BY HANNAH O’LEARY
It’s hard to describe what rock climbing is like. It’s hard to describe how scary it is to be in a position where if you fall, you know you will hit the ground. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to have whole group of people spread out across the world who share the same passion and goals. It’s hard to describe what it feels like to finally climb a route that you have tried over 50 times. Climbing is about a whole lot more than the little plastic holds.
I started off rock climbing at the YMCA about five years ago, belonging to their team for about three years, after which I decided to join a team at a Central Rock Gym in Glastonbury. Joining this team humbled me in the truest way possible. I realized that basically all of the kids were better than me. I would pull onto the start of a climb, and I wouldn’t even be able to lift my feet off the ground. At first it was hard for me to go back to that gym because I felt so defeated by little plastic holds screwed onto a wall, but I persisted because I loved the people and I loved the sport. Although I’d like to think that I’ve gotten stronger since that point, there are always harder things to try in the sport of climbing. I am still encompassed by this constant feeling of doubt, but now I have learned the person I need to be to continue coming back.
My way of thinking has changed since I started rock climbing. Every day I climb I feel fear: the fear of falling and hitting the ground like I’ve seen so many of my friends do, the fear of looking weak in front of the people I respect so much, the fear of committing to a move even though it might send me falling through the air. Climbing has given me strength through this fear, both physical and mental. My physical strength is something I both love and hate. Sometimes I hate how big my arms look and how none of my shirts fit. However I am also reminded how much I love my strength. I love how much I am capable of, how much I can depend solely on myself, and how much I have worked for my strength. Every week I spend ten hours climbing in a gym that is an hour away. Every moment that I am not in that gym, I am either training to be in that gym or thinking about climbing.
The mental strength that I have gained is all in my mindset. I have learned how to appreciate the constant flow of climbing, along with the constant pain. During endurance season, we are sometimes on the wall for 30 minutes at a time. In these moments, it feels impossible to hold on. I like to call endurance season the struggle bus, mostly because it really sucks. At the same time, it is my favorite part of the training season. Every moment that I am on the wall, it is like a moving meditation, as I focus with everything I have to stay in control. Endurance season makes me unimaginably sore every single day, but I have learned to love this feeling. Every moment that I am sore, I am reminded of rock climbing, leading me into long daydreams of climbing in some faraway place, surrounded by incredibly overwhelming mountains.
Jack Murphy, a close friend and member of the Glastonbury team describes rock climbing as “a passion and a goal, ” a sport he thinks about constantly. Both Jack and I have discovered that climbing has become such a large part of who we are. Most people don’t find their passions in life until they are older, but Jack and I have been lucky enough to fall in love with something before even getting out of high school.
Part of the reason that I am always drawn back to climbing is the effortless and welcoming environment that seems to define it. I always ask myself if I only climb because I love the people so much, but every time I climb, I realize that I love the sport even more. Rock climbing pushes me as a person, pushes me to try things that shut me down, pushes me to look weak in certain situations, and pushes me to be okay with all of these things.
Professional climber Sasha DiGiulian once said, “If I won the lottery today, my life would be the exact same tomorrow.” I think that anyone with rock climbing in their life wouldn’t hesitate to say the exact same thing.