My husband works at a big fitness club – there an indoor soccer field, indoor basketball courts, squash courts, three pools, lots and lots of fitness rooms and lots and lots of weights and machines to choose from. There are spa facilities and a hair salon. But my eyes were drawn from the beginning to the three story rock wall.
I don’t know why it’s taken me until now to give it a try. Well, I guess I do… Until recently, there’s been a baby attached to my hip or wrapped around my legs. But probably more importantly, I’d never done it before and, unlike Beth-Anne who likes to try new things, I kind of resist them. I’m not crazy about this tendency, so challenging myself to actually try that wall for none other than this blog became my mission over the holidays.
I went with my niece, an athletic 16 year old who had climbed before. We had spent the entire day at the club, and she had played soccer for over two hours, and was then given a good workout on the squash court by my husband. The day before she had spent skiing which, as a Californian, used her muscles in unusual ways. This is all to explain that when she tried the rock wall of moderate difficulty, she got a fifth of the way up and had to let go. Her legs were shaking; she simply could not go on.
My turn. Unlike my niece, I had only gentle swum with my kids that day; however, also unlike her, I don’t have a teenage athletic body anymore. We were climbing walls that did not require a lesson first, strapped in with a harness that gently bounces you to the ground if you slip. Having never tried this before though, I discovered that I had trouble trusting the safety device would catch me if I fell. Suddenly I feared heights where I hadn’t before. With no advice before climbing, no experience, and ultimately, no confidence, I let go almost precisely at the spot my niece had and fell.
As it happens, the harness did work.
My attempt disappointed me. It would have been quite alright to not get to the top (and when my husband tried, he fell at the same spot – it really was tricky) but my effort was not solid.
I gathered my wits. Then, with the genuine encouragement of my niece and husband, I got in line for the beginner wall.
I think I was the only person above four and a half feet for this climb, but I ignored any prideful urgings and strapped myself in. The climb was much easier than the other I tried, and I was comfortable enough to play around a bit with what movements worked. I reached the top, and my husband boasted, with no hint of irony, that I sped by the nine year old to my left.
The question was whether to try something more. There were two climbs at moderate difficulty. I asked a boy there, who had obviously done these climbs many, many times (he looked like a little Spiderman scaling those walls), which of the two were harder. He pointed to the one I hadn’t tried, and said he thought it might be slightly easier.
With no real aim except to make a better attempt, some minor success under my belt (ha), and more assurance in the harness, I tried again. It was a much harder climb. I think I was the most surprised of everyone when I actually made it to the top.
The accomplishment felt at least as much mental as physical and got me mulling, as I’m wont to do, about the broader significance of this singular experience. I’ve since concluded that there are several useful life lessons to be learned from a rock wall.
1. Confidence Matters.
It’s not the only thing that matters, but my initial lack of confidence on the first climb was fatal to the effort. If you don’t believe you can do something, you’re unlikely to manage it.
2. The beginning is a good place to start.
Sometimes I like to fancy myself a little more advanced than I am, a quick learner or something, who can maybe skip a step or two. Occasionally this works, but oftentimes it doesn’t. The beginner rock wall was not so physically challenging but I’m positive I would not have succeeded at the harder one had I not started at the beginning. And experience can bolster belief to develop needed confidence (see above).
3. There’s not much success without taking risks.
At some points in the climb, I realized that I couldn’t find the next fingerhold or foothold not because I wasn’t looking properly, but because there wasn’t one. The only way to continue at these junctures was to set my sights on my next best guess, and spring over to it and hope it would work. I had to let go without knowing what there was next to hold on to. There was no going higher without taking the risk.
4. Small things really matter.
I knew that rock climbing tests both agility and strength, but I didn’t realize the extent to success hinges on the smallest things. Like little protrusions from the wall that your foot can’t really stand on, but that might help your other foot or your hands hang on just a little longer. Or like fingertips, or the tips of fingertips – these really matter. When I got back onto solid ground after the moderate climb, I couldn’t move my fingers or wrists – they were both burning and throbbing. My thighs and feet and back must have played a part, but I think my fingertips were the star of the show.
5. Fear must be dealt with or it will be a block.
To climb that wall, I had to get over my fear of falling. Probably by falling. And getting back up again.
6. Everything that gets done gets done one step at a time.
Many times on that moderate climb where I made it to the top, I didn’t think I would. I’d look up and the way looked awfully long. At those times I lowered my head to look at where I was and paused. I brushed aside the temptation to give up and instead agreed with myself to just look for the next step. When tired, I thought of just the next step. Stacking enough of next steps together got me somewhere.
I knew starting out that many rock climbers are diehards about their sport. I think, in some tiny way, I may understand why. It’s about a lot more than fitness and really challenges the mental strength of the climber, and this can only be that much more true when climbing an actual rock face. At it’s core, I think rock climbing is about overcoming obstacles that you once wouldn’t have thought possible. No wonder it’s got such a stronghold on its followers.