This past week I left for a First Descents trip to the Shawanagunks area of New Paltz New York. Teaming up with Alpine Endeavors as our guides, myself and nine other young adult cancer survivors learned how to rock climb. With ropes, carabiners and everything. It’s been hard to put into words just what this (all inclusive!) trip meant to me but here are the ten biggest lessons I’ve learned.
1. If I believe I am Ninja, I will act like Ninja. While it’s also the name of one of my cats, it was my name for the whole trip. There were quite a few times where I had to remind myself that I was no longer Vanessa the person who had lymphoma and hasn’t really stuck with a work out program for sometime. I was Ninja. I am Ninja. The person who says, “Okay, I’ll try that” to things that are hard and out of her comfort zone.
2. There is no shame in asking for a do over. Our first day of climbing, I got up about 20 ft off the ground fairly quickly. And then I looked down. Which was a HUGE mistake. So I rappelled down. I took a break, gathered my courage and tried again. And I made it to the top! I learned that no one was keeping score how many times people stopped and started. The point is getting to the top.
3. Sometimes, you have to find feet that aren’t really there. “Feet” is a climbing term meaning any hand or foothold. And sometimes the rock face is a bit too smooth so you have to get creative and make it up as you go. It’s a lot like life; everyone’s making it up as they go along.
4. Sit back and trust the rope. The best way to recoup your strength while resting is to sit back in your harness and let the ropes take your weight. And that means sticking your butt out into nothingness and trusting that your equipment holds up. I found myself naturally doing this if I didn’t think too hard about it. It seems like there’s nothing there to hold me but there is, it’s my natural strength.
5. Clear communication with your belayer prevents tons of accidents. Rock climbing is about setting clear boundaries and communicating with your partner all the time. Before you even take your first step, both you and your anchor go through a safety check list. Then you tell the belayer to be ready. Need more slack? Tell your belayer. Tension? Ditto, gotta shout that. Ready to come down? It’s “Handles (my belayer), you got me?” And then wait to hear back, “Ninja! I got you.” Being very clear of your wants and needs is the key to safe and fun climbing. There’s no room for shyness or indirect queries.
6. Don’t look down, don’t look back, just keep your eyes on the horizon. There’s no point in looking back or down, it’ll just make you dizzy. Eyes are forward looking for the next spot to put my hands and feet.
7. In for four, out for four. A great deep breathing technique I learned from Rice Patty. If you concentrate on your breathing, you have less energy to spend thinking about how high up off the ground you are. Four breaths in, four breaths out and don’t look down.
8. There will always be more than enough rope and support than you’ll ever need. Redundancies are a life saver. They’ll keep you from falling to your doom ala Cliffhanger. And be sure to check and double that all of your tools are in working order. Is there anything in your life or business that you can automate? Are all of your computer files backed up? Is there a back up for your back up?
9. It’s not about arm strength, it’s about leg strength. Build a solid base! Before this trip, I really thought climbing was all about having a crazy amount of upper body strength. I was surprised to learn it’s mostly about leg strength. If you build a strong foundation with your feet, you’re able to hoist yourself up. Having a strong foundation with my feet meant I could reach areas that first seemed to be impossible.
10. When the going gets tough, there’s nothing like a bunch of cancer survivors cheering you on to get past that last hard bit. I cherish the new friendships I’ve made with my climbing buddies. When I thought I couldn’t go on, they were there cheering and helping me on to that last bit. In my business life, I have that with the Starship. In my personal life, I’ve got that with the SGT, my family and our friends. Who can you rely on to anchor you and cheer you on?