Climbing To The Top

Growing up, even the air knew the Eleanor Roosevelt quote about teabags we heard it so much.  You know… “We don’t know our true strength until we are in hot water.” Being from an English family who adheres to tea-time (being really anytime… because when is tea not acceptable?), I thought it to be punny, nothing but a ruse.  However, as I pulled into the parking lot on Thursday to go rock climbing for the first time (ever), that quote entered my mind and I realized my strength would be put to the test.

After walking in, my fast athletic friend/colleague began teaching me the ropes, on the ropes. The harness slide over my thighs to my waist to be tightened and the shoes, mirroring this sentiment left impressions on my skin they were so tight. After a brief tutorial, I watched his 6’5″ frame spider up a faux-rock with ease. Seemed easy enough.

“So, you scale a wall and have a safety in case you fall?”

And fall I did. My forearms were buzzing and burning, my fingers cramping in the small keyholes they were supposed to be, and my brain whizzing with “ok, left foot to the red tape, then right hand move up to small red knob…” when my arms gave out on me. That’s right. The girl who survived a triathlon, throwing kettlebells, three hour cardio sessions multiple days a week could not support herself by her itty bitty arm muscles. As I was suspended in the air and reality did it occur to me of how trusting I am with my life as I was hanging how high in the air?

  • “Wanna do it again?” he asked
  • “Oh yeah!” was the breathy reply

And up we went again. He let me scale easier climbs to boost my ego yet on cue, the moment I associated “easy” with rock climbing, a challenge was presented.  Next was “boulder climbing” (no ropes, just free-handed) and there I would fall every time (safety? point). He gave me a workout pattern of ‘laddering’ up and down and he commented I have great endurance. My inner fitness-guru smiled warmly. Falling down may be consistent for me, but without fail, I won’t give up.  Not many things I can do well… but I will endure.

After racing him up the side of a wall (he won, duh) and falling a few more times on some boulder climbs, he challenged me to free climb over the side of this faux-boulder. It would be without ropes; it would be all me. Gravity won the first three times.

Rock climbing is a mind game, battleship of the fitness world.  I can wholly see why people are addicted to it. Your entire body is put to the test, your life is hanging on a thread (in a very literal sense), you could fall and likely maim yourself… but if you strategize well, your climb is a mental maze where a little shuffle, a little hustle, and some heavy breathing gets you a mountain top experience.

Mind made up, I knew I would do it; failure was not an option.  My feet found the appropriate holders; pushing and pulling, I made it right before the finish line and stopped. My hands reached over the edge to grasp the final nook and Doug urged me, “One deep breath and pull yourself over!”

and I didn’t move. 

Brief pause “You can just fall back. I got you.”

and I didn’t move. 

Few seconds later “You can do this, Emily! You’re almost there! Just pull!”

and I didn’t move. 

I was there, holding on, my arms were getting tired, my fingers cramping on me. It wasn’t fear that held me captive. I knew there was only a matter of time before I would fall if I didn’t move. But I also knew that based on the hold my sweaty palms had, if I pulled, I would fall. But I couldn’t fall. I had made it that far, and I wasn’t going to give up. I had to plan.

“Emily, I’ll catch you. It’s ok.”

To this point I simply replied, “Doug?”

“Yeah?”

Give a girl a minute.

“Ok.”

And the strategy clicked. My arms were beginning to shake and I knew what I had to do. Move my arm over the knob to support my weight as my right leg reaches up to get over the top. 3, 2, (deep breath), 1…

I MADE IT! 

Like a great teacher, Doug was ecstatic for me and shouting congratulations and celebrations. Once standing on the very top of the boulder and looking down upon my tall friend, I could only remark,

“Sometimes a girl just needs a minute.”

He laughed.

Soon after, I found myself on my way home smiling ear to ear. My arms were tingling and getting more sore with each second. Rock climbing is NOT easy. And I don’t know if it will ever by my cup of tea, but the hot water definitely taught me about my own strength. Cheers, darling.

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