Last Friday, I went to a rock climbing gym with a former coworker and his climbing friends. I had only climbed once several years ago, and it was more for fun than serious sport. This group gets together multiple times weekly to climb at their favorite gyms in Houston. I like going on long walks with my dogs, but rock climbing for several hours is more strenuous exercise than I’ve done in a long while. To say the least, I was a newbie and out of my comfort zone.
This group of climbers is incredibly cool because they are all over 65. At 23, I quickly had to check my ego at the door and know that these folks would definitely be better climbers than me, even though they have several decades on me. It’s a good thing I did because the difference was clear as soon as we started. They got on the easy routes and started climbing them as a warm-up. I did some stretching and gathered the courage to give one a go.
An important thing that failed to cross my mind when I agreed to go climbing was my genuine fear of heights. Well, actually, I would argue I don’t have a fear of heights— rather, a fear of falling from very high up. Either way, I quickly remembered that minor detail as I started the morning.
I felt so proud when I reached the top of the first route I tried. It wasn’t easy to get up there, despite how effortless the “old folks” (their words, not mine) made it look. However, I was not interested in jumping to trigger the rope that catches you and brings you down smoothly.
The group was so encouraging. They helped me get to the top each time, shouting where to put my hands and feet next whenever I slowed down. That didn’t change as I stood at the top of the rock wall, not ready to come back down. They told me to trust myself. They reminded me that I was safe and all I needed to do was lean into the harness, the rope would carry me the rest of the way.
After what felt like five minutes but was less than one, I leaned into the harness, trusted the rope, and made the quick descent.
I went up several routes that morning. I knew I would struggle to make the jump back down each time. But I wanted to keep climbing. Each time, they all reminded me to trust myself and my equipment. They weren’t impatient or rude but encouraging and supportive. I watched the “old folks” in my group challenge themselves more and more, attempting tough climbs as the others stood below, encouraging them. They failed a lot. And they finished the routes a lot, too.
I felt so at ease with this group. Not because I knew them well, I didn’t, but because they supported each other unwaveringly. And they helped me the same way, even when I couldn’t be that support for myself.
When I grow up, I want to be a grandparent at the rock climbing gym. I can only hope I’m as awesome as them.