Moving up a level in rock climbing seems to be congruent with my openness to abruptly slipping off the wall right as my body is stressing every little muscle fiber in order to cling tightly to the plastic rock holds. As in life, there is truly no ground to make without risking failure. If I don’t reach our for that new, small hold with my tired, sweaty fingers, then there’s no other options than the routes I’ve always done. I’m in that moment with my finger crimped along the rock, moving my foot to the next hold, waiting and seeing if that feather-light grip is enough, or if I’ll slip and be pulled from the wall by gravity, caught and hanging by my harness. When I make it, there’s a deep intake of air and a thought of holy shit as well as that little eraser-sized hold was actually possible. For the times my fingers or toes slide from the hold, it’s the briefest moment of terror followed by my conscious mind’s realization that there was nothing to fear at all – I’m caught by the harness, the safety net, and I can go right back to the wall or be belayed back down.
Growing up playing sports, that’s where I’ve found my most condensed life lessons. In basketball, I’ve learned that being reasonably good at something means showing up consistently, over a long period of time. Sure, I believe in natural talent, but I’ve also seen people assume they’re “not good at something” after trying it once or twice. For me, no matter what it is, I feel it in my bones that I’m not going to be “good” until I’ve tried it at least 100, maybe 1000 times. And that’s what basketball taught me.
Besides the benefits of physical and social activity, this is my other reason for seeking out a new sport as an adult: new experiences, unique challenges, and tangible lessons to be learned. Sports are a quick access to a sense of growth and achievement when otherwise feeling stagnant. On a day-to-day basis, they’re an outlet from the routine.