While I’m at work I often have a particular TED Talk in my head. It’s one that talks about how you’re not selling a product, you’re selling an image. The speaker goes on to list many examples of how one product could be identical or even superior to another but the marketing of the image of the other product or the ideal of the company is what has secured their spot in the market place.
And for me, climbing is the very picture of Inspiration. How many companies use the image of a climber to denote the challenges met, the adventurous gutsy overcoming of obstacles to bring you this amazing shampoo? ;p But jokes aside, the very essence of climbing, after all the adventure and adrenalin is out the way, is to be inspired to achieve more.
And, as part of the community, we are all stepping on each other’s shoulders to reach new heights. So, in a way, it is nearly selfish to keep your achievements to yourself. No, this isn’t a game of “Look at me”. We have enough social media throwing that at us every day. It is more a contribution to the collective thought of what is possible. Inspiration for the majority of us is incremental. Sure, every now and then there will be a wonder kid that comes along and blows all the limits out of the water. But for the rest of us, we get inspired on a day to day basis and push our limits a bit further each time someone shows us that the next step or the next few steps are possible. What was once impossible soon becomes common place. It’s the reason we go to slideshows, read autobiographies or log on to the community websites. We’re hungry to know what’s going on out there.
There were a few key moments early in my climbing career that will always stick out in my head. All of them entailed seeing a local female climber doing something that was way behind my horizons and blew my preconceptions out of the ball park. That is why I jump at the opportunity to compete, to be part of a collection of strong climbers, to be exposed to that level.
I’m not the greatest climber in South Africa, not by any stretch of the imagination. I’m not even the greatest climber in Durban. But I’m happy to share my story if it helps you in any way and in return, I would love you to share yours.
I don’t know why but for a long time I was convinced that climbers had relatively few injuries compared to other sports. Sure, we don’t get beat up like rugby pr hockey players but our conversations generally start with “how’s your shoulder/finger/knee/groin injury?” And it was silly to think that overuse injuries wouldn’t happen. Any sport ot physical activity that is undertaken at this level is bound to have a fair amount of wear and tear.
This may sound cheesy but at least the one thing about injuries is appreciating when they’re gone. It reminds me of that song we used to sing as kids. I haven’t a clue how the lyrics or tune go now but I remember the story behind it. The kids are complaining to their parents that the house is too full and they have to share their beds with each other. So their wily parents invite more and more of the kid’s friends to stay over until eventually there really is no space. And then all the kid’s friends go home and the kid’s are loving how much space there is.
I’ll admit it. I’m pretty reckless with my body. Anybody who has seen the multitude of bruises and scars on my legs can attest to that. But yesterday I was feeling particularly reckless.
I blame it on the sleep deprivation. I have it on authority (thank you my neurological psychologist friend) that your rational mind takes a back seat when you’re sleep deprived. Thanks to the whirlwind schedule that is trademark of our holiday getaways I was at least 4 hrs short of a happy ninja.
So when I did the silly thing (that shall not be described to save face) I could hear my rational mind whisper that it wasn’t wise. But I plunged on ahead with the irrational mind cackling in the forefront with wild abandon. And for my troubles I received bear claw marks across my shoulder and a severely bruised ankle.
None of which bothered me so much until I tried to put my new (read: tight!) Dragons on. The pain of squishing my swollen foot into it’s own personal torture chamber left me with an odd detachment. I could see my foot being placed on the grips but it didn’t feel like it was part of me. Like some unseen puppet master was moving that limb around.
It resulted in a slightly more pumpy and desperate warm up climb than was necessary due to the disconnect between body and mind.
And looking back on this post and it’s meandering perhaps I am still in need of a bit more sleep.
I’ve had a funny relationship with Rock Masters. An invite-only comp, it’s something that I make an effort to get to every year……even though I tend to dork it. I get to every comp feeling stronger, fitter, more confident, only to make some silly mistake and slink away, cursing the fact that there are so few competitions. But I’ve always enjoyed them and had hope that the next year I would get it right.
Last year was the first year that I didn’t manage to get there and I missed it hugely. After all, competitions are a little sparse these days. So when it came round to that time again I began to hound the organiser for details so that I could make sure tickets were booked and the trip was in the bag.
This time of year I generally make a pilgrimage to the Western Cape. It’s a great time of year to escape the humidity of Durban and join the groups of climbers taking advantage of the dry conditions in the cape.
And because I’m often catching up with friends I haven’t seen all year it lends itself to a time of reflection as you swap stories and compare notes of how the year has gone. And without realising it, the words spilling out my mouth were all positive, accomplished and hopeful for the future.
True to year of the horse it has galloped by, not only with a breathtaking speed but with all the adrenalin of a full-paced gallop. If you weren’t holding on tightly, it threatened to throw you off. But if you were up for the challenge, you were in for a thrilling ride.
So it hasn’t been easy going but I feel a lot of growth and learning has happened not only in my climbing but in my personal and working capacity. I learned how to bolt, I knuckled down and became ever more determined to hold on. Something which crystallized in those few thrilling moments on my second route at Rock Masters (more about that later).
I became more comfortable in my own skin as a climber and in my job and even in the role I play in the community.
But mostly there was that rare feeling of “I am where I want to be”. For such a huge chunk of our lives we are striving to get somewhere. We are always in the process of getting to that goal. And once we get there, there’s always the next goal or the goal posts have changed. Seldom do we feel accomplished in the moment. And sure, not all aspects are right and there is still a long way to go. But it’s a good feeling to feel satisfied in the here and now instead of living in the perpetual “one day”.
And as I spent the day trad climbing on Table Mountain with my good friend Arno, all the good feelings of an accomplished year gone by were captured with a simple smile and shared high five as we topped out by the cable cars.
Smiles all round
I remember my first (informal) coaching session. I was such a beginner climber that I practically squeaked with newness. But Paul had a client in the gym and at the same time he had to attend to something urgently. “Just teach him how to traverse and use his feet” he casually commented.
Me? What do I know about anything? I panicked. But decided to fake it. And somehow the instructions came naturally and I realised that I knew what I was talking about. Not only that but by voicing the thoughts it cemented the concepts in my mind for me. I had, in effect, just coached myself. It was a revolution. My footwork became an actual concept, not something abstract that other’s spoke about. I’m pretty grateful for that random occurrence. Paul had casually catapulted me into a whole new realm of understanding and from then on I took every opportunity I could to work with someone, to coach. It wasn’t in the slightest bit altruistic. I was gaining lessons along the way.