Want honest insight? Ask your friends for ideas to challenge yourself. That’s what I did for this column on growth experiences. I believed, innocently, that my coworkers and friends would not have a riotous time at my expense. But I was wrong.
Here, for example, is one remarkable suggestion: “Go clubbing. I want to see you in the middle of the floor, surrounded by people, the music pumpin’ …” This trailed off into loud, extended laughter at the thought of my middle-aged lady dancing to confusing, earsplitting “Booty Wurk” by T-Pain.
Other notable ideas: race-car driving (could so do that), barbecuing red meat (sure, mock the vegetarian), wilderness hiking (who’s afraid of dirt), singing lead for a rock band (bring it).
Regardless, I had agreed to surrender control and accept the verdict. The selection was handed down—or, rather, up: rock climbing. This did have me worried. Four coworkers at Moffly Media are experienced climbers, but I never wanted to be one of them. I like the ground, and the reason is as obvious as it is insurmountable: parachuting. It was my first jump, at dusk, on a windy day, solo. I climbed out of the plane and maneuvered hand over hand along the wing. My legs flapped cartoonishly behind me. My inner voice said sternly, “Don’t.” And yet…I did.
It was a miserable drop. I recall thinking, “Really, for this?” That’s when my chute collapsed and I free fell 100 feet. I broke a leg, my hip and my lower back. Cruelly, I was brought to the ER in a helicopter. My only scar is a deep-rooted phobia of heights.
I found a unique way to face that fear by rock climbing indoors. I chose Carabiner’s, a new facility at the gloriously cool Sportsplex, a recently opened collection of sports- and health-related businesses.
Arriving at the gym, my worries about clinging with fear to a plastic rock while an eight-year-old zipped past were scattered by a pack of youth swarming past me to the nearest wall, no gear, to dangle from holds (it’s called bouldering) a few feet above a thick pad. With little transition and no preamble, I was strapped under hindquarters, fitted with tight shoes, lead to the base of a “5.7” route and connected to a belayer. So I climbed. I was surprised I could pull my own weight. The grips were deep. Footholds were plentiful. I enjoyed stretching, pulling, pushing, and the absorbing focus. Then I looked down. Oh, right. That. I hadn’t thought about having to descend. Amber Schiavi, my belayer, saw me stall and asked, “Are you OK?”
“Yeah, fine. Just, you know…”
“Keep going,” she said.
“Yes, sure, sounds great, but I’m thinking about coming down.”
“It’s OK. Try a little more.” I managed another step. That was it.
I desperately wanted to climb down. “You have to put both feet against the wall and grab the rope with both hands.” Repel.
“No,” I said, resolutely.
Silence. “But you have to,” came her reply. “Grab the rope.”
I thought through potential consequences, imagining that the moment I put my weight on the rope, she’d fling up, and I’d fall straight down. “You weigh forty-five pounds,” I protested.
“I’m tied to the ground.” She tugged on a grounding rope affixed to the floor and around her waist; it sure looked snug.
I slid down, mostly sideways—to cheers.
I had reached new heights with help.