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Climbing | Lessons in Perserverance and Humility


Before moving to the Grand Teton National Park, my brother and I were attempting to pursue new hobbies and interests.  We both enjoy being active and we wanted to do something outside of the norm as far as Illinois standards were concerned.  Childhood friends of ours, as well as other individuals I’d met in my travels, turned us on to a few different activities including rock climbing and slack lining.  In the final weeks I spent in Illinois, my brother purchased a slack line and we began to toy around on it whenever we got the opportunity.  However, rock climbing in Illinois was a different story entirely.  With nobody to guide us, no rocks to climb, and no stores to purchase equipment from, it looked like we would never have the chance to pursue this activity.  However, the opportunity presented itself once again when my new job took me to the great state of Wyoming.

I am by no means a good (or even fair) climber but I do consider myself to be athletic.  I hike over 12 miles consistently, bike ride for distances exceeding 60 miles and I used to squat double my own body weight…how hard could rock climbing really be?!  Only recently did I find the chance to go climbing with a small group of friends.  We went to an indoor climbing gym after whitewater rafting earlier in the morning (probably a bad idea) and we began the afternoon with bouldering.

If you’re not familiar, bouldering is an activity where all the walls are angled at more than a vertical slope.  Essentially, you are using your upper body to scale the wall and finish the route.  There are a few different levels of difficulty ranging from V0 to V5.  I figured I’d start with the V0’s to warm up and then move on to the tougher routes.  I pulled my way up to the top of the wall fairly easily on my first attempt and fell back onto the mat below.  I slight sense of accomplishment took hold of me and I felt like I was on my way to getting the hang of this.  I didn’t know it then, but this was the best it was going to get for the rest of the day.

I toyed around on the v1 routes next and, to say the least, I struggled.  The holds against the wall forced me to use muscles I didn’t even know existed.  The weight of my body fell entirely on the tips of my fingers and my forearms were ablaze.  The next hold was always just outside of arms reach and each time I lunged out to catch the holds, I fell to the ground below.  Now I’m a pretty competitive guy, and when I saw that my friends were scaling the walls with ease, it was beyond frustrating.  I’ve always operated with the notion that I can do most anything so long as I apply 100% effort to the task at hand.  They used to call me “Charlie Hustle” when I was younger because although I wasn’t the most gifted kid when it came to athletics, you’d be damned to see me not giving 110% on the field.  Well, 100% wasn’t enough this time and I was stuck at V1 as far as bouldering went.

After only a few dozen attempts at bouldering, my fingers were rigid and my forearms felt frozen in place.  At this point, it was difficult to make a fist and the wall became nearly impossible to hold on to.  Climbing beyond vertical was exhausting and no workout from my past could even compare with this.  I sat on the side and collected myself, trying to stretch out my arms while the others continued to scurry up routes.  I felt like a failure and that is a feeling that nobody enjoys.

From this point I moved on to top rope climbing, which is the typical climbing you’ll see at rock walls in gyms/malls.  A rope holds tension as you ascend the route and a device catches you if you lose your footing or let go of the wall.  I didn’t have as much of a problem with this style of climbing.  I scurried up the less complicated routes and tried my hand at some 5.7 walls (5.7 is a rating that denotes a fairly simply climbing route with large holds).  In comparison, my friends were completing 5.9’s (a more difficult route with fewer and smaller holds).

By the end of the day, I was beat down and defeated by the activity.  I’ve always had a dream of being  a “mountain man” of sorts, scaling rock walls, rafting rivers, hiking and camping.  I never realized how difficult some of these things could be.  My fingers have multiple blisters, I can barely grasp doors to open them and when my friend offered me a Swedish Fish, I didn’t have the control over my digits to take the candies out of the bag.  Let me mention that I’m not used to failing.  I’ve won various competitions, scholarships, and athletic events as a result of hard work and dedication.   Rock climbing brought me down about 30 levels and beat me into shallow puddle of self confidence, but as weird as this sounds, that is part of the beauty of being here.  I can, and I do, experience new things and pursue new interests that I never dreamed I could do in Illinois.  I’m learning that when trying new things, there will invariably be tough times.  We all have to start somewhere and my friends constantly reminded me of that when we were climbing; I just didn’t take it to heart until later on in the day.

When I look back on the day of climbing, I see how foolish I was to get down on myself.  Hundreds of thousands of people probably want to try something new and exciting, but when they think that they’ll suck at it, or don’t give themselves the time to get better, then they’ve done themselves a huge disservice!  I’ll break it down in a simpler way because I feel like I’m just ranting at this point.  Here it goes.

There was a girl on the raft trip this morning who did gymnastics.  When we asked which events she liked, she mentioned a few right off the bat.  When we asked why the 8 year old liked those specific activities and not others, she said it was because she got first place in them.  Think about that.  She liked what she was good at but abandoned hope in the things she didn’t score well on.  I sucked at baseball during my first 3 years.  They had me touching the ball as little as possible, but I worked at it.  After 3 years I started pitching, batting near the top of the order, and my self confidence grew.  I got better with time and worked hard to improve.

I’ll say it loud and proud that rock climbing is something in life that suck ass at.  So while I could throw my hands in the air, give up, and say, “I suck at rock climbing,” I won’t.  There are so many things I could miss out in life because I’m “bad at them.”  I’d like to challenge anyone reading this to pursue things they’re interested in , even if you think that you’ll be bad at it.  When you’re doing these things, work to improve yourself.  Don’t compare yourself to others and don’t shy away from something because you didn’t excel at it the first time.

I’ll leave you with this quote to summarize my thoughts…

“You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” -Wayne Gretzky.  Now get out there and take a chance! 🙂  Who knows what memories you could make or what great things you could accomplish!

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. RMB Photography #

    Great job on sticking to it! People who have heart at what they do in life are always going to shine more brightly those who find what they do to be easy. The struggle is always the toughest part but I feel the most alive when I do struggle. Great article!

    June 29, 2013
    • Thank you! I’ve been practicing since I first conceived this post and although I’m still bad, I’m slowly getting better.

      I couldn’t agree with you more. Sometimes the struggle is absolutely the most rewarding part of the process!

      June 29, 2013

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