This is a picture of me. I’m looking slightly stunned, helmet askew, and standing on top of what I like to call, “The Green Monster”. I can’t remember what it’s actually called, but I remember the experience vividly. It was last summer, at Diabetes Training Camp during our off-campus excursion to Spooky Nook (for the past 10 years I have run the mental training program at Diabetes Training Camp, a multi-sport and exercise camp for adults with Type 1 Diabetes and IT’S AWESOME!). We broke into two groups and had the opportunity to rotate through different experiences and adventures, one of which included a section where you could clip into an auto-belay device and climb around.
This particular climbing challenge involved stepping up onto a green posts that were about 8 to 10 inches in diameter and each post got taller as you went. The posts are situated in a circle and slightly resemble the World Series Trophy.
In my lifetime, I have done many high element ropes courses and used to rock climb multi-pitch climbs (you know about this if you’ve read my book and remember the story about The Chasm of Doom!); I thought I would be TOTALLY fine. I was going at a good pace, felt calm, solid, and confident; I got to the second to last pole pretty easily. Now I’m about 25 feet in the air and whereas all of the previous posts I could reach up to the next one to balance myself and step up – that is no longer an option. I am at the final post.
In order to step up onto that final pole you’re basically stepping onto a small wobbly surface with nothing to hold onto. It suddenly felt very high, and very committing, and very terrifying. And I froze. I couldn’t make myself take that final step. I would gain my composure and get ready, place my foot up to the final pole, and then bring it back. I did this a few times, pulling out different mental training tools from my tool belt, and I started to realize that I might not be able to do this.
As I was breathing and talking to myself, I slowly started to realize that all of the cheering and chatter had stopped, and it was silent, and all eyes were looking at the top of The Green Monster. I was breathing, but everyone else was holding his or her breath, waiting to see what was going to happen. All week the campers had watched their mental skills coach preach and present about how to manage their fears, stress, and anxiety and to “feed the athlete”; and now they were watching her struggle. I could feel myself come so close, experiencing that almost imperceptible shift inside your mind that moves you from being paralyzed with fear, to being ready to go, and then back off again.
So what is it that finally gets us to take that final step? You’re standing on the edge of the diving board, what gets you to jump? Some people have no fear and it’s a non-issue. Some people try to work up the courage until they force their fears back and jump away leaving their fears behind them. Others feel that fear tightly wrapped around them and they jump anyway. I think the scariest moment is when you first leap and leave the safety and security of the “known”. Moving forward involves risk and risk involves fear. We tend to feel anxiety when it comes to new situations or things that are unknown. Risk involves jumping into the unknown.
You have to be willing to risk failure in order to risk success and that feels very committing, and very scary, and very vulnerable. But you will never know what you are capable of if you are not willing to risk failure. You will never know what you are capable of if you aren’t willing to step into the unknown. You’ll go through life wondering “What if …? What if I just taken that step?”
You can’t always battle back your fear. Sometimes you just have to be afraid and do it anyway. Sometimes you have to do it not knowing what the outcome will be. As an athlete, sometimes you have to take the leap in order to move to the next level of your performance. You have to make a move that might not stick. You have to dive for the ball you might not catch. You set a goal you might not accomplish. You have to take on a role that is just above your comfort zone. If you don’t, you will always be stuck safely to that second to last post – wondering what it would have felt like to make that final move and stand on top.
So finally, after multiple attempts, and what felt like an hour (I’m told it was only a couple minutes!), I was able to make that final step and everyone could breathe and celebrate. And I don’t think they were only celebrating me. I think they were also celebrating that it’s possible. It’s possible, with the right tools and mental training; to look your fears right in the eye ad say “not today”. I was lowered down into cheers and hugs, and shed a couple tears.
It ended up being a really powerful experience, both for me and for the campers that got to see me go through it. Some of the staff and returning campers were still talking about it at our camp this year. It was powerful for them because they saw me go through everything that we had talked about and got to see it in action. They got to see that it wasn’t easy, and that I struggled, but that I also had the tools to be triumphant. It was easily one of the most mentally challenging experiences I’ve had to-date (second only to The Chasm of Doom!).
I would’ve been okay if I couldn’t do it. People asked me if I felt pressure to do it because of my role at camp. And there was a brief moment when I did, but because of my mental training, I was able to let that go and refocus. I’m surprised I didn’t write about this experience sooner. It’s apt that I’m writing this blog post now, because next month I will be headed back to Spooky Nook.
And maybe I’ll give The Green Monster a new name.