Not long after Wyatt and I started dating, we made a deal. He would attend my spinning class, and I, in turn, would go rock climbing (indoors, of course) with him. Neither of us had attempted the other’s athletic endeavor of choice, so it seemed like a natural trade. Not exactly a fair one – I certainly think climbing up a vertical wall is more challenging than riding a stationary bike (he might argue otherwise) – but a trade nonetheless. So when Wyatt attended my Monday night spinning class in December, I knew my days as a climbing virgin were numbered.
I’ve never been much of an athlete. As a child, I hated gym class and didn’t play any sports. I was always the last picked in volleyball (my own personal hell), didn’t enjoy playing dodgeball like my classmates, and even got a “D” in archery (yes, my school had archery, but not weight lifting). Oh, and did I mention I broke my arm falling off the gymnastics rings in the fifth grade? I’m not the fastest, or the strongest, or the most limber. When a ball flies at me (insert famous Clueless line), my instinct is to duck, not catch it. Once, when playing kickball in a young professionals league, I was munching on an apple in the outfield, and when the ball came to me, I let it fall to the ground rather than drop my apple. The first and only time I tried skiing, I failed to make it down the hill without falling – not even once. I went ice skating last winter and was so stiff and tense I could barely move my legs, let alone glide with ease. When my girlfriends and I took a pole-dancing class as part of a bachelorette party, I wound up crying in the bathroom out of frustration that I couldn’t relax enough to “let loose and enjoy” (silly, but true!).
Despite all of this, I’ve managed to become a fit woman. I’ve run three half marathons and am a four-time triathlete. I wrote about falling in love with strength in this post, and I’ve never felt leaner or more toned. I’ve found sports that challenge me as an individual. And I’ve discovered I’m actually a pretty darn good swimmer! And while I still don’t consider myself athletic – I am an athlete.
Maybe that’s why, when Wyatt and I made this trade, I didn’t immediately break up with him to avoid scaling a wall. In fact, when the fateful day arrived, I found myself actually excited. I ate a big snack and headed out of the office, prepared for the big night that lay ahead.
Vertical Adventures is Columbus’ only gym dedicated to rock climbing. And let me just say – it’s really cool. This sentiment is backed up by Wyatt and my co-worker (and friend!) Ana, also a rock climber. I mean, check out this place:
And that’s just one part of the gym! There are other walls to the left of this photo, an upstairs section for bouldering, and even a small exercise room. Very cool.
After the requisite waiver forms, training videos, and manager spiel were complete, it was time to start climbing! Well, sort of. First I had to don the proper attire – harness and shoes. Luckily Wyatt was there to show me the ropes (pun intended), because the process is a bit complicated for a novice. He explained to me that each “route” – colored path up a wall – is given a rating from 5.5 – 5.14, with 5.5 being a simple climb and 5.14 the hardest out there. Outdoor climbs are rated the same way, so it’s easy for climbers to transfer their skills from the inside out without getting in over their heads.
Wyatt gave me a tip that I found particularly helpful: think about where I’m going to put my feet next and then figure out my hands, rather than vice-versa. My legs can push me to the next grip easier than my fingers/hands/arms can pull me. Despite this, more than once, I found myself “stuck” on the wall – I literally had no idea where to go next. Luckily, Wyatt, as my belay, was standing right below me and would shout up instructions – “put your left foot on the hold to the top right”. “You want me to put my foot there?! But I can’t do that!”
For some people, a fear of heights and the risk of fall is a real challenge when climbing. Luckily, neither one of those things was a struggle for me. But what I did struggle with was the strategy. Climbing is an extremely mental sport. You have to think about your next move – and the move after that – before you make your current move. You have to trust your body to hold itself on one leg, or hand, or finger. It’s also about strength, but not in the way I expected. I thought it would require upper body strength to pull myself up the wall, but in actuality, it was much more about leg strength and pushing myself up the wall.
In total, I scaled five 5.5 walls (maybe one was a 5.6?) that night. Each climb took maybe 5 minutes, but felt much longer and was more taxing than expected. After those five climbs, I was spent, both physically and mentally. I now understand why Wyatt can easily spend three hours at the gym – you climb, then take a break and belay for a friend, then climb some more, then take a break, etc. In my case, watch in awe as more experienced climbers scaled 5.11 walls (I was watching Ana in this photo – she is such a badass!)
So there you have it, folks – my first “vertical adventure”. And guess what?! I actually enjoyed it! Unlike skiing/ice skating/pole dancing, this athletic endeavor challenged me without leaving me feeling frustrated and on the brink of tears. The mix of physical strength and mental agility made me feel powerful and capable (and like my $$$ spent on personal training is paying off), and getting to the top is satisfying and rewarding. I have Wyatt to thank for his experience, patience, and encouragement – it made all the difference. I don’t think I’ll be scaling any mountains anytime soon (or ever), but I will definitely be back on the indoor wall soon!
So tell me – are you an athlete? Athletic? Both? Neither?