Saturday, August 21, 2010

Why Climb?

Red Rocks While on my recent vacation and break from posting to the blog I was asked, “Why do you climb?” Pretty deep question when I think about it. Usually people ask me something more on the surface like, “How did you get into rock climbing?” or “What do you like the most about rock climbing?” Did this person really understand that I could go on and on about why I climb? I spared them the 40 minute lecture and made a mental note to write about it instead.

I asked my boyfriend, Trevor, why he climbs. He replied, “It’s good exercise.” Really? That’s it? Yep, that was it. For me, that is just the start. Of course climbing is good exercise. You gotta hike in and carry a huge backpack of gear just to get to the base of the climb. Then while climbing you have to utilize every muscle in your body in order to get to the top. But for me, the physical benefits are an added bonus to the mental side of climbing. The mental side is of course why I climb.

I wondered why other people climb. I tried searching online for other articles about why people climb. I came across the usual reasons like good exercise, get to see beautiful places, love the friendships you have with your climbing partners, etc. I agree with all of these reasons. But there is more for me. What’s interesting is that the reason I climb has changed and evolved several times over the years.

When I started rock climbing I got hooked because every time I climbed I seemed to improve. I could do a move or finish a route that I couldn’t do the last time I climbed. It was the only sport I had participated in that provided me with such immediate and tangible feedback. It was fun and challenging and that was enough of a reason to say why I climbed.

As the accomplishments grew so did the supporting variables like getting to travel to cool places to climb, getting involved in the climbing community, making great friends; all components that rounded out and cemented my identity as a climber.

Then, the overuse injury happened.

I first tore my rotator cuff back in 1997 – out for six weeks. That steady increase in improving my climbing ability came to a screeching halt. As any climber who has experienced an injury will tell you: getting back in shape is a bitch. Before the injury I was climbing hard. After the injury I could barely climb 5.9’s without pain. Recovery was slow; much too slow for my ego.

Turning point: Do I humbly take the time to recover and come back to climbing? Or move on to the next sport that will stroke my ego?

That one turning point changed why I climb forever. I chose to be patient and humble and build back my accomplishments ever so slowly. More importantly, I chose to climb for the sake of climbing and not just for the accomplishments. I chose to climb because I enjoyed it and stopped climbing to fulfill my drive or ambition to be a great climber. That drive was still there but it wasn’t the leading reason that kept me climbing. You could say that I became more detached from the outcome. It wasn’t that I didn’t care. It was more that I was recognizing a depth to the sport that perhaps I overlooked before; a depth that I couldn’t see when I focused on the ratings.

Not attaching my self-worth to the outcome meant I started noticing subtleties of the sport that I didn’t notice before. Having to recover from an injury meant needing to develop a higher level of body awareness to avoid re-injury. I began noticing more of how a move feels in my body or how a route feels as a whole. I started having more fun learning sequences of moves like a dance routine. I started climbing routes because they were 5 star routes rather than projects I needed to check off my list. In short, I started climbing for the sake of climbing.

What at first seemed like a cop out on the surface turned into a gold mine. After I detached myself from the outcome, the accomplishments actually came a lot easier and faster. I recovered from my injury and came back climbing harder than I was before it. The injury actually served as an excellent opportunity for growth.

So why do you climb? No, really, why do you climb? Not the surface reason but the underlying reason? Does it stroke you ego? Or do you climb for the sake of climbing?

1 comment:

  1. There's an unspoken understanding between climbers. I think this is the first sport where I see that your personal triumph and victory is celebrated by others as much as their own. Somehow everyone understands what it feels to work on a problem for weeks and finally getting it. To finally successfully send a top-roping route without any takes. Or upgrading oneself from one point grade to one above. The thing about climbing that non-climbers rarely see is, climbing is a game of coping with personal failures. It's about falling in front of a crowd, shrugging it off with bruises and and getting back on the wall until you finally make it. It's about pushing yourself to the point of being almost lifeless before you had to stop. It's weird how something that involves so much effort, energy, strength and risk can be so pleasurable.

    Though if you were ever to ask me why I climb, I'd say 'coz it makes my heart sings :)

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