.
Fourteen years! Fourteen years of my life where I was lost to the love of riding because of my size. I’ve lost 115 pounds over the last two years. At 390 pounds, the idea of riding a coaster again was a faint memory…a dream at best. But as I began my journey to health, I set some intermediate goals for myself. The idea of the goals was to have small moments along the way that were important to me. For instance, one of my first goals was to drive with out my steering wheel rubbing against my belly. Another was to get under 330 pounds so I could play on the Wii. Another was to get under 300 pounds. Another of these intermediate goals was to lose enough weight to be able to ride the coasters. I started this process in November of 2011. I am proud to say that on May 24, 2013, I realized my last intermediate goal! I rode the HULK!
Just a couple of weeks before, I had been at Six Flags over Georgia on Mother’s Day but the park was so crowded that I wasn’t able to ride anything other than The Mind Bender. This is a lap-locking mechanism and I had no trouble riding. I felt good about it, but I knew it wasn’t the same as The Hulk or Montu or any number of the newer coasters, so my jubilation was tinged with reservations. I went to the Batman tester seat, and was able to get it closed, but the girl at the tester seats was less than helpful. In fact, she didn’t even try to help at all, so I didn’t attempt to ride. I left somewhat dejected.
The week before the trip to Universal Studios Islands of Adventure, I was researching websites about size limitations. It seemed that I would be ok, but I wasn’t sure. I was a bit hesitant as I approached the seats. I headed past the tester seats and just determined that I would wait to get to the track and work with the professionals at the top (as per the website suggestions I had gleaned in my research). I scoped out the modified seats – rows 3 and 6 and waited. My heart was beating and I was scared that I would have come all this way, told all these people in line and then be turned away. I sat down and heard the clicks! The attendant asked if I was comfortable. I said I was, but inside, I was freaking out a bit. The shoulder harness was tight. At least three more times, the attendant checked the harness and with each test, I got a little more panicked. I had to do some serious self talk to calm myself down. I had to breathe slowly and remind myself that I could in fact breathe and that this was something I’ve been waiting to do. Slowly, I began to relax and trust that all would be well.
I have to confess something…all my intermediate goals were meaningful and I celebrate each one of them with joy and gratitude, but somewhere in the back of my mind, I allowed myself to think that this one would never happen. I didn’t realize that until I got off the ride. I had a few minutes to myself after the ride. I was sitting on the ground, texting my friend about what finally riding. It was in that moment that the reality of what had just transpired hit me all at once. He told me, “Your limitations are dropping right along with your weight. I am so proud of you.” I was moved to tears. Suddenly, I realized the real meaning of this success.
The launch was A-MA-ZING – hurtling me toward a new life!!! Every moment of this ride was unforgettable. Every twist, every turn, every loop, every hill and even the finish will forever be burned into my memory as the moment I finally conquered the bulk by riding the Hulk!