In college, I discovered yoga and running. I learned that using my body in these ways felt good, and that physical effort didn’t have to be about team sports and competition, and that there are other ways to play and be physical, and how fun and fulfilling it could be.
This morning, I went indoor rock climbing for the first time at the Adventure Recreation Center at Ohio State.
This means that I climbed a vertical surface with various holds on it, rated for varying levels of difficulty between 5.5 and 5.12. Each color marks a different course. I wore a harness, which was tied in to a rope that goes up to the top of the wall, over a pulley, and down to my partner, who has my life in her hands through a process called belaying.
I didn’t know I had a fear of heights until I reached halfway up an easy climb and my legs began to shake. I looked down at my friends and said, “I just realized I’m afraid of heights.” I clung to the wall, stunned with fear, for what felt like an eternity before I let myself rappel down.
I was not used to pushing so hard with my legs, trusting them to throw me upward to that next hand-hold. I was not used to falling when that doesn’t work. But that did not stop me. Fear isn’t something I willingly allow to latch onto me. I needed to trust the ropes, to trust my partner, but most importantly, I needed to trust myself.
So I did it again. I climbed. And you guessed it — I reached the top!
There are some climbs where I spend 3/4 of the time going, “Okay, there’s no way I’m going to reach that next thing, but I’m going to try it anyway,” and then making it, and going through it again for the next hold. Eventually, I start to believe that I can do it. Riding that edge, over and over again, brings a sense of strength and accomplishment I’ve missed feeling.
There’s an astonishing level of trust and bonding that occurs in climbing, in the place where your partner is holding your life by a string. Or in the place where you’re dangling from the side of a wall and have to push your legs just a little harder to reach the next hold. You build a trust within yourself. You come away with a sense of accomplishment and accumulated strength.
Rock climbing scared me, but that exciting fear is what kept me coming back for more. In climbing, I have to be present. All physical and mental energy I have has to be dedicated to each move I make. If I don’t focus completely, my fear comes true — I fall.
We all have internal battles we fight, and for me, the battle was overcoming my fear and learning to believe. Many of the mental challenges I have in my life present themselves in the realm of self- doubt. Climbing forced me to believe and to trust, and if I can deal with these challenges in one area, dealing with them in the other could become a lot easier.